Will London’s New Wayfinding System Get More People Walking?

If you’ve walked through Covent Garden, Southbank or Oxford Street recently, the chances are you will have stumbled across the funky new Legible London pedestrian signs installed by Transport for London (TfL).  These sleek, stylish ‘monoliths’ have been sprouting up all over the capital during the last year.

Each monolith is strategically placed and has:

  • An easy-to-read map that is orientated to the users point of view;
  • 5 and 15 minute walking distances;
  • 3D drawings of key shops and buildings in the area.

Changing Londoners mental maps

The thinking behind the new system is to encourage more people to walk around London instead of driving or using already overcrowded public transport.  By catching people at key decision points – such as tube stations – and providing them with the right information on walking times and local attractions, it is hoped that they will choose to walk.

According to TfL, information really is key in achieving modal shift.  Research found that most Londoners mental map of London is based on the tube map which is geographically distorted and can be very misleading.  For instance there are over 100 connections on the underground where its quicker to walk than take the tube!  Legible London maps will often show users that their destination is closer and more walkable than they think.

A city of villages

To provide Londoners with a coherent wayfinding system, the Legible London designers have broken the city down into three key spatial hierarchies:

  • Areas: ‘broad areas of the city’ such as the West End;
  • Villages: ‘commonly used names’ which Londoners use to quickly connect one part of the city to another;
  • Neighbourhoods: there are several neighbourhoods in each village.

TfL believe that this process of breaking places down, helps pedestrians to explore and find their way around the city:

As you become more familiar with a particular place, the more you can keep sub-dividing it into smaller, linked pieces, creating a more detailed mental map.

Wayfinding = more walking

The Legible London wayfinding system is a step change from the usual ‘clunky’, oversized and traffic-orientated pedestrian signage that we’ve been used to in UK.  TfL have achieved this by investing significantly in the idea and not being afraid to bring in brand marketing, graphic designers and geographers rather than engineers.

But the key question is: does it get more people walking? Research following the prototype system in Bond Street found that on average, walking journeys in the area were 16% quicker.  More recent assessments of the new pilots found that the number of people getting lost in the area fell by 65%.  Overall this has contributed to a five per cent increase in people walking in these areas of London.

Legible London mapping seems to be here to stay, with the system being rolled out to other parts of London, including the Olympic park and included on each of the Barclays Cycle Hire Docking stations.  And who knows, if enough investment is made, it could even become as ingrained upon Londoners minds as the world-famous tube map.

Images courtesy of Martin Deutsch, Momentum Sign Consultants and prkn on flickr

  • http://twitter.com/gerwitz hans.gerwitz

    I first encountered these near Marble Arch a year ago but was new to London and assumed they were old hat. They are incredibly well designed from the walking radius, forward-facing orientation, horizontally centered “you are here” with the sign itself precisely placed, and the monoliths themselves are carefully positioned to be highly visible and accessible without creating bottlenecks. As a result, I was able to keep the iPhone pocketed when I normally would have been heads-down orienting myself.

    I’ve seen no other city with as elegant a system.

  • Michael

    Informative post

  • http://gettingaroundmpls.wordpress.com Alex

    How can you measure the number of people getting lost? Wouldn’t you necessarily miss the people so lost they are outside the neighborhood they want to be in?

  • HamTech87

    The mental images of the subway map really does shape your sense of distance. When I lived in Boston, I used to make 2 transfers to get where I was going, until I finally found a street map and realized it was a 3 block walk. Nice post!

  • http://twitter.com/GeoffreyB Geoffrey Barraclough

    I was mightily confused by one of these near Euston that had reorientated the standard map so that north was no longer at the top. Call me a bloke, but several hundred years of conditioning means that up = North. That aside, these way stations are a real asset to the city.

  • http://yellowrex.com YellowRex

    These are great, but the word is “oriented”!

  • http://twitter.com/Nomad_on_line Rhian Johns

    Great post.  So many places in London are much easier and nicer found by walking.  In addition to these excellent new maps around the central area of London there are also some fantastic outer London walks….  I am a massive fan of the Capital Ring and the London Loop – excellent short and longer walks  that take you to parts of the capital rarely seen by tourists or Londoners alike.  

  • http://www.flatpackmates.co.uk Amy Nash

    this won’t really work, because if you are to walk for 15 minutes, you’d better catch the subway for 5….I always get late if I try to get from my work http://www.flatpackmates.co.uk to lunch and back by foot..

  • Natalie Porter

    For me the subway remains the best possible way to move around London when you in a hurry. However, here we talk about walking, so I do believe the wayfinding system could be of great use to people who want just to have a walk around the city.