Know the Legible Street Signs? They’re touted as being accurate. Lots of money spent on them (at 2015 prices the bigger ones cost about £20,000) ensuring the information is as factual as possible along with expensive maps. TfL say of their signs “The signs offer a consistent experience and information about distances between areas.”
As a matter of fact Legible London has established a gold standard for design, presentation and dissemination of information, and other cities are emulating their own projects inspired by London’s. Since Legilble London is top notch gold standard, how do TfL know the distances/times it puts on its signs are approximately correct? Do they actually send people out to check walking times between particular areas?
To be honest I dont think they do considering huge inconsistencies found regarding walkng times in Central London. Instead it seems these distances depend on simple calculations.
How are these distances calculated? By this I mean the specific times given for certain London destinations shown on the monoliths – as opposed to the five and fifteen minute radii generally found on the minilith maps.
Some sources say TfL calculate at 67m per minute, others claim its 375m in five minutes. The Wiki page confirms the latter is used.
TfL’s range of Legible London Street Signs. Source: TfL product page
Who designs these? Well its a lot of people, different collaborations working together to create a cohesive product. TfL own all the copyrights (apart from the maps which are ultimately OS copyright.)
The maps and other design work on the signs are by Born Digital. The databases (information geolocations, distances etc) are maintained by TKartor, (although sources imply it was originally available on Open Cage Data.)
Applied Wayfinding conduct on site surveys for possible locations, and gather data and information that may be necessary to put on the signs. The guys who have been making these signs since 2009 are Trueform Engineering.
Its up to the various councils whether they want these or not (and ultimately its their prerogative to give planning permission.) I can see from Twitter that there is some disagreement as to whose responsible for when things go wrong with installations. The council, the contractors or TfL?
The most important part of the signs is the wayfinding. That’s the remit for Applied Wayfinding. Perhaps they are the guys who screw up when it comes to distances?
— Applied Wayfinding (@AppliedStudio) July 12, 2016
However as Applied Wayfinding’s website says, TKartor maintains the databases including the geospatial information. So perhaps they are at fault? Who knows!
— T-Kartor Group (@TKartorGroup) November 4, 2015
There are generally very few mistakes with the signs. The signs are commendable and I have a lot of admiration for these because the workmanship is of high quality and the information is usually good. They make a lot of difference to people who may not know London too well or who simply want to know the best direction to get to a certain place. The occasional mistakes do crop up though….
— Dan Karran (@dankarran) March 28, 2017
New Legible London pillar outside M&S on Woolwich Road directs people to library that closed over a year ago pic.twitter.com/KI0XGQ84Pe
— Charlton Champion (@CharltonCSE7) September 15, 2016
TfL installs Legible London signs at Elephant & Castle – but puts them the wrong way round. pic.twitter.com/V8XO8qcv9N
— London SE1 Community Website (@se1) December 9, 2016
Someone might say, hey those signs around Bond Street were part of the original 2007 pilot so mistakes may have crept in. The initial roll-out of signs was managed by Atkins Global. Okay that’s fine. The question is why the errors I am about to discuss have not been corrected – not even ten years later?
St Christopher to Piccadilly Circus: Eight minutes!
There’s a mass inconsistency in Central London between Bond Street and Piccadilly Circus. Walking times are given as 15 minutes which is only just achievable with very fast walking and the shortest route taken. Yet a couple of minutes further north in St Christopher Place, these times come down to just eight minutes!
Zany timings! Oxford Circus in four and Piccadilly Circus in eight. Let’s try!
TfL you’re telling people it takes just eight minutes to get from St Christopher’s Place to Piccadilly Circus! Whaaat! Eight minutes? No frigging way!
The legible sign by Bond Street tube’s nearer Piccadilly & says its fifteen minutes
How did they get this eight minutes? Its exactly 1.22km (0.75 of a mile)and they measure that as taking eight minutes? The monolith sign at Bond Street tube station says its fifteen minutes to Piccadilly Circus. Thats just so confounding!
Bond Street monolith says fifteen minutes. Still a rush guys!
From Bond Street tube its a distance of 1.10km (0.68 of a mile) to Piccadilly Circus and they say give it fifteen minutes. Calculating by their formula it turns out to be fourteen minutes fifty seconds.
From St. Christopher’s, as we have seen, the alleged eight minutes for a distance of 1.22km (0.75 mile) actually works out at sixteen minutes twenty five seconds according to the formula.
St Christopher Place monolith. The starting point for what is said to be a four, or eight minute walk respectively to Oxford or Piccadilly Circus
There’s one huge problem. The timed distances given on Legible London signs are as the crow files, not the time taken to actually walk the distance. From St Christopher’s Place to Piccadilly Circus the actual distance (on Google Maps) is 1.41km or 0.87 of a mile and remember its claimed that can be done in eight minutes.
Actually the time using TfL’s formula for that 1.41km should be eighteen minutes fifty seconds from St Christopher’s Place. Maybe they left the one off and made it an eight? Even so the adjacent map says fifteen minutes and someone should have noticed that inconsistency.
Besides this, the fact Piccadilly’s at the top of the list as the shorter distance denominator along with Oxford Circus seems to indicate they do really mean eight minutes (and four as we will discuss later.)
Eight minutes to Piccadilly Circus. Is that even possible? Here we go!
I decided to test this eight minutes walking time from St Christopher Place to Piccadilly Circus. Using the shortest route possible armed with my mobile’s timer all set, let’s go! Walk as fast as possible no stopping anywhere en route. Pictures taken en route with fast shutter.
The quickest, quietest, route is Gee Court, Oxford Street, South Molton Street (its more visible to a tourist than parallel South Molton Lane), Avery Row, Grosvenor Street, Maddox Street, Mill Street, Savile Row, Vigo Street, Glasshouse Street. The finishing point would be the top of the Glasshouse Street stairs to Piccadilly Circus tube station.
At Oxford Street and New Bond Street the lights were green for pedestrians – all go! The first part of the journey involved the usual melee on the pavement outside the West One shopping centre however I simply walked in the road to avoid the crowds.
In a rush, but this is Avery Row, the spot where the Brolly Good Show episode took place
A brisk walk down South Molton, and then straight across to Maddox Street. The route via Maddox Street and Mill Street might seem a bit convoluted because it leads slightly away from Piccadilly Circus, but its the shortest, quickest way, going right round the rear of St George’s church then down towards Savile Row.
Passing St George’s Hannover Square towards Maddox Street
Saville Row police station is about two-thirds of the way. Its 868m according to Google Maps. The reason I took the picture here is because it was at the eight minute mark (well getting to nine) and an iconic London building. I was walking fast and didn’t want to bump into any coppers! In the event I missed focus and this is why the mobile is a bit blurred in the picture below.
It took me eight minutes very fast walking just to reach the top of Saville Row.
Savile Row in eight minutes forty one seconds. I should be at Piccadilly Circus now!
My destination soon neared. Thankfully Regent Street was closed for Hamley’s Xmas Toy Festival so it was a case of plain walking straight across this famous London street.
Vigo Street heading for Regent and Glasshouse Streets
The Hamleys toy festival was a boon because it meant no traffic was entering Regent Street, making my progress much easier. It wasn’t a normal Central London day where all sorts of things can slow or stop one’s progress and that made a huge difference – perhaps a couple or three more minutes would have been needed otherwise.
By Air Street – with the famous Piccadilly lights in sight
The total time was 13.54 minutes from St. Christopher’s Place to the tube entrance at Piccadilly Circus. Its just under a minute from the time recommended at Bond Street. Clearly just normal solid walking hoping the lights and traffic isn’t going to be a bugbear is going to take nearer to the best part of twenty minutes.
The time given at the Glasshouse Street entrance to the tube station
Its bonkers to claim this distance can be walked in eight minutes. Its impossible. Bike, taxi perhaps, running, yes could possibly be five or six minutes. Eight walking? No way. Fifteen would be fast too. I’d say its more like twenty to twenty five minutes if one were to suggest average and reasonable times.
Yet if one looks at the legible sign in Piccadilly Circus it actually gives a time of eighteen minutes back to Bond Street! More like it though that still requires somewhat fast walking.
Notice the other times on the Piccadilly monolith. This is one of the newer legible signs which should be even more accurate. But the time to Green Park? Seven is a bit tight! And Covent Garden in nine? No way, that’s no sort of reasonable stroll!
The Piccadilly Circus Legible London monolith
Some of these Legible street signs have misleading times. Obviously no-one double checks the these times. Why bother with these signs if the times are going to be that misleading? Why not give a reasonable range eg say fifteen to twenty minutes?
If the signs are aimed at tourists should TfL even be giving times? Visitors to the capital don’t usually want to rush around. Perhaps more focus should be given on the merits of walking a particular street or direction rather than specifying times?
Oxford Circus to St Christopher Place: Four minutes!
Inconsistency alert. Five minutes from Oxford Circus tube station to Bond Street tube? Giddy up!
The same sign at St Christopher’s also says Oxford Circus is four minutes walk. Is it? I tested that claim on the first day of snowfall in London, 10 December 2017. This was done in the opposite direction Oxford Circus to St Christopher Place. It don’t matter which direction it is as long as its the same route. Despite the snow Oxford Street was absolutely clear of any of the stuff and pavements were the usual busy expected on a Sunday afternoon.
On the off! Oxford Circus tube station
Could that be done in four minutes? Nope. The legible finger post at Oxford Circus in fact says five minutes to Bond Street tube (not St Christopher Place.) That alone was five minutes very fast walking. St Christopher Place took me six minutes 20 seconds of fast walking, no stopping once again and fortunately the two road junctions encountered once again were on green (the first one had only just changed to green as I arrived at it.)
Debenhams took 3 min 23 sec. Supposed to be at destination in four!
I chose the north side of Oxford Street for simple reasons – less road junctions, wider pavements and easier access to St Christopher Place. But unless I was running four minutes is just damn way too fast. It seems the time should actually be ten minutes.
Four mins gone – & I’m just level with HMV. They claim its five to Bond St tube. Only if you’re super fit!
Even though this route was straight down Oxford Street, four minutes is still somewhat outrageous. And five too! It should be more generous, considering Oxford Street is a very busy thoroughfare.
Finally in Gee Court and its coming to six minutes!
It makes me wonder once again, do these guys really measure up these distances or just use the basic formulas and hope for the best. In other words it being that no-one actually notices the inconsistencies?
St Christopher Place’s Legible London sign in six min twenty secs. Dammit TfL u said four!