Home View from Underground Photo: A ‘form’-less Plat

Photo: A ‘form’-less Plat

by Benjamin Kabak

In the mid-1960s, when Massimo Vignelli redesigned the New York City Subway signage, he had to unify a disjointed set of informational and wayfinding signs that were a typographer’s worse nightmare. Fonts from the remnants of the IND, IRT and BMT battled it out, and many signs suffered from informational overload. Generally, those live on only in old photos and at the Transit Museum.

Yet, despite Vignelli’s generally clear modular approach to transportation graphics, some idiosyncrasies remain, and a few signs just don’t work. I’ve written before about my issues with late-night service pattern explanations which require an extensive knowledge of the subway system and also, seemingly, 99-percentile reading comprehension skills. Another sign that irks me is the one I photographed above.

That one is hanging at the rear of the Manhattan-bound platform at 7th Ave. on the BMT Brighton line, and for the sake of spacing the “-form” has been separated from its “plat.” Conceptually, it makes sense, but it requires a logic leap that a good wayfinding system wouldn’t impose upon its users. “What’s a plat?” one might wonder before landing on “platform.” And all of that just to save a little it of blank space.

The problem is one of flexibility. This sign is, in Vignelli’s terms, a 1×3 — one row of three squares of equal size. Adding the “-form” suffix would require an additional square that would be mostly blank. It wouldn’t look clean enough for an Italian designer who’s work revolves around straight lines and clean angles. You could perhaps put “Exit Middle” and “of Platform” and two separate lines, but then the text would bleed over the edge of the 1×1 square.

The best solution would require doing away with modular designs entirely so that the entire sentence can fit on one sign. There’s enough room along the platform to hang such a sign. Or else, you could do what long-time SAS reader Todd suggested and replace it with a sign that says “No Exit. Turn around.” That’s far more in line with the bluntness New Yorkers know and love.

For more scenes from the New York City subway system, be sure to check out my Second Ave. Sagas Instagram profile, and give me a follow if transit infrastructure photography is your thing.

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Gordon Werner November 28, 2012 - 3:48 pm

couldn’t they overlay the “NO EXIT” words on the Do Not Enter sign icon?

Bolwerk November 29, 2012 - 2:30 pm

Why have any other information than a simple NO EXIT? It should be enough to make all alighting passengers except the most illiterate knuckledragger turn around – and illiterate knuckledraggers don’t exactly perform better with lengthier explanations anyway. Most platforms are simple narrow strips, so it’s not like you can do much besides turn around and then find your way from there.

I really don’t get the obsession with Massimo Vignelli. Not to say he doesn’t do some good graphic work, but his sense of practicality is sub-par at best. He should be kept away from transit systems.

Kevin P. November 28, 2012 - 4:06 pm

It’s all on one line at Clark Street:


Phantom November 28, 2012 - 4:07 pm

Is anyone on the planet more useless than the one who first thought that using ” plat ” to be a good idea in any way?

Tower18 November 28, 2012 - 4:25 pm

“Exit from center/middle”?

Bolwerk November 29, 2012 - 2:32 pm

Overkill. People aren’t going to hook right or left into the tracks because there is no exit in the direction they’re walking.

bgriff November 28, 2012 - 4:38 pm

“Exit center of platform” isn’t actually even a useful message, when you think about it. The person reading the sign may well have little sense of where they are on the platform or where the middle is. “Turn around” or “Exit other way” or a little u-turn icon would be more helpful.

Or, just get rid of these signs altogether, and just make sure the signs that do point the way to the exit are frequent enough that they can easily be seen from all points (and aren’t behind light fixtures).

Benjamin Kabak November 28, 2012 - 4:39 pm

Signs behind light fixtures are an MTA specialty.

AlexB November 28, 2012 - 5:00 pm

I find the sign to be completely understandable. There was never anything confusing to me about plat as a abbreviation for platform, even before I moved to NY and started reading blogs about the subway.

BrooklynBus November 28, 2012 - 5:18 pm

What’s also ridiculous is the insistence of left justification when centering looks so much better. All new signs on the rebuilt Brighton stations are left justified with a lot of useless black space on the right. Looks like someone couldn’t plan correctly.

Andrew November 28, 2012 - 11:39 pm

Left justification and centering are both valid styles. Either one looks fine as long as it’s applied consistently. The MTA signage standard calls for left justification, which I personally thinks looks more professional in this setting (but that’s a matter of taste).

BrooklynBus November 29, 2012 - 8:58 am

Sometimes it looks fine but other times it looks plain stupid. There is no reason why everything has to be consistent all the time. Different circumstances call for different handling. Even the MTA makes plenty of exceptions and does not stick to an absolutely consistent style.

Another thing I thought was ridiculous about Vignelli signage was to put all the directional arrows on the left. It may look prettier but is totally non-functional. If the exit is on the right, that’ where the arrow shoud be, not on the left of the wording. If his method was used for highway signage, there woud be accidents galore as everyone woud be confused.

Andrew December 4, 2012 - 10:08 pm

I happen to think centering would look stupid in this context.

Right-pointing arrows in the subway are typically on the right.


BrooklynBus December 5, 2012 - 9:10 am

Again you are misinterpreting or changing what I said. I was not saying directional signage should be centered. They look fine left justified. I was only speaking about station name signage which should be centered and is in most cases except for the new Helvetica signs.

Also, there is nothing wrong with the images you show. Apparently the MTA realized I was correct and changed their style. I was talking about the original directional signs replaced in the 70s where the right arrow was to the left of the name instead of on the right as is the case with the number 2 directional sign in this image. http://joeclark.org/design/signage/TTC/standard/

Andrew December 5, 2012 - 7:37 pm

You were commenting on a post referring to one specific type of sign. I made the naive assumption that that’s the type of sign you were discussing.

But even if you’re only referring to station name signage, I think it looks fine left-justified (which as far as I can tell is the MTA standard):

BrooklynBus December 5, 2012 - 9:52 pm

Of course rather than admitting I am right about the right arrows to the left of the name, you just don’t mention that part of my comment at all. God forbid you should state you ever agreed with me on anything.

As for the images you link, except for Myrtle Avenue, there is such little black space that centering or left justification makes little difference. On the new signs on the Brighton Line at Neck Road for example, it is very obvious and looks totally ridiculous. Even the Myrtle Avenue sign looks ridiculous as it was printed. If they wanted to left justify, they could at least have used the black space on the right side to point you to the exit. Then left justification would have looked okay and the sign also would have provided needed additional information.

Andrew December 5, 2012 - 10:58 pm

I agreed with you about the right arrows from the start. The MTA has agreed with you about right arrows for decades, but you still took the opportunity to criticize them.

In all five photos, the text is clearly left-justified. Two of them have a lot of black space on the right and three have less, but they all have more black space on the right than on the left. That is the standard, and it seems to be applied consistently. I think it looks good. You don’t. There’s no accounting for taste.

BrooklynBus December 6, 2012 - 9:12 am

No you did not agree with me that the right arrows should be on the right. You merely stated that they are on the right, and to tell you the truth I wasn’t aware that the MTA changed their standard.

Andrew December 6, 2012 - 11:18 pm

Pardon me for not publicly proclaiming that I agreed with you. I didn’t realize that was required.

Right-pointing arrows have been on the right for decades – probably since the early 80’s, if I had to guess. That you hadn’t noticed in all that time, yet you still felt the need to criticize, is telling.

BrooklynBus December 7, 2012 - 12:40 am

It was certainly not required, but when someone consistently criticizes virtually all of someone else’s posts as you do and never mentions he agrees with anything that person says, that is very telling about that person’s character.

Regarding the right arrows, had we had this discussion in the70’s when it was still MTA policy for all arrows to be on the left, you no doubtedly would have defended it as neat, consistent, and not confusing since you defend virtually every one of the MTA’s decisions. Now that they have changed that policy, it is okay for you now to disagree with it. Are you sure you don’t now or have ever worked for the agency? Such loyalty for a non-employee is quite unusual.

Andrew December 9, 2012 - 10:46 pm

I would appreciate if you wouldn’t put words in my mouth. Thanks.

Bolwerk November 29, 2012 - 3:03 pm

As I recall, research into accessibility actually suggests that justification has a strong tendency to make things less readable.

Regardless, it can take a lot of care to do it properly even when it is appropriate.

R2 November 28, 2012 - 5:28 pm

Funny how a simple “Exit” with a u-turn symbol would work so easily. However, I’m partial to London’s “Way Out” myself

BoerumBum November 29, 2012 - 9:13 am

They do that for the 7 Train signs in Grand Central

Peter November 28, 2012 - 5:52 pm

How about “Exit other direction” or “Exit opposite direction.”

The specification of “middle of platform” seems needless since the exit is presumably indicated by additional signage. All the rider needs to be told is “turn around” and then walk until they see an exit sign.

This isn’t a failure of the Vignelli system, it’s a failure of implementation.

Phantom November 28, 2012 - 6:00 pm

It was not possible to say ” platform ” ?

This is the same as some street signs that say ” peds ” ( often not understood ) when they could have said ” pedestrians ” ( always understood )

There is a level of extreme incompetence among some who create this signage that is hard to believe.

Jerrold November 28, 2012 - 8:22 pm

And how about “PED XING”?

Chuck G. November 28, 2012 - 10:40 pm

“Extreme Incompetence?” Are you serious?

Extreme incompetence would be having that a sign that read “Exit at end of platform” and having someone get raped or killed because of it.

Causing someone’s panties to get in a bunch because they don’t like the abbreviation “plat”, even though it’s perfectly understandable, hardly constitutes “extreme incompetence.”

Phantom November 29, 2012 - 1:31 am

It is gross incomptetence. I did not know what that word meant. It is not an acceptable abbreviation, and there is no reason to abbreviate.

It would be particularly propblematic to our huge numbers of English speaking and non English speaking tourists who would have no idea what plat is supposed to mean. You don’t see that ” word ” anywhere else .

BrooklynBus November 29, 2012 - 10:22 am

If you are going to abbreviate, at least put a period at the end. “Plat” means absolutely nothing.

BrooklynBus November 29, 2012 - 10:25 am

They easily could have added another module for “form”. I also do not get the purpose of the Do not enter” symbol. You can enter that portion of the platform to wait for a train.

Andrew December 4, 2012 - 10:10 pm

Another module? The sign is a single sign, not a collection of modules.

The graphic is there to stand out. Remember, the purpose of these signs is to avoid misdirection during an emergency.

BrooklynBus December 5, 2012 - 9:16 am

If its all one sign and not modules, then there is absolutely no excuse for not spelling out the entire word. And please don’t repeat that they were restricted to using such a large size font. Smaller fonts are used in signage all over the system. The fonts in the Clark Street exit sign appear to be smaller.

Andrew December 5, 2012 - 8:15 pm

For the third time, this is a reading installed on the reverse of a preexisting sign. It can only be as wide as the preexisting sign is. And this particular preexisting sign is the ubiquitous “Exit” sign with an arrow!

Clark Street has limited headroom, so there’s no choice but to use a shorter sign with a smaller font. As a result, there have to be a lot more signs to maintain visibility.

BrooklynBus December 5, 2012 - 9:10 pm

You are speaking out of both sides of your mouth. First you say that platform had to be abbreviated because they are restricted to a minimum sized font. When I point out that smaller fonts are used elsewhere (like at Clark Street), and platform could have been spelled out in full at Seventh Avenue with a smaller-zized font, you say now say that more signs would be required if the font was reduced. That’s why there is no use arguing with you.

Andrew December 5, 2012 - 11:07 pm

And given that this message was only being installed on the reverse side of preexisting signs, where would those additional signs come from? The sign fairy?

BrooklynBus December 6, 2012 - 9:21 am

I never said anything about additional signs. I stated the font should be smaller which you initially said was not possible because there is a minimal size font that must be adhered to. After it was shown a smaller font coud have been and is in fact used elsewhere in the system you put words in my mouth saying I was asking for additional signage. (I only said that when I thought there were modules. No modules. No additional signs needed if a smaller sized font were used in the first place.) The way you stick up for the MTA, for a non-employee, is unbelievable. It’s okay to occasionally admit you and the MTA were wrong.

Andrew December 6, 2012 - 10:37 pm

Let me try this again. I will type slowly. Maybe that will help.

1. These messages were posted to avoid a repeat of an evacuation disaster in 2003 in which people were led away from the station’s only exit.

2. They were added on the reverse side (formerly blank) of existing exit signs, many of them consisting only of the word “Exit” and an arrow. At most stations, these signs are spaced fairly widely, since the preexisting text is fairly large and can be seen from fairly far away.

3. At a small number of stations with limited headroom, the preexisting signs are shorter, with smaller text. Since smaller text is harder to read from afar, these signs are spaced more closely to each other.

4. Since the messages were only added to the reverse side of existing signs, the text had to be fairly large as well, except at the few stations with the more frequent spacing.

5. The success or failure of a program should be assessed in terms of its own goals, not in terms of goals later ascribed to it by others. For example, the success or failure of a program to ensure that passengers in an evacuation are not led away from the station exit should not be assessed on how well it directs tourists to the nearest exit or on whether a disgruntled retiree approves of an abbreviation.

BrooklynBus December 6, 2012 - 11:17 pm

Let me say this again and maybe it would help if you read it slowly.

I understand your points 1 through 4.

As far as your point 5, here we go again with the insults which I previously told you I will not tolerate and if you continue them once you see you can’t win an argument and start to go in circles, I will go back to ignoring all your comments again since you are proving that you cannot have an intelligent discussion and act in a civil manner at the same time.

Regarding your first 4 points, I will address them in your other response.

Andrew December 6, 2012 - 11:20 pm

Point 5 is not an insult.

BrooklynBus December 6, 2012 - 11:55 pm

Calling me “a disgruntled retiree” is an insult.”

Andrew December 7, 2012 - 12:04 am

No, it’s a simple fact. You are obviously not pleased with how your former employer treated you. There’s nothing insulting about it.

BrooklynBus December 7, 2012 - 11:10 am

It still has a negative connotation implying that I cannot be fair regarding matters where the MTA is concerned and I will unduly criticize them as in this case with the signage. If that were true, I would not be writing articles complementing how well they handled Hurricane Sandy and how much they contributed to the 911 effort. It also would not explain why I currently have an excellent relationship with top NYCT officials whom I regularly correspond with and who reply to me personally.

That is why your remark is insulting. It is a fact that I wish my career had taken a different turn and I could have been treated better, but in some respects the MTA was very good to me. Using the word “disgruntled” is far from a complimentary term.

Andrew December 9, 2012 - 10:48 pm

I stand by my language.

And I again reiterate the opening of point 5, which you’ve conveniently ignored: “The success or failure of a program should be assessed in terms of its own goals, not in terms of goals later ascribed to it by others.”

BrooklynBus December 9, 2012 - 11:48 pm

Of course you stand by your language because it is not in your nature to admit you are wrong.

Regarding Point 5, the sign is still a failure even by the goals set when the sign was installed (which you only would have knowledge of if you were involved in the process). As the article states, it could have said, “No Exit- Turn around” or as I suggested, “No Exit Ahead”. Both would have fit on the back of the existing sign in the same font and would have been more understandable that having to ask yourself, “What is a Plat?” as Ben states. And without using an unecessary “Do Not Enter” Sign” which is confusing and you yourself admitted is ignored by someone waiting for a train. If they ignore it, it is possible that those looking for an exit also ignore it because they do not understand what a plat is.

Andrew December 11, 2012 - 10:12 pm

“The success or failure of a program should be assessed in terms of its own goals, not in terms of goals later ascribed to it by others.” Yet you deem it a failure simply because you don’t like its format. I’m afraid that doesn’t make it a failure.

I didn’t say that people ignore the do-not-enter symbol; I said that they realize, because of the text to its immediate right, that it doesn’t mean “thou shalt not enter under any circumstances” but rather that it means “if you’re trying to find an exit, you’re going the wrong way.” The do-not-enter symbol makes the sign stand out so that, during an emergency, when seconds count, it doesn’t get lost amidst the other signs.

If you’re so convinced that these signs are misleading, take a poll of 20 or 30 subway riders and find out what they think the sign means.

BrooklynBus December 11, 2012 - 10:24 pm

Maybe they should have used a skull and crossbones. That also would have made the sign stand out. There is no rationale for use of inappropriate symbols. Do Not Enter means Do Not Enter regardless of any accompanying text.

Why don’t you take the poll, since you brought it up?

Ben, you want to run a poll?

Andrew December 11, 2012 - 10:48 pm

Pictograms are often explained with text messages.

In practice, nobody takes this sign to mean that entry is strictly prohibited. Apparently nobody is actually confused.

You’ve been repeatedly insisting that the signs, as they exist now, are difficult to understand. I’ve asked you to provide some evidence, any evidence, to support your claim. Perhaps a poll would help, although I doubt it.

BrooklynBus December 12, 2012 - 9:50 am

“In practice nobody takes this sign to mean that entry is strictly prohibited. Apparently nobody is actually confused.”

That is strictly your opinion. You don’t have a shred of evidence to prove that. You should be the one to take that poll but I’m sure you wouldn’t do it objectively anyway.

Several others here have agreed with me. In fact the premise of this entire article is that it is a poor sign, so why are you having a problem with me? Apparently no one else wants to get in on this because they will never hear the end of it. You think you can just wear people down by endlessly discussing it. You’ve lost so admit it already. Forget it. You never will.

Andrew December 12, 2012 - 6:56 pm

That is strictly your opinion. You don’t have a shred of evidence to prove that. You should be the one to take that poll but I’m sure you wouldn’t do it objectively anyway.

I see dozens of people every day walk past the signs to wait for the train at the far end of the platform. They obviously don’t think it means “entry is forbidden under all circumstances.” They realize that the symbol and the text to its immediate right are related, and that the sign is simply informing them that they are going the wrong way if they are looking for an exit.

It’s obvious that there’s no actual problem with the signs, but if you still insist that there is, I’ve suggested that you try to back it up somehow. So far you haven’t.

Several others here have agreed with me.

Phantom seems to be the only one. AlexB and Chuck G. clearly don’t.

In fact the premise of this entire article is that it is a poor sign, so why are you having a problem with me?

The premise of this article makes the erroneous assumptions that Vignelli-style modules are of fixed width (they are not) and that these were new signs installed specifically to display this message (in fact, the message was installed on the reverse side of existing signs).

The only problem I have with you is that you repeatedly insist that a sign that seems to do its job just fine is in fact a major failure. I know you don’t want to hear that you have a chip on your shoulder, but I think you have a chip on your shoulder.

You’ve lost so admit it already. Forget it. You never will.

What exactly have I lost? In what way – aside from your generic dislike – are these signs a failure?

BrooklynBus December 12, 2012 - 9:12 pm

I never said these signs are a major failure. You are the one who has turned a mole hill into a mountain by continuing this discussion for several weeks.

My only point (once we get past if there should or should not be a period after plat) was that the signage could have been handled in a more understandable manner. The existing signage asks you to make several decisions in case of an emergency where there is a smoke condition and time is of the essence.

First you have to understand the Do Not Enter symbol, then you have to read it in context of the rest of the sign. You have to understand what a plat is, then you have to ask yourself where the middle of the plat is since that is the direction you have to walk in. With smoke all around you may not be able to see the ends of the platform and if you are not familiar with the station platform, it may not be obvious.

Then you have to deduct that if you can’t enter past the sign, the middle of the plat must be in the other direction. Instead of merely turning around and going upstairs you could think the middle of the plat is further down the plat and bypass the exit. (Not all stairways lead to exits such as at DeKalb Avenue where some just lead to the other side.)

That’s a lot of thinking to do in an emergency which you claim is the reason these signs were erected. With a sign that says “No exit -Turn Around” or “No Exit Ahead” you don’t have to go through all those mental steps. The obvious choice is to immediately go the other way.

But since you are so focused in defending these signs, you are blind to the obvious. Discussion over.

Andrew December 13, 2012 - 12:09 am

OK, you don’t like the signs. I think we had already established that. That doesn’t make them a failure.

I don’t know of anyone, aside from (apparently) you, who finds them genuinely confusing. And the combination of graphics and text makes the sign stand out in the smoke.

BrooklynBus December 13, 2012 - 11:27 am

You don’t know of anyone except me?

Perhaps you need to reread the article.

“Conceptually it makes sense, but it requires a logic leap, that a good way finding system wouldn’t impose upon its users.”

Andrew November 29, 2012 - 9:28 pm


Either form is acceptable as long as it’s applied consistency. I believe the MTA signage standard is generally to omit the period, so it should be omitted here as well.

Andrew November 29, 2012 - 9:29 pm

Applied consistently, that is.

BrooklynBus December 9, 2012 - 11:56 pm

Subway system signage is not consistent. Newer signs do not use the period for abbreviations. Signs in the mosaic tile are mixed. You have “Ft. Hamilton Pkway.” in the tile with the periods, in large font, and without the periods in the tile in small font.

Old signs were centered. New ones are left justified (or only as large as necessary to fit the name of the station), but check out the new helvetica stainless steel signs at Grand Central on the Flushing Line. They are centered, not left justified and a few new signs such as Wall Street on the 2 and 3 are in Times Roman, not helvetica.

Andrew December 11, 2012 - 8:56 pm

Correct, mosaic signs installed when the stations opened, long before 1970, do not comply with the 1970’s Unimark style guide or its more recent revisions. A small number of more recent signs also violate the standard, but the overwhelming majority of signs posted since 1970 omit the period.

So why should every sign containing the abbreviation “plat” violate the standard and include a period?

BrooklynBus December 11, 2012 - 9:40 pm

I can’t believe you are still talking about this. The period isn’t crucial if the standard now is to omit them. More importantly an unauthorized abbreviation such as Plat is unnecessary to begin with. “No exit ahead” or “No exit. Turn Around” conveys the same message and is readily more understandable as I and other commenters have already stated.

You didn’t answer why a new Grand Central sign should violate the standard and be centered instead of left justified which looks ridiculous.

Andrew December 11, 2012 - 10:27 pm

You’re the one who asked for the period. I’m telling you why it’s not there.

The English language does not have an authorizing body for abbreviations.

The Grand Central signs are black-on-silver, not white-on-black. You will have to ask the artist why he chose to ignore the standard.

BrooklynBus December 12, 2012 - 2:51 pm

No authorizing body for abbreviations?

Wel I gues then tha it is acceptab to abbrev any word anyone feels lik by truncatin par of the word.

Arguing over the period is like rearranging the deck chairs chairs on the Titanic when it was not necessary to use “plat” in the first place.

Of course it’s the artist’ fault regarding the Grand Central signage. The MTA had absolutely no say in a matter regarding official signs put up on its property that do not meet its graphic standards?

Tell me, how much does the MTA pay you to constantly defend them? Are you sure you do not work in their PR Department?

Andrew December 12, 2012 - 7:05 pm

No, Allan, the English language does not have an authorizing body. Since it appears that pretty much everybody who encounters these signs can figure out from the context what “plat” means, I’m afraid I don’t see the problem.

I’m not blaming anyone for the Grand Central signs; I don’t see why anybody needs to be blamed. I’m just pointing out that the signs violate many aspects of the signage standard – the height, the color, and the centering are all in violation. Artwork is not generally subject to signage standards; I guess somebody decided that these signs should be considered artwork. The standard is still a standard, even with an occasional violation.

BrooklynBus December 12, 2012 - 8:50 pm

The problem is that you insist everyone knows what is meant by “plat” which is used nowhere else as an abbreviation, without absolutely no proof.

Regarding the Grand Central signs, I only brought it up because of your insistance on the importance of maintaining consistent graphic standards and when I find a flagrant violation you somehow can justify it as “artwork” not within the graphic standards jurisdiction and all of a sudden an occasional violation is not such a serious problem. Your flip flopping and refusal to hold the MTA responsible for any wrongdoing is just amazing. If you are not paid by the MTA, I think they certainly should pay you.

Andrew December 12, 2012 - 11:58 pm

The existence of isolated violations doesn’t mean that every instance of “plat” should get a period when no other abbreviations get periods.

While I would not mind earning some additional pay, I’m quite satisfied with my own job, and given the MTA’s financial challenges, I think I will pass.

BrooklynBus December 13, 2012 - 11:18 am

I already conceded that if the standard is not to have a period, then there shouldn’t be one after plat if it is used in the signage so why are you still talking about the period? The larger issue as I maintain is that plat shouldn’t have been used in the first place when there are better alternatives that I have already described.

Andrew November 29, 2012 - 8:51 pm

So tell us how you would have done it in 2004.

Your task, as I explained last night, comes in response to a fire in which emergency personnel mistakenly directed passengers away from the station’s only exit.

You are to devise a message, immediately understandable to both emergency personnel and passengers, to be installed on the reverse of the signs pointing to the exits (currently, i.e. in 2004, blank). There is neither time nor money to install new signs; you are to use the existing signs only. Furthermore, you must comply with ADA requirements regarding font size.

Go for it, O Extremely Competent One.

BrooklynBus November 30, 2012 - 12:03 am

The year now is 2012, not 2004. Perhaps the sign that was installed in 2004 woud have been acceptable as a temporary measure. However, there is no reason why in the subsequent 8 years why another panel adding the “form” could not have been added. Show me where, Extremely Competent One, where “plat” is an acceptable abbreviation for the word platform. You cannot simply truncate any word and call it an acceptable abbrev

Andrew December 4, 2012 - 10:13 pm

Signs aren’t made up of panels. Hundreds of signs across the system would need to be replaced, not because there’s anything wrong with the existing ones but only because you’re offended by an abbreviation.

This isn’t French, and nobody put you in charge of determining which abbreviations are and are not acceptable.

BrooklynBus December 5, 2012 - 9:20 am

I don’t think anyone would agree with you that “plat” is an acceptable abbreviation for platform. We are talking about this sign, not hundreds of signs across the system. In fact I don’t recall seeing “plat” on any other signage. Have you?

Andrew December 5, 2012 - 8:09 pm

There are hundreds of them! As I explained a week ago:

These readings were all installed less than ten years ago – on the reverse side of existing signs, which had until then been blank. They were installed in response to this incident at York Street:
[link removed]

Since many of the original signs were narrow (“Exit” with an arrow), there was no room to spell out the word “platform” in full on the reverse.

Here are a few examples:

…and this is on the opposite side of all of them:

AlexB and Chuck G. don’t seem to have a problem with it. Frankly, I suspect few New Yorkers have a problem with it.

BrooklynBus December 5, 2012 - 10:00 pm

Several people have commented here that it is unclear especially to foreigners. Myself and another also commented how the Do Not enter symbol is confusing and out of place since it implies you are not allowed to stand and wait for a train beyond the sign. An exit sign with a U-turn symbol would be clearer and make more sense as others have stated. It would also be more understandable to those who speak little English. However, you are not able to grasp those concepts and insist on arguing.

Andrew December 5, 2012 - 11:14 pm

You claimed that nobody would agree with me that “plat” is acceptable – I identified two people.

You claimed that there is only one sign that uses the abbreviation “plat” – I linked to three others (courtesy of Google).

Remember, again, the purpose of these signs: to ensure that emergency personnel do not lead people away from the exit in an emergency evacuation. The sign as posted is unambiguous in that regard. An exit sign with a u-turn symbol only indicates that an exit (perhaps the nearest one) is behind you, but there might also be another exit further ahead. What tourists might think is not a major consideration. (Non-English speaking tourists won’t understand the full word “platform” either!)

BrooklynBus December 6, 2012 - 9:27 am

An exit with a u-turn sign does not mean that the closest exit is behind you and there may be another one further ahead. It means what it says, the exit is behind you. In cases of multiple exits, each exit has an additional sign noting the street name the exit leads to.

A do not enter sign means do not proceed beyond this point except perhaps for authorized personnel and certainly is confusing.

You have a real problem admitting when you are wrong and are just grasping at straws by making a point about multiple exits.

Andrew December 6, 2012 - 10:53 pm

That’s simply not true. Think of an IND station with multiple stairs off of the platform leading to a single mezzanine with all exits in the center. All of the platform stairs effectively lead to the same place. If the closest exit is behind me, a simple u-turn arrow with the word “Exit” is quite sufficient.

A sign stating “There is an exit behind you” doesn’t solve the problem. A sign stating “There is no exit ahead of you” does. The sign needs to unambiguously state that there is no exit up ahead.

The graphic is included as an attention-grabber. The text makes it quite clear that it is referring to exits and that there’s nothing wrong with waiting for the train further along the platform.

BrooklynBus December 6, 2012 - 11:48 pm

It is true. The word Exit with a U-turn symbol (which is just as visible from a distance as Exit Middle of Plat) does not mean “there is an exit behind you.” It means “the exit is behind you, so turn around to get out.” That provides more info and is clearer than a sign that says “Exit Middle of Plat” The graphic is an incorrect and confusing attention grabber since it provides contradictory information. It says “Do Not Enter”. There is nothing about the symbol or the text that implies “there’s nothing wrong with waiting for the train further along the platform.” That is your interpretation and no one else’s.

Regarding your points 1 through 4 you previously stated, yes the messages were added on the reverse side of pre-existing signs and had to be noticeable from a distance. My only point was that this could have been accomplished in a clearer more understandable manner without using an unconventional abbreviation that is difficult for someone who speaks little English to understand. (Of course you changed my statement to say someone who speaks no English, in which case they would only understand international symbols anyway.)

A simple “No exit ahead” would have been clearer. than “Exit Middle of Plat” and could have been done in a large font. Or else, the word “Exit” followed by a U-turn symbol, would have been preferable since it would also be understood by non-English speaking individuals providing they know the word for exit. It implies there is no exit ahead by asking you to turn around. It does not mean you can turn around to exit if you want to and there could be an exit ahead anyway. That is your interpretation and no one else’s.

(Now read this slowly so you can comprehend.) A “Do Not Enter” symbol which does not mean what it says since you are allowed to enter that portion of the platform is incorrect usage of that symbol.

I now consider this matter closed and will not respond further to an individual who always believes he is correct, is stubborn and does not admit his errors, goes around in circles, changes the subject and starts insulting and becomes sarcastic when he runs out of rational explanations. So go ahead and rant on since you have to have the last word. But accuse me of making statements I did not make because if you do, I will respond.

BrooklynBus December 6, 2012 - 11:52 pm

Last sentence should read: “Don’t accuse me of making statements I did not make because if you do, I will respond.”

Andrew December 7, 2012 - 12:02 am

Fine, Allan, you win.

The current signs are obviously a major failure. Any emergency responder will be completely stumped by the word “plat” and will carry on straight ahead, fully expecting to find another exit.

If only there were a plain directional exit sign instead, which would make it perfectly obvious that there are no other exits in another direction. (Unless there are.)

And that line-through-a-circle symbol is so confusing! I never see anybody walk past one of those signs, for fear of arrest!

What an incredible failure!

BrooklynBus December 7, 2012 - 10:48 am

Sarcasm. Your final resort. To defend these signs so vehemently, I am now convinced that you must be the person who designed them!

Andrew December 9, 2012 - 11:02 pm

Wow, you figured it out!!!

peter November 28, 2012 - 7:42 pm

The circle with the bar in it is a no-entry symbol, suggesting passengers shouldn’t proceed past the sign. Of course if you’re waiting for a train it’s perfectly sensible to pass the sign.

paulb November 28, 2012 - 9:44 pm

There’s a sign for drivers leaving a garage at Brooklyn Hospital: “Caution, Pedestrian Walkway.” I wondered for weeks where the “pedestrian walkway” was, then I realized they meant the sidewalk. “Way out.” Like that. I mean, at Seventh Ave., it’s arguable whether the stairs are actually in the middle of the platform. I think of them as more at the end.

Andrew November 28, 2012 - 10:03 pm

Did everybody here just move to New York?

These readings were all installed less than ten years ago – on the reverse side of existing signs, which had until then been blank. They were installed in response to this incident at York Street:

Since many of the original signs were narrow (“Exit” with an arrow), there was no room to spell out the word “platform” in full on the reverse.

This had nothing whatsoever to do with Vignelli, and those of you blaming this on “extreme incompetence” might want to consider not jumping to conclusions.

Chuck G. November 28, 2012 - 10:43 pm

It’s no use, Andrew…if the signs were replaced, these are the same people who would complain that the MTA wastes money by throwing out perfectly good signs.

Andrew December 6, 2012 - 11:21 pm

I should have taken your advice last week!

Patrick November 29, 2012 - 1:31 am

This has nothing to do with this post but I seriously wanna write this:

I’m sick & tired of everyone that comes on this site and starts bitching & moaning because a Bridge or a Tunnel or even a Subway station gets renamed. I pretty much don’t give a good fuck about the name of any Bridge or Tunnel, as long the structure still exists & still makes the connection it was built to make. Example: The Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel down in Virginia, that’s not even its real name. The guy it was named for was still alive when it was renamed over 20 years ago. Unless YOU poured YOUR blood, YOUR sweat & YOUR tears into making ANY of these connections, Shut The Fuck Up & just drive over or under and pay the $6.50/$13, soon to be $7/$14 and continue on with your life.

Bolwerk November 29, 2012 - 2:58 pm

Thank you for clearing your id. But we have every right to object as long as we live here and our taxes and tolls are paying for the bridge. Furthermore, a wanky authoritarian like Ed Koch certainly doesn’t deserve to be memorialized on a stately bridge that he had nothing to do with.

Also, people who disagree with the name changes have a valid practical point. As recently as Hurricane Sandy, the changes lead to legitimate confusion.

Patrick November 29, 2012 - 10:53 pm

legitimate confusion to WHO exactly? Before ‘Hurricane’ ‘Superstorm’ ‘Post-Tropical Storm’ Sandy (pick one), traffic reporters called any renamed structure a combination of both the old & new name until they felt like the new name stuck with commuters. Hell, technically, the Verrazano Bridge still has its old name but for some reason, DOT dropped the ‘-Narrows’ part from street signs. Although you may have a valid point about Ed Koch, the hell he do to get something named for him? My point is that for everyone who come here and starts whining, do you think that our hack of a mayor or the head of DOT or any offical logs onto Second Avenue Sagas, reads your comments about renamings and be like “Oh, maybe we should change it back?” Imagine if EVERYTHING that got renamed was changed back to its original name? I think a lot of tourists will be confused as fuck if they had to fly in at Idlewild Airport for New York City. But i’m also on the other side on name changes, if you gonna change the name of a road, change the WHOLE stretch of road, not a 1-block or a 1-mile section

Bolwerk November 30, 2012 - 1:45 am

Re confusion: you gave an example. Traffic reporters having to call any renamed structure by a combination of both the old and new name is an example of confusion. That is a really silly waste of time, especially in an emergency.

I realize it’s futile to worry about. I realize there are much more important things in New York to have a populist groundswell about. Still, I think people have every right to not be thrilled that so many route names that have existed for generations are being replaced willynilly.

Patrick November 30, 2012 - 2:36 am

Do you think that people seriously care what the name of the structure is called in a emergency? As long as whatever they are crossing, it gets them out of the line of fire.
How is saying the old and new name of something confusing? How is RFK-Triborough Bridge or Verrazano-Narrows Bridge confusing?

I also have to agree with some people to a point. Okay, change the name, don’t take down and replace every big overhead highway sign because of it UNLESS its for clarity reasons. Slap the new name on the existing sign. Spend $$ instead of $$$$

Bolwerk December 1, 2012 - 9:54 pm

I don’t think most care that much, but the way it was done was not responsible. Too many changes were made in a short period. When people aren’t understanding WTF officials are talking about, and the fact that you cite reporters having to give both names is evidence of that, it’s not a good thing.

Patrick December 2, 2012 - 11:00 pm

LOL wut? You forget what city were talking about here? That’s how it works, new people come in and change ancient stuff. It’s been like that for as far back as when the forefarthers formed this doomed country

Bolwerk December 5, 2012 - 6:31 pm

Uh, other people in the past doing something stupid/pointless isn’t a good argument for doing something stupid/pointless.

Phantom November 30, 2012 - 4:09 am

I’ll vote for any politician who promises to restore the real names of our public spaces, and also promises not to rename anything else

He can steal all he wants, as long as he does these things

Patrick November 30, 2012 - 4:27 am

I bet you would like it if JFK was still a golf course

Ray November 29, 2012 - 5:51 am


steve kennedy November 29, 2012 - 8:03 am

Quote from Paul Shaw “this is not unique. They all say plat in place of platform. I don’t think it has anything to do with Vignelli. This is a later decision, not part of his semantics from 1970.”

LLQBTT November 29, 2012 - 9:18 am

Signs like this are the reverse of what’s described in the article about verbose & cumbersome wording and they have the same effect of being un-informative. A happy medium can surely be found. My belief is that it’s time once again to re-imagine all the signage, its placement, media, language..the whole kit and kaboodle.

Phantom November 29, 2012 - 9:51 am

Not much to re imagine or to study anything. Use real words or real abbreviations only. If the MTA sign gurus are too stupid to do the above, they can adopt the signage conventions of Chicago or Philadelphia. End of.

Jeff November 29, 2012 - 1:52 pm

Stop blaming Vignelli for the terrible use of English language in the subway system today.

If you were around back in the 70s and 80s, the descriptions on the Vignelli-inspired signs were actually very detailed, and used real English. However, because they had to throw so much extra words in, the fonts were tiny, and it seems that they switch to the much bigger fonts in the early 90’s in order to make things more readable. Unfortunately that means butchering sentences and using abbreviations like this.

Bolwerk November 29, 2012 - 2:45 pm

Short, simple explanations are probably what they need. “EXIT 59th and Lexington Avenue” or “EXIT 57th and Lexington Avenue” is about as detailed as most exit signs need to get at the platform level. At the mezzanine level, maybe you include the side of the street.

I can understand that some service details call for more descriptions, but I just don’t see the need for long sentences.

oinonio November 29, 2012 - 2:36 pm

I like the use of the U-Turn sign, doing away with the english altogether (afterall, not everyone in NYC speaks English).

Andrew November 29, 2012 - 8:55 pm

But the only reason to make a u-turn is to reach the exit. If you’re waiting for a train, you don’t need to turn around.

Think of the context: passengers and emergency personnel locating an exit quickly. A symbol and text together best convey that message.

Bruce M November 29, 2012 - 3:58 pm

Why don’t they simply mount the signs on the wall (parallel with the platform, I mean Plat), with one word: EXIT and the arrow pointing in the appropriate direction. EXIT=>, or <=EXIT.
Wouldn't that make life simpler for everyone? Of course, they would probably cover up a beautiful mosaic when they mount the sign.

oinonio November 29, 2012 - 8:29 pm

This is a great idea.

Anthony November 30, 2012 - 11:48 am

I respectfully disagree. When you exit the train, unless the wall-mounted sign is directly in front of you (or at least in the proximity of where you are), the angle of view will be so low that you won’t be able to read the message. You may end up walking in the wrong direction before coming upon one of those signs. Having the sign perpendicular to the train, in the middle of the platform, makes it visible no matter which side of the sign you are on, or how far away you are from the sign when you exit the train. If you look down the platform and see “Exit”, you follow it. If you see “No Exit”, you turn around. No searching for signs needed.

To make the wall mounted solution viable, you would need many, many more signs per station ($$$). Wall-mounted signs are also more susceptible to vandalism and theft ($$$). Plus, as you mention, there are historical and structural considerations you have to make before drilling into tile.

Andrew November 29, 2012 - 9:15 pm

If the goal were to design a new signage system from scratch, that might be a good way to go about it.

But that wasn’t the goal. The goal was to retrofit the existing signage system, solely by filling in blank spaces on the backs of existing signs, to avoid a repeat of the 2003 York Street fire, in which passengers were mistakenly led away from the station’s only exit.

Phantom November 30, 2012 - 7:15 pm

I believe that’s what they do in Lomdon. Works fine.

Andrew December 4, 2012 - 10:15 pm Reply
Someone December 2, 2012 - 7:08 pm

Easy solution. A “no exit” symbol and “No Exit” text, because you’d have to turn around (the exit apparently must be in the other direction.)

From DOT, signage to clarify the parking situation :: Second Ave. Sagas January 8, 2013 - 1:32 pm

[…] is both vital to the way we get around and often simply taken for granted. We are willing to accept sub-par signage, but we’re also willing to argue over what information should be presented on signs and how. […]


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