Simplifying New York Parking Signs

by Min Li Chan

In part five of our series on urban typography, we turn our attention to the universal problem of complicated parking signs. With their convoluted restrictions and temporal conditions meted out in uppercase authority, they almost seem designed to guarantee a constant stream of revenue from parking tickets.

New York's transportation commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan recently observed that the city's parking signs "can sometimes be a five-foot-high totem pole of confusing information."

Source: Park It! Guides

The design firm Pentagram recently worked with New York's transportation department to redesign the city's parking signs. The new versions are left-aligned for readability, consistently color-coded and clearly spaced. They are also streamlined to two flavors: one for commercial vehicles, one for all other vehicles. A logical and consistent information hierarchy conveys the most important parts first, matching the cognitive flow of a motorist trying to determine whether she is parked legally.

Source: Pentagram

Each sign begins with the type of parking available, followed by important notices and the period of enforcement. The previous signs counterintuitively displayed the time before the day of the week. By comparison, the simplified signs are a breath of fresh air.

Polis readers, if you have examples of what delights or frustrates you about parking signs in your city, we'd love to hear about them!

+ share


  1. that is certainly a big improvement. now i hope they do something with bus schedules!

  2. For anyone interested in the designer's perspective, this is a good read:

    In particular, Pentagram's principal designer gives us a history of type on city signage:

    “Design conventions for the parking signs were basically almost 19th century in their character,” Mr. Bierut said. “It’s like if you were doing a playbill for vaudeville performances at some music hall in 1895. You’d have everything in capital letters. You’d decide what was important, make that the biggest. A little less important, something smaller. A little less important, something smaller. And you’d center everything. If something was really long, it would be in a squashed, condensed typeface. If something didn’t have that many letters, you’d make it in a wide typeface."

    (With thanks to Andrew Schapiro for pointing me to this article.)

    1. Thanks! The signs for parking meters are usually more difficult than necessary to decipher, especially when you're in a hurry. But I wish there was just one kind of parking sign that simply said cars not allowed within the city limits.

  3. Edward Tufte would be pleased.


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.