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New overhead signage in Westlake Station displays a large green 'exit' icon and points riders to numbered exits (1 through 5).
Media Caption
Following best practices from other systems, Sound Transit is testing out numbered exits through 2020..

New exit strategy for downtown transit tunnel

Numbered signage system pilot aims to improve wayfinding in underground light rail stations.

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Sound Transit wants to make it easier to exit the downtown Seattle train stations. 

Whether you’re a newcomer or native – we’ve all been there. You sometimes pick an exit and wait until you get to the surface to figure out where you are. 

After looking at Vancouver, Boston, Hong Kong and other cities for best practices, our signage team decided to test out a numbered exit system. 

This week, new overhead signs, maps and directories are being installed in Westlake, University Street, Pioneer Square and International District/Chinatown Stations. 

New directories, that display the numbered exits and photos of popular destinations, aim to help light rail riders navigate through downtown tunnel stations.
This rendering shows how new directories will help riders find their way through underground stations in Seattle.

Right now, light rail riders navigate out of the tunnel by checking overhead signs that list cross streets in downtown Seattle. Regular riders may know, for example, to head toward 2nd and University if they want to go to the Seattle Art Museum, or 5th and Pine to shop around Westlake Center. 

But for visitors, first-time users, people who have trouble reading and even daily riders, it can be a maze.  

Through the end of 2020, exits in the downtown tunnel stations will be numbered and paired with directories, which will have photos of local landmarks – from Pike Place Market to sports stadiums. 

A photo of the new directory in Westlake Station shows how riders can get to the Monorail, Pike Place Market and more using the numbered exits.
New signage shows how riders can reach the Monorail, Pike Place Market and more using different numbered exits.

In August, our team did some usability testing to figure out what was working, and what was still confusing, before this larger pilot.

If the experiment is successful, we will look at how to use it in more stations as our system grows. 

In the meantime, we’ll continue observations and on-site tests.

We wanted to launch this pilot now to get people accustomed before more big changes come in January for the Connect 2020 project. 

Learn more about Connect 2020 here.

In the spirit of simplification and improving customer experience, we’re updating all of our signage standards next year, in addition to other recent wayfinding improvements.

Read more about one of our signage projects earlier this year to display real time arrival information.

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A rider walks past new directories and maps in Westlake Station that display information about the new numbered exits.
Take a look at the new signs and let us know what you think!