Public Works: Less Confusing Parking Signs
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Public Works: Less Confusing Parking Signs

One New York designer is trying to re-imagine and simplify signage—and she's looking for public input.

Public Works looks at public space, urban design, and city-building innovations from around the world, and considers what Toronto might learn from them.

Photo courtesy of Nikki Sylianteng.

City drivers face many challenges. There are potholes, and gridlock, and oh-so-much construction. One of the most needlessly aggravating hallmarks of urban driving, though, is complex signage about parking rules. “No parking anytime, except noon to seven on weekdays during daylight savings, unless you’re wearing a bowler hat,” or something along those lines. Unless you’ve got the Rosetta Stone in your glove box, you risk getting things wrong—and, of course, getting ticketed.

Nikki Sylianteng, a New York–based designer and recipient of several parking tickets, has taken action with To Park or Not to Park, a project to redesign street signs.

As Sylianteng explains on her website, the two main questions drivers have about street parking are “Can I park here now?” and “Until what time?” While traditional parking signs use a lot of “between the hours of” and “except for” language, her approach has been to make the signs simple and more visual, illustrating parking rules with coloured blocks on a timechart.

Sylianteng has already gotten a fair amount of publicity for her idea, which has received coverage in Wired and the Atlantic. And the development process is ongoing. She has been posting laminated versions of her parking signs underneath existing signs around New York. Passersby are invited to leave comments on the sign, and Sylianteng has received e-mails from drivers, and even a former police officer, praising her redesign. She’s also engaging colourblind people to get their input on the colour-blocked signs. And through To Park or Not to Park’s site, Sylianteng is making sign kits available so that members of the public can display redesigned signage in their own neighbourhoods.

Photo courtesy of Nikki Sylianteng.

Photo courtesy of Nikki Sylianteng.

Toronto has plenty of its own parking sign confusion. Sylianteng’s signs would be a welcome convenience here, as in many cities. But, really, To Park or Not to Park is about more than just avoiding tickets.

The ultimate goal of urban innovation should be to facilitate movement within a city, to connect different areas and make it easier for residents of Neighbourhood A to visit Neighbourhood B. Now, more than ever before, urban planners and concerned citizens are talking about making cities more pedestrian- and cyclist-friendly by minimizing car traffic and supporting other forms of transportation. But simplifying the process of city driving (and parking) still plays a major role in promoting city connectivity. The reality is that many people have to drive in the city, and we can develop infrastructure to suit their needs in conjunction with infrastructure to help the pedestrian, the cyclist, and the transit commuter.

Above all else, Sylianteng’s project is a prime example of grassroots activism—“urban intervention,” as she describes it. Maybe you don’t drive in the city. Maybe you don’t care about the complexity of parking signs. Sylianteng’s project sends the message—one already already embraced by many Torontonians—that if you observe a barrier to urban life, you can take constructive steps to change it.