I lived in London for three months in the summer of 2006. When I began walking about the city I felt intimidated by the size of the city. I had a Tube (train) map and an A-Z map I used to find my way around. I mostly used the Tube to get to where I needed to go. I was afraid to travel too far a distance on foot for fear I would get completely lost. I attempted to use the Tube map and the A-Z together, but doing so seemed to confuse me more.
After several weeks of avoiding too many walks and relying way too much on the Tube to get me around, my friend began pointing out places that were familiar, like Piccadilly Circus, Trafalgar Square and Covent garden, all these places I knew. I began to realize they were very close, walking distance of were I lived. At that point I felt almost silly that I had been taking a train to get there and it was only a 10 or 15 minute walk.
Transport of London found this to be the case in their research of the sign systems that were currently in place throughout London. Two years ago a study was done on the effectiveness of the mapping system for people traveling on foot. The study showed that the problem was the 32 different pedestrian wayfinding systems used within the central charge zones. People rely a great deal on the Tube maps to find their way around. The tube maps are schematic and distorts the real distances of destinations making people think it is much farther to walk than it is really is.
After gathering this data Transport of London decided to create a new environmental sign system (wayfinding), ‘Legible London’, that would provide more information to people who wanted to walk. This system would give people more confidence when traveling in London on foot.
The concept was to use “mental mapping” by connecting areas, regions, and transport systems. On November 2007 they placed nineteen pilot (prototype) maps in the West end of London, concentrating on the Bond Street area.
Strengths of the system:
The research from the prototypes found that 85% of 2,600 people found it easy to use and 90% felt the system should be used all across London. Almost two-thirds of people responding said the system would encourage them to walk more. The study showed people on foot were 16% quicker in their travels after the installation of the maps. (Research conducted by Colin Buchanan)
The prototype signs have an audio commentary which you can access using your mobile phone. Each sign has a unique commentary of the surrounding area with useful travel information and a description of the geography of nearby areas.
Weakness in the system:
Many pedestrians stated the cardinal directions needed to be posted larger on the maps; that there was still confusion of which direction they were walking.
The measurements of distance were an issue; should the distance be shown in time or measurements in meters.