Last Updated on January 18, 2020 by Lawrence Berezin
NYC DOT to replace 6,300 old parking signs with redesigned parking signs
I absolutely love the redesigned parking signs that were unveiled this past Monday in Manhattan. NYC is expected to replace all the old, evil parking signs with redesigned parking signs. The first wave of redesigned parking signs will be installed in Manhattan’s commercial parking areas, running generally from 60th Street downtown to 14th Street- and from Second to Ninth Avenues, with more areas on the Upper East Side, Lower Manhattan, and the Financial District.
The 6,300 redesigned parking signs will be split between 3,300 commercial parking signs and 3,000 other signs for nighttime and weekend parking for the driving public. Future waves will extend the program to the outer boroughs [source: Pentagram].
Did you know the NYC DOT partnered with a world-class designer to redesign NYC parking signs?
Michael Beirut is a highly respected artist, who has won hundreds of design awards. Mr. Beirut, a New Yorker, has suffered the slings and arrows of New York City’s indecipherable parking signs:
“On the occasions, I drive and try to park on the street, I tend to get as confused as anyone,” explained Mr. Beirut, who lives in Westchester and normally takes Metro-North into the city. “I have received many tickets and been towed twice. I am so paranoid now that I will park in a garage for even a 15-minute errand.”
Mr. Beirut’s work is represented in several permanent collections including the Museum of Modern Art and the Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum in New York; the Library of Congress in Washington, DC; the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; the Denver Art Museum; the Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg, Germany; and the Museum für Gestaltung in Zürich, Switzerland. Bierut served as the:
- National president of the American Institute of Graphic Arts (AIGA) from 1998 to 2001
- Senior critic in graphic design at the Yale School of Art
- Co-editor of three Looking Closer graphic design anthologies.
- Founding writer of the Design Observer blog with Rick Poynor, William Drenttel, and Jessica Helfand
NYC parking sign redesign factoids
- The old parking signs were densely packed with information that was wordy and hard to follow.
- Typography was centered and set in all caps in various fonts and sizes, making it difficult for the eye to scan
- Messages were stacked on different placards in various combinations up to 60″ high, with restrictions for commercial vehicles in red and passenger vehicles in green joined by more signs in blue reminding drivers to pay at the Muni-Meter
- Prior to parking sign redesign, NYC used to have signs with 250 characters on four different signs in three different colors
- “The biggest challenge was creating really functional as well as beautiful designs that still conform to the somewhat archaic regulations that govern US traffic signs,” said Michael Beirut
- The signs are divided into two sections, one for commercial vehicles (still in red), the other for passenger vehicles (in green)
- The several hours parking is allowed is prominently placed in a reversed-out box at the top left of the sign.
- Everything is aligned to the left
- Typography appears in both upper and lower case,
- Typography is set in a uniform font, Highway, widely used in US DOT signage.
- The superfluous blue signs have been eliminated altogether; Muni-Meters have been the only way to pay for single-space parking since 2011.
- The new signs are shorter—no taller than 48”—and hence more efficient to make.
- Redundant language (“6-hour parking from 6 pm to midnight”) has been eliminated or reduced and the number of characters explaining the rules on each sign pared from 250 to about 140—perhaps showing the influence of Twitter.
- The designers and DOT tested variables with various groups of New Yorkers to arrive at the most easily understood messaging. For instance, the hierarchy of information has been changed, with days now listed before hours. The tone of the language is now permissive and not prohibitive, telling drivers what they can do rather than what they can’t.
- “Design conventions for the parking signs were basically almost 19th century in their character,” Mr. Bierut said.
- The very first thing Mr. Bierut and his designers considered was bigger signs—“you always want more room to play with”—but that was quickly dispensed with because every sign in the city must hew to set dimensions dictated by the sign shop, in this case, 48 inches high by 18 inches wide.
- Beirut and his team of designers tried out various colors and weights and shapes and types of fonts before settling on the current layout. It is similar to the original, with commercial regulations on top, but now both signs have the same format, the only real difference being the color of the type and the outline—a federal regulation
- The other big debate was over the typeface. “We did one sign that used a custom Helvetica that we had designed for another DOT project,” Mr. Beirut explained. “It looked really beautiful, but in a way that they looked like they would be perfect parking signs in Zürich or Geneva, and somehow didn’t seem New York enough. They felt a bit unnerving to the people at DOT, I think.”
- “The basic way these had been done is like a playbill for a music hall in 1845,” said Michael Beirut partner at Pentagram, the design firm that created the new look. The old way was, “Pick the most important thing and put that first, center everything,” and make it fit by changing font width and placement.
- Shifting the focus from prohibitive phrasing to permissive phrasing. “The old signs read like, ’no one can park here except…’ So the new signs flip that to lead with the positive, what you are allowed to do,” Beirut said.
- The new look makes a few updates that seem obvious in hindsight like placing the day of the regulation before the hours of the regulation and eliminating abbreviations.
- The hierarchy of information is changed as well. The message of the threatening red “No Standing” sign is now blended with other parking regulations in these commercial parking zones. The big red sign is gone, it’s message captured with one line, “others no standing” added Mr. Beirut
- According to the DOT renderings, the messy blue “Pay at Muni-Meter” signs will also go. Once they were a necessary bit of visual clutter for the city’s transition away from old-fashioned parking meters. The last individual parking meter in Manhattan was jackhammered out of commission with camera’s watching in 2011. So long ago that the DOT assumes drivers will know to look down the block for the new meters with a sign.
- One of the difficult things about information design is that the designer already understands what a sign is trying to convey, which makes it difficult to judge the effectiveness of a particular idea. Beirut and his team solved the conundrum by testing their designs on average city dwellers. “As we developed different versions, they were shown to various groups of New Yorker’s who were generally given a simple quiz,” he explains. The subjects were shown a sign and asked whether, say, they’d be allowed to park there at 2:30 p.m. on a Tuesday. “By testing variables, DOT can help us set up the hierarchy and even word choice.”
Have I said that I love these redesigned parking signs? Yup, I do. One of the reasons is that members of the NYC Council are taking action to right the wrongs, and end the injustice foisted upon the NYC driving community by the relentless quest for shekels by the NYC DOT and NYC DOF. The NYC Council has enacted a plethora of new laws fixing some of the outrageously bad parking ticket behavior:
- Three Myths Debunked about the 5 Minute Grace Period
The draconian NYC parking ticket system wasn’t built in a day. It took years to create this cash cow and instill a culture of money trumps truth, justice, and integrity. How about taking a look behind the scenes at some of the grotesque practices engaged in by rogue parking ticket judges and powers-to-be at the Adjudication Unit of the NYC DOF?
C’mon man…Post and post have been written by the judges themselves revealing the bad behavior. The Manhattan Bar Association has railed against it, and NY Supreme Court judges have overturned evil, corrupt decisions.
Why not start by removing the parking ticket judges from supervision by the NYC Department of Finance. Isn’t there an inherent conflict between the missions of Finance and Justice?
This is a wonderful trend, but it’s time to expose and end the power source of the bad behavior. No reasonable person questions the need for a reasonable system of parking rules that are enforced. Let’s go to work on the “enforced fairly” part.