Design Student Aims to Improve Subway Stations by Installing New Exit Signs

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UPPER EAST SIDE — Straphangers might’ve noticed that new directional signs have recently popped up in the 86th Street 4/5/6 station—but it’s not the work of the MTA.

Ryan Murphy, a 21-year-old Rhode Island School of Design student, installed the unauthorized signs in hopes of better guiding riders toward their destinations—and maybe acing his college thesis. He said he believes the signs he’s hung on the steps of subway stairwells are an improvement on the exit directions the MTA currently provides.

“The north, west, south and east signs, they’re not really an indication of where you’re going,” said Murphy, a senior at RISD.

“I think there are ways to make them more helpful.”

The MTA — which considers the signs vandalism and plans to remove them — does not agree.

Murphy installed eight signs, featuring white lettering on black plywood, on various stairwells in the station Thursday, indicating the streets that the exits lead to and the direction in which the person is heading.

For instance, on the southeast exit stairwell, the sign reads “West onto Lex Av.” A sign on the opposite stairs reads “East towards 3rd Ave.”

Murphy said he chose the 86th Street station because it’s one of the busiest in the city, yet is still small enough to conduct his experiment.

The signs, which were also installed in two other Manhattan stations, are part of his college thesis called “Signage for NYC Subway Disorientation,” which he will hand in at the end of the month, he said.

Many straphangers exiting the 86th Lexington Av. station on Monday afternoon said they found the signs useful.

“Southeast — I don’t know what the hell that means,” said Bronx resident Gloria David. “I think these signs are much more helpful because they tell you what the next street is.”

“I think these signs are great, but they should be put on the ceilings because we can’t see the signs when the stairwell gets crowded” said Catherine Hills, who lives on the Upper East Side.

Murphy experimented with the signage in other stations last month. He placed several on the turnstiles near the 6 train line at the 23rd Street station, and on the ceilings near the N and R line at the 23rd Street station, he said.

He then observed the reactions of hundreds of commuters, Murphy said.

“The signs on the turnstiles came too early in the exiting process,” Murphy said. “It was the right information, but at the wrong time.”

The signs installed on the ceilings didn’t work, either, because people tend to look down when they come out of a subway station, he explained. The signs on stairwells seem to be the most effective, he said.

Murphy hopes his project will inspire the MTA to collaborate with him to expand his signs to more stations.

But the agency said its current signage is doing just fine.

“There is ample way of finding signage at station exits that already guide customers to particular street corners, famous landmarks, etc.,” MTA spokesman Kevin Ortiz said.