On October 9th, PCAC Research Associate Karyl Berger and Ken Stewart, President of the Metropolitan Council of Low Vision Individuals, met with New York City Transit personnel on the subject of accessible subway station signage. Both Ms. Berger and Mr. Stewart have significant vision loss and feel strongly that to be truly effective, placement of signage and choice of wording must be done in a consistent manner throughout the subway system.
The session, which took place at NYC Transit offices at 2 Broadway, was attended by Helen Hartman and Sam Forde, Office of ADA Compliance, Capital Program Management, and Vicky Fischer and Herbert Shonhaut, Station Signage under the Department of Subways. The group’s discussion focused on Braille and raised-character (tactile) presentations, and ideal placement for these special formats. Appropriate placement of more conventional, high-contrast (white characters on black background) signs with matt finish to minimize mischievous reflections, were noted too. The group also discussed ideas for placement of signage where a partially sighted customer can approach them close up. In addition, Ms. Berger and Mr. Stewart stressed the importance of making the language of the signage consistent and easy to understand.
After the sit-down discussion, the group did a walk-through of the recently opened South Ferry station which serves as the southern terminus for the 1 Line and the Whitehall Street station that serves the R Line and is the southern terminus for the W Line. These two stations are connected by an upper level mezzanine. Mr. Stewart pointed out spots on walls immediately adjacent to stairways that are ideal for placing information about what can be reached via the particular stairway. These locations include the bottom right for those about to go up the stairs, and the top right for customers who are descending. The ideal accessible signage would offer the same information that is presented to the sighted public on the overhead sign typically found just above a stairway. Ms. Fischer expressed concern that a customer pausing to read these signs could impede the movement of customers who are ascending or descending behind that person.
Mr. Stewart also pointed out that at the base of an escalator that goes from the South Ferry platform to the mezzanine, there is no wall, column or other flat surface on which to mount accessible signage that provides the same information shown on the sign hanging above the escalator. The group had a lengthy discussion regarding viable solutions. Mr. Stewart advocated for the addition of a stanchion to hold the needed accessible signage. Mr. Stewart also described an alternative solution which would be to mount the needed signage on the outer face of the escalator or stairway which would face the platform edge. Mr. Stewart compared this situation to a similar one at the renovated Stillwell Avenue station where a pedestrian bridge serves several platforms that are in an open area with no walls or columns. One proposed solution is to attach a vertical pole set back a bit but mounted to the stair railing’s vertical supports, upon which the accessible signage could be placed.
During the visit, Ms. Berger and Mr. Stewart cited examples of elements in the station that worked well, such as conspicuous stair noses and those that were not helpful, such as stairs with no markings. Yellow noses at the front edge of grey stair treads are not easily seen by all vision impaired customers, but stairs with shiny metal noses were commended. The meeting was productive for all in attendance and New York City Transit has definitely made strides in improving accessible signage in the subway system.
On a related note, at the December meeting of New York City Transit’s ADA Coordinating Compliance Committee, the members heard an extensive presentation from Uday Durg, New York City Transit’s project manager who oversaw the building of the South Ferry station and John Montemorano, New York City Transit’s Director of Station Signage, who went through the various signs that are featured at this new station. Some of the concerns that were raised at the October meeting were again mentioned. It was made clear by some of the December meeting participants that making a station accessible for the physically disabled is different that making it accessible for persons with low or no vision. Hopefully the issues that have been raised in regards to signage will be taken into account for any new stations that will be built, including the stations for the Second Avenue subway and the 7 Line Extension