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What if street signage actually encouraged active transport?

What if we put as much money into signs encouraging people to take active transport – walking, cycling etc. – as we put into signage aimed at cars? null

Leeds is the largest city in Europe without a metro system. Having recently spent a month in Lisbon we saw first hand what happens to the roads there when there are tube strikes in place – gridlocked traffic not just at rush hour but, well, every other hour too. With no metro to offer, that’s Leeds – every single day. Something like 70,000 cars make their way into (and back out of) the city every day, most of them with just one person in.

Clean Air Day saw various actions around Leeds, including demonstrations, cycle events and pollution awareness campaigns, including some very interesting pollution monitoring devices. We decided to use clean air day to pilot a little campaign idea we’d had for a while. We’d tried to get a little bit of funding for it but didn’t get a bite, so we took the DIY route. That meant cutting some corners but we knew something was better than nothing!

Where could twenty minutes take you?

Our idea was straightforward – design, print and install street signage that directed people to nearby points of interest. 

We had a couple of ideas to make this interesting. One was to use the natural unit of time to measure how far away things were, rather than a measurement of distance which is less relatable for the average person. Second was to used fun, colourful illustration that was designed to contrast strongly with the utilitarian aesthetic of directional signage we’re all used to.

The main reason for piloting in Kirkstall was its local proximity. But it did feel like a great place to start. The roads here are particularly bad, with the River Aire and Leeds Liverpool canal creating something of a bottleneck. Throw in a large supermarket, a retail park and a main arterial road route and you’ve got yourself traffic jams for large portions of the day.

Impact

This was a tiny pilot and we’re not going to pretend it suddenly got everyone out pounding the pavements of Kirkstall. But it did allow the idea to be tested, and it also allowed us to gauge local interest.

We got a few media appearances out of it – mostly small local print news sites but we were interviewed on BBC Radio Leeds too. Local reaction – both online and when talking to people on the street – was really positive, and certainly left us feeling that there could be something in this.

Growing the campaign

We’d love to take this further and have had some conversations with a national environmental charity who were quite interested, so watch this space.

With a little bit of funding we think realistic aspirations are:

  • Run another pilot, a little bit larger this time and with metal signs with a long life expectancy
  • Create an online tool that makes it easy for other people to create their own signs. e.g. choose your legs, enter a destination and a duration and send to print.
  • Build an online map that takes all these ideas online too. Wouldn’t it be great to enter your address and see all the places within twenty minutes’ walk of you? Especially if the destinations were crowd sourced – just think of all the little local things most people don’t know about: case in point, I’d lived in Leeds for fifteen years before undertaking this project made me realise Kirkstall had a nature reserve!