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189: Transit Elevator Badges

March 29, 2019

So, like I was saying,
I use public transit a bunch, here in Seattle. It’s great, and since I work at the University of Washington, I get my pass at a discount. So, basically, I’m always on the light rail.

I’ve noticed, however, a frustrating lack of signage. At least once a day, I’ll need to help someone find their way, or tell them which way is North, or how to use the card scanner. But, the thing that consistently confuses the most people, is the elevator buttons at the UW station.

First, a comparison.

Here are the buttons from a couple of elevators elsewhere on the light rail line:

Easy enough. The Mount Baker Station’s train is elevated; the Beacon Hill train is underground.
Plaza, Train. It’s not perfect. There aren’t any pictures, for people who don’t read (or don’t read English), but there are only two buttons, and they’re labelled. Good enough.

This one from the Capitol Hill Station is a bit rough:

OK, so what’s going on here? No more words, only letters. The only letter I see from before is P, so that must be the Plaza, so is S the train?

Nope. S is “Street.” M is “Mezzanine,” because this part of the station has two offset levels, and you switch elevators between them (That’s not a complaint, really. Sometimes that’s the only way.).
And P is for “Platform.” Of course. As in “Train Platform.”

What’s that you say? “P almost always means ‘Parking,’ especially when it’s underground. And anyway, you already used it for ‘Plaza.’ and nobody uses the term ‘Platform.'”?
That’s true.

Consistency would help. Words would help. And pictures would help immensely.
But again, only two buttons on the upper elevator, and not as many people use this one, so… You know, I was planning on ramping up the badness of the examples to reveal the UW elevator buttons, but this is really bad. Equally as bad as the next; maybe worse. I’ll probably deal with this in a bit, but I guess it doesn’t directly affect my life in as much of a way, so I didn’t do it this week.

On to the one I did do:

This one’s a mess.

We’re cheating a bit, because I already told you that P is “Platform,” and S is “Street,” like in Capitol Hill. M is still “Mezzanine, but this level is inaccessible without a key or keycard. Maybe M is “Maintenance” at this station. Who knows? B3 is “Basement 3,” maybe? I have no idea, because there’s no Basement 2, even if I count the Mezzanine as Basement 1. Also inaccessible to the public.

There are 2 elevators at the UW Station, and this one is the worst. The other elevator omits B3 and M buttons, so it’s an easier choice, but 50/50 you’re getting on this one.
Still, what’s BR? Well that’s “Bridge,” and you might be thinking, “I could figure that out!” OK, but why is helpful to know it’s a bridge? A bridge to where? (Don’t say Terabithia.) It’s a pedestrian bridge that crosses a busy street into the UW campus. (Which some people who ride it daily still don’t know. I see people get off at the street level, and then take the stairs up to the bridge. Maybe they like stairs, but that’s like taking the elevator to the 5th floor of a building and walking to the 6th. Whatever.)

What makes it worse is that there is very little signage indicating that the light rail station is underground, especially if you’re on the bridge.

The scenario I see most frequently is: someone unfamiliar with the system will enter on the bridge level, think, “Uhhhhh…” and press S, because it has a star next to it. Then it will open on the street, and that person will get off, wander around, and eventually get back on the elevator. If nobody’s around again (or if someone is around, but being particularly unhelpful and only observing the confusion, like a scientist or jerk might do), they’ll think “Well, it’s not Parking,” and B3 is a terrifying option to even think about. So, they’ll mash M for “Maybe Train?” and the button light will come on and immediately turn back off. At which point, I usually help out.

If they initially get in on the street level, they will often take the elevator up to the bridge, and be just as confused.

So, what’s to be done?


I printed up some placards. They’ve got full names, descriptions, and most importantly (I think), pictures! They also have Sound Transit logos on them, because I was banking on the idea that if they looked official, they might stay up.

I didn’t make one for B3, because I don’t know what it is. And, it’s not important for the public to know. And also, I wasn’t looking at my photos when I made these, and forgot B3 was a button.
One of those reasons.

Cut, laminated, mounted to some sturdy double-sided tape, and ready to go.

Ta-dah! This is a picture of the other elevator at UW Station (the 3-button one). I put them up in both, but only got a picture of this one.
I think it’s an improvement. I don’t have braille on mine, because I don’t-know/can’t-print braille, so it’s not perfect. But then again, I’m not a professional sign-maker. Please ignore the alignment issues. I was installing them within a time limit of about 15 seconds, and I messed it up. If someone would like to do it better, please do! You can do Capitol Hill while you’re at it. I didn’t make a comprehensive sweep of elevators, so I’m sure there are others that need help, too.

By the way, the above picture is from a about a week after I put them up! They’re still up! We did it!


Well, that was alright.

Next up, maybe some signs that say, “Both trains go the same direction from this station” to put up at the end-of-the-line stations. That seems to confuse people to no end.

…Or probably something to tell people to tap their ORCA pass card at the end of their ride, too.
Yeah. Hey, Seattle! If you’re reading this, tap your ORCA card off at the end of your ride! It’s a switch! It works differently than the buses. Your ticket costs less if you ride it a shorter distance, but if you don’t tap off, you pay the maximum price! Also, if you don’t tap off, the next time you ride, your tap ON might register as a tap OFF from last time. Then you’re riding illegally, and you’ll get a fine. Not to mention the user data! If nobody taps off at your station, the data looks like nobody uses that station, so maybe it’s not as important for upkeep and funding. Come on, folks!

Sorry about that. (Not sorry enough to not do it, apparently.)

Also, Sound Transit: I do this out of love. A good friend will tell you when you’re doing something wrong. I love the light rail, and I hope you understand and we’re cool.

Have a nice week.



They stayed up for a very long time, and were eventually replaced with official labels!

Thanks folks, you did it!

4 Comments leave one →
  1. Aletha Hicks permalink
    March 30, 2019 8:23 am

    You are such a great guy! This was just the nicest thing to do!

  2. Random Passerby permalink
    August 13, 2020 10:50 pm

    That update is amazing! Would love to see a pic of the new official labels. Is the B3 button labeled?

  3. random youtuber permalink
    July 2, 2021 1:37 pm

    This is awesome. I second the request to see a pic of those new official labels …out of curiosity, of course!

  4. Jonathan Melusky permalink
    January 20, 2022 6:19 pm

    So helpful and way to go being your best self. I’ve purchased push and pull stickers for doors before, but this printing is a step above. Nice. (^: cheers, Jonathan

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