Photo by Oran

I think most people (myself included) would applaud Metro’s handling of our most recent snow/icestorm.  Communication has been frequent and detailed, operators have been helpful and upbeat, and there has been an overall sense that Metro has been competently performing a public service under difficult operating conditions.  Our other agencies have done pretty well, too.

Yet given the extensive contingency planning for just these types of events over the past 2 years, I have been disappointed that one aspect of snow routing has gone overlooked:  headsigns. Despite ubiquitous reroutes, all headsigns that I have seen retained their usual designations.  Two examples from yesterday:  Route 2 read its usual “Madrona Park – via E Union”, despite the fact that it traveled to neither Madrona Park nor along E Union.  Rather, eastbound it was traveling to 34th/Union via Jefferson and Cherry (the same as Route 3), while westbound it traveled its regular snow route.  Secondly, every other Route 3 read its usual “First Hill” despite the fact that Metro’s website prominently warned “Route 3 is not serving First Hill.”

I don’t know how labor intensive it is to program new headsign choices, but I do think it would be helpful to have accurate displays on snow days.  A brief and incomplete(!) brainstormed list:

  • 1 – West Queen Anne via Kinnear
  • 2 – Madrona via Int’l Dist // Lower Queen Anne via Downtown
  • 3 – Madrona via Int’l Dist // Queen Anne via Int’l Dist
  • 4 – Judkins Park via Int’l Dist // E Queen Anne via Int’l Dist
  • 8 – Seattle Center via Downtown // Rainier Beach via Downtown/Cap Hill
  • 14 – Capitol Hill via Broadway
  • 16– Northgate via E Green Lake
  • 24 – W Magnolia via 15th Ave W
  • 27 – Central District via Yesler
  • 30 – Sand Point via Montlake
  • 33 – Discovery Park via 15th Ave W

What do you think?  Would this be helpful, or add unnecessary complexity?

45 Replies to “Headsigns on Snow Routes”

    1. When the Emergency Snow Network(ESN) goes into effect, most headsigns on the 70 routes operating will reflect the correct destination and “via Snow Route.” I came acroos some of the signs when punching in the wrong code by accident.

  1. It’s absolutely necessary. Part of the “Don’t Make Me Think” principle which actually means “I have to think more so you have to think less.” As a business, you’d like the customer to be the one who has to think less in order to consume your product.

    So change those signs. And if that’s not something that’s easily done wirelessly by the head office (pun intended), then it’s time to upgrade the bus signage.

  2. for 30, the route goes along montlake blvd but not actually in the montlake neighborhood, so needs a little tweaking.

  3. This is a great idea! If it’s too costly to implement: why not just change all to the imprecise-but-still-accurate: “SNOW ROUTE”?

  4. It’s fairly simple to reprogram the signs; all that would be necessary would be to add a “## SNOW ROUTE” display for each route (there are several for each line already – destinations, short turns, etc..). It probably isn’t necessary to add signs for all possible routings. Just a nice, big, reminder that service isn’t normal..

  5. I was thinking about that yesterday as I was trying to catch a bus from Capitol Hill to anywhere near Seattle Center, and there were some unfamiliar routes going by. It definitely would have been helpful.

    I think it would also be helpful to have something on the bus stop signs indicating whether it is a snow route stop or not (and maybe for which routes).

  6. Yeah like other people I think the most important thing to add is something like “Snow Route”. Things can be complex and change quickly in situations like this. I rather give people the same info as normal, but warn them that it isn’t fully accurate than try to give them new information that might be a bit more accurate.

    1. Agreed. If they use just a symbol, they could add it to each screen along with the destination info and not lose a whole screen to just saying SNOW ROUTE.

      1. Ditto. In China they use the “*” symbol to designate air conditioned buses (in theory, if not practice).

        Adding a snowflake could easily designate it as being on a snow route, for example: “1* W QUEEN ANNE” [refresh] “1* VIA KINNEAR”

  7. My low tech solution would be to have signs placed in the dash (like the green EXPRESS or black Via Sand Point signs). You could have “(Snow flake symbol) SNOW ROUTE”.

    1. Yes, a few routes used to do this, saying “via Someplace”, when there was no electronic sign for that place or it was a third destination or route variation.

  8. I would bet almost 100% of the people wouldn’t even notice a rewritten snow route headsign. In other words, most people look at only the route number on a bus.

    1. If they even read the headsign at all. You’d be amazed how many people try and board a coach signed up NOT IN SERVICE.

      1. Sometimes I want those! There used to be (and maybe still is?) a bus that headed out to Cap Hill as route 10, and then was out of service to the I District where it then became a northbound route 13. It was perfect for getting to work when I used to work near 5th & Jackson.

        (I later realized I should have tried holding up a “13” sign, hoping the driver would realize I knew what I was doing if I was waiting for a route 13 at 12th & John.)

    2. This is probably due to the near-uselessness of headsigns in normal weather.

      I take the 110, which is a commuter-only route from Tukwila Sounder station to the Kenworth truck plant in north Renton. The headsign in both directions, however, just says “110 RENTON”. Nothing about Downtown Renton, Renton TC, Tukwila Sounder, Renton Boeing, SW Renton, Kenworth – 5 or 6 destinations completely unmentioned.

  9. They should post a snow route map inside as well – I got off a #2 today because I didn’t know they continued in the direction I wanted to go (down 3rd farther than normal). Of course, I think they should always have a route map posted on the bus – and maybe one outside the bus as well.

  10. New signage would be impossible. The chip on every coach that contains signage information is almost completely maxed out- no room left for any more info. You can tell because the newest signage is unable to include the “via” anymore- not enough room to program that word on the chip! (36 Othello Sta / N Beacon Hill, 8 Seattle Ctr / 8 Ml King Wy; also note the southbound 48, which can’t even say 23rd ave, just “23 ave;” compare that to the northbound 48, which is old signage that is able to say 48 “via 23rd ave.” So, snow signage that would be used a few weeks out of the year, if that- no. Not unless we can scare up some funding for a bigger chip (and our chip is already pretty damn big compared to other agencies- 300 routes, including school trippers, plus special route signage).

    1. Is the signage the same throughout the fleet, or is it per-base? Clearly, ETBs don’t need to know the signage for any route that doesn’t have trolley wire.

    2. I should start with saying that I’m really picky about signage. Almost obsessive about it in fact.

      The lack of descriptive sign codes at Metro has nothing to do with latent storage capacity in the sign controller.

      1. Luminator signs (which the vast majority of Metro buses have) are difficult to program. We’re talking, non WYSIWYG rough coding. It would require a staff person to spend a good week learning the nuances of the programming software and the sign capabilities. They would then have to go through a rather long list of sign codes (Each route has at least 2 codes, many have 3) and painstakingly code each for 6 different sign types without having the ability to reference what each sign would display. In other words, you really don’t know ’till you save the sign code into the bus and program it to display.

      2. TwinVision and Hanover signs, while very easy to program (especially Hanover signs, they have probably the best programming software out there), each use a different file format from Luminators. The staff person assigned to write sign programs has to re-invent the wheel.

      3. Various groups that Metro consults for readability of signage have their own interpretations as to what makes a sign readable. Sight-impaired groups would want bold uppercase text, which then limits the maximum number of characters in the largest signs to 15-17. This would also prohibit stacking text. Groups for the cognitive-impaired would say that the signs should refrain from abbreviations and should be very descriptive, which usually means stacked text or several sign refreshes. This gets to the speed commuter, who wants to be able to see what route they’re catching and where it goes in a single glance. This group usually demands the signs refresh quickly, and have simply the destination and major midpoint displayed. This group is who you have to thank for the “via” stacking, which requires extensive coding on the Luminators, and cannot be done on TwinVision front signs without shrinking the text to be too small to read from a block away. The more recent signs are because they take minimal coding to display, they rely on the sign’s logic to determine how to display the text.

      In a nutshell, if you want to improve the headsign displays, talk to your county council member, because that’s the only way it’s going to happen.

      Brian Bradford
      Olympia, WA (where they’re so bad at coding signs *rolls eyes*)

      1. i think the biggest issue for luminator, is that you have to define the sign set in IPS, than tweak your code to work in that. it almost requires a seprate image for each sign set in order to be able to function properly. They’ve standardized the horizon configurations in the newflyers, but the gilligs and 2300s have several diffrent configrations to program for. with IPS i’m sure you have to make a seprate image for the bredas/1900s as well. The Twin Visions are easier to work with, however its software has its own quirks and nuances as well. Theres something to be said for the old Luminator LIDS/MAX signs, and TransDOT signs. You only had 16 characters but you only needed one image set and it would work on everything.

  11. How about a “Snow Route” card to put where the green “Express” card goes?

    Simple and easy to implement.

  12. Also I think that when everyone’s snow route goes the same place–for example, the 10, 12, 14, 43, and 49 were all running from downtown and along Broadway–and when people aren’t commuting anyway, it might make sense to cut some buses.

    1. Or at least change the headsign to a different route. The 2 and 3 sound like they suffered from this; change all the 2 headsigns to 3’s and have a note in the 2 timetable to take a 3 for service to Madrona.

  13. I would settle to see the “Be Happy” or “Smile” or whatever that phrase was in the old sign system.

  14. I wish I knew the code for that! If anyone knows the Smile/Be Happy code, please post it or email me! I’d love to know if it still exists. Been wanting to sign my deadheads out as taht for some time. Spread the Metro goodwill, as it were.

  15. Metro did much better this time than they did back in twenty-oh-eight. The only quibble I have is Metro’s lack of good maps with the *complete* snow route.

  16. Its a great idea, with newer radio/avl systems you can have the signs automatically change. Problem is trying to anticipate your reroutes, and program them in appropratly. Plus, if your system isnt setup to change them (or in the event of a reroute, trigger them for the reroute only) its kinda pointless. I think a more simple solution, is have any short turns programmed into the sign, and for reroutes that still have the same terminals have a PR code for SNOW ROUTE and have that scrolling as part of the mix.

  17. No! No irrelevant info on the headsign!

    No “Smile”!

    No “Happy Christmas”!

    No “Go Lakers!”!



    1. Could be like the old Everett Transit signs with just a route number and the general direction ex. 3 NORTHBOUND 3 SOUTHBOUND…

  18. Definitely – like other posters, I had the experience of standing at a bus stop wondering if I should board another bus rather than my normal one. Another sign that would be nice: “FULL.” I saw a couple of mine coming but they were full and did not stop. (note to self – next time you try to get a bus in the U district during a blizzard, wait at Campus Parkway so you don’t have full buses passing you downstream.)

    1. I have seen 7’s on Rainier signed with “FULL”. The really neat part of it is that the number-only display on the rear window also displays “full” in a tightly-packed narrow font.

      But most drivers either don’t know or don’t care how to do it, or only some of the signs can do it.

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