Tiny SHEPPARD-YONGE sign is distantly visible across several concrete platforms

(UPDATED) In 2015 my business partner and I scored the impossible: A paid consulting assignment on the topic of TTC signage. The task was to locate deficiencies in the current signage system. My methods were as simple as could be: I set myself common, uncommon, and rare tasks and tried to carry them out purely by using TTC signage. Those tasks were:

  1. Enter Eglinton station and get to Eglinton and Mount Pleasant by bus
  2. Climb to streetcar level at Broadview while writing a text message
  3. Get from Chester station to the Dufferin Mall
  4. Enter stations using only senior tickets
  5. Take the 64 bus
  6. Take the Community Bus (by far the most interesting task)
  7. Get from Main station to the nearby GO station
  8. Walk into Yorkdale (don’t!)

This is the only signage evaluation in the history of the human race with a footnoted reference to J.G. Ballard. (The topic there is the environs of Yorkdale station. I actually wanted to call Yorkdale an exurban Ballardian hellscape but held back.)

Documents available (new for 2015)

Signage evaluation report (4 MB PDF)

Although I wrote all the copy in HTML, I’m not re-converting this illustrated, well-typeset tagged PDF (legal landscape format; spot the typo)

TTC Wayfinding Standard (10 MB PDF)

Yes, the TTC signage manual from September 2014. (Tags added, minor metadata redactions)

Mid-year update, in which I am told to stop “scolding” the TTC

If there was ever, in the last couple of years, a moment when I was taken remotely seriously by the TTC, that is long over.

I had met Chris Upfold at the Aroma coffeeshop on Bloor shortly after he took over whatever his position is called. We agreed on a lot of things, including the fact that, to do a proper signage redesign, you’d have to hire Erik Spiekermann in some guise. (He kept telling the press it would cost millions. It would probably have cost one million over a few years.)

We then had a fractious relationship over E‑mail. I was invited to the press junket for the new low-floor streetcars, a tense environment for all of us. (I’ve been carefully kept away from every other press junket, though Brad Ross denied maintaining approved and unapproved lists of media contacts.) And, after much negotiation, in mid-August of 2014 – a year ago as I write this – I was granted an audience with Upfold in his corner office at Davisville.

We fought like animals for 25 minutes or so, most of which argumentation was about how atrocious my attitude, style, tone, mien, and approach are. Well, that’s his opinion, I effectively told him, and besides, what does the TTC expect after freezing out the only civilian expert on its signage history for eight years?

We got past that hump and agreed to bury the hatchet. I left the place feeling mightily relieved and grateful. I immediately called up my business partner to announce the impossible – not the resumption but the commencement of friendly relations with the TTC.

And at that meeting, we agreed that Upfold would reconsider my years-old proposal to do a signage inventory and would consider a new proposal. Months passed. And I mean months. It got to the point where I hand-delivered a letter, in which I asked him to just sign a contract, to the Davisville headquarters, and as I went up the escalator Upfold walked down the stairs. I later delivered him a countersigned contract in duplicate that he could just sign. No dice.

Nor would he answer any questions as to what was taking so long, except to provide a vague bromide about how difficult it is to get anything done in a large organization. Given that he had told me in our meeting that his signing authority is $500,000, I called bullshit on this claim. (In fact, TTC procedures require anything above $10,000 to go to tender.)

Ages later, we were granted a second audience, this time with TTC’s head of signage and wayfinding (two different things), Ian Dickson. It wasn’t the worst meeting I’ve ever had in my life. It was the second-worst. Yet it resulted in a contract, for which I did excellent work.

The three of us had a followup session that involved vagabonding around Davisville trying to find a meeting room. (We eventually met in the top-floor boardroom where old Commission meetings used to be held.) Along the way, in the seafoam-green rats’ nest that is the TTC headquarters, I met someone new: Cheryn Thoun (pronounced Sharon Town), who reports to Upfold and is Dickson’s boss.

This followup meeting with Dickson went beautifully, in part because both sides were going to elaborate lengths to avoid a repeat of the first meeting. He told us twice to bill him, so we did. I reasonably took that as acceptance of our report. And that was the last I ever heard from Dickson, or, I presume, ever will again. This baffled me, because by hiring me I had been invited into the family – only to be disowned later.

Thoun became an interesting case. I reported a range of ongoing signage defects to her. She replied only to the least consequential of those reports, top-posting back every picture I sent her in so doing. How interesting that my requests for a meeting never merited a response. I’ll never hear from her again, either.

I objected to this treatment, but I don’t know if it was better or worse than what Upfold would soon do. On a Saturday evening as I stood at St. George and using subway wifi, I mailed him a photo of a patch of wall bearing three generations’ worth of signage styles and contemplated a time when we could meet again. Almost immediately Upfold top-posted me back to ask how much I liked being scolded, because he gets enough of that from his kids at home.

I have corresponded with him since. After a raft of embarrassing misspellings, endemic bad “typesetting” of the sort two-finger typists on Windows would commit, and an ad campaign for the airport bus that actually invoked airline crashes, I proposed that what the TTC needs is an editor. Obviously I would be that editor, and equally obviously I’d have to be hired in $10,000 increments. No dice. But a short time later TTC held an awards ceremony for employees meriting recognition. A friend of mine received an award, and was further graced by the TTC’s misspelling his name in a badly typeset PowerPoint slide. I guess I was right after all about needing an editor. I tend to be right, and that annoys the shit out of the TTC, though they dress it up in objecting to my attitude, style, tone, mien, and approach.

I told Upfold recently that if the TTC updates its complaint form to allow attaching a picture, he’d achieve his dream (I didn’t quite say that, but that was the message) of never hearing from me again. Through word, deed, and absence of both, Chris Upfold has made it clear my relationship with the TTC, to the extent I ever had one, is over. I should have never deluded myself.