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Toronto The 'better way'? TTC to rename subway lines with numbers

Commuters using the TTC subway in Toronto Mar. 26, 2012.

Moe Doiron/The Globe and Mail

Toronto's transit officials want to simplify the subway experience, hoping to prevent passenger confusion that breaks up the flow in the busiest stations.

A major overhaul in so-called "wayfinding" information will begin with pilot projects in two stations and includes designating each subway line with its own number.

The proposed shift would move the transit service away from subway lines known for their geography – the city's first subway line is named for Yonge Street, under which it runs. After the change, the Yonge-University-Spadina line will be numbered 1 and the Bloor-Danforth will be line 2.

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One thing won't change: the historic font created for the TTC when it began operating underground 61 years ago.

The proposal was presented to the TTC board Wednesday by Chief Customer Officer Chris Upfold, who walked commissioners through the logic behind the changes. They go beyond subway numbering and take into account a variety of ways to present information better. But the numerical designations are likely to be the most obvious to passengers.

"If you stand at Yonge and Bloor, we are leaving money on the floor there in how quickly we can move people through that station," Mr. Upfold told reporters before the meeting. "The number of customers that stop mid-flow to try and figure out where they're travelling to impedes progress, it slows it down. So this is actually about improving the number of people that can get through our stations quickly."

The current rapid transit line in Scarborough will be dubbed 3, though that number is likely to be up for grabs when that stretch of transit is replaced. The short subway now on Sheppard will be 4.

The Eglinton Crosstown is to be 5, according to Mr. Upfold's presentation, the Sheppard LRT will be 6 and the Finch LRT 7. Conspicuously absent on the map was a downtown relief line, though using a numerical designation could eventually help sell the need for that line to resentful suburbanites.

The proposal – which was generally well received by commissioners -- isn't likely to provoke the kind of discord that have roiled the transit file recently, during which citizens and politicians grappled over the appropriate form of transit service for Scarborough. It still has the potential to strike sparks, though.

Debate over so-called "wayfinding" systems have traditionally raised passions among design advocates and transit activists. An entire book was written on how New York ended up with Helvetica in its subway system, a reference text for that city's transit signage was likened to a local Rosetta Stone, and there are multiple places online where people debate transit maps and signs.

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Mr. Upfold said that wherever possible they would use the historic "subway font," which was created when the TTC went underground in the 1950s.

"You'll see a much cleaner approach to both branding and navigational signs, including maps," TTC spokesman Brad Ross had said earlier, noting that would be especially helpful for casual or first-time users and those whose first language is not English.

"The signage today is a true mish-mash," he added. "No consistent use of fonts; no standardized use of pictograms; each station is slightly different than the other in how signage is used."

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