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The RATP Helps Parisians Rediscover the Cardinal Directions

The RATP Helps Parisians Rediscover the Cardinal Directions

“It’s easy to get to our place, just take the RER A towards Poissy.” On the telephone, the instructions seem simple. But once at the station, there is a slight hesitation. “Did she say head towards Boissy?” Las, Poissy (Yvelines) is on the west side of Paris, and Boissy-Saint-Léger (Val-de-Marne) is in the Southeast. One

Cardinal Direction Signs in Paris, France Metro

“It’s easy to get to our place, just take the RER A towards Poissy.” On the telephone, the instructions seem simple. But once at the station, there is a slight hesitation. “Did she say head towards Boissy?” Las, Poissy (Yvelines) is on the west side of Paris, and Boissy-Saint-Léger (Val-de-Marne) is in the Southeast. One is lost. For those who do not know the geography of the Ile-de-France off the top of their head, it is sometimes difficult to find one’s way in the halls of the RATP or the Régie Autonome des Transports Parisiens (Autonomous Operator of Parisian Transport).

For a few weeks, travelers who frequent the Gare du Nord have counted on some valuable assistance. Signs indicating cardinal directions north, east, south, and west have begun to appear. It is simple, clear, and without any ambiguity. A trial run was launched more than two years ago at Châtelet-les-Halles, following the idea of an external urban planning consultant of the RATP.

Certainly, not everybody is familiar with the cardinal directions. One could go for decades without knowing how to distinguish between north and south, or constantly confuse east and west. Some people abhor maps; others swear only by cartographic representation, some remember shops while others still need public announcements. But for those who have some notion of orientation, the precision is appreciated.

RTAP train in Paris, France

In North America, information delivered to public transportation passengers, like for motorists, are readily based on geographical landmarks. In London, everyone knows “northbound,” “westbound,” etc. In France, we generally refuse to adhere to these directions, perhaps due to some form of the French philosophy of equality for all. Will remembering that a city is in the north, or in the case of the Ile-de-France, in the east, lead to discrimination? You never know.

The venerable RATP has long shown reluctance to the idea of new signs that concern more than the stations of central Paris. After all, the RER C has two terminal stops, Versailles Rive Gauche and Versaille Chantiers, which designate the same city but opposite directions. Perhaps more information would be appreciated.

Do you feel that you have a good understanding of the general layout of your city? How do public transportation agencies in your city aide with directions?

Original article, originally published in French here.

Credits: Data and images linked to sources.

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Carmen Phillips is a graduate of Oberlin College and is currently pursuing her masters in French Translation at Kent State University. Carmen spent the last year in Lyon, France teaching English to primary school children and had the opportunity to i...

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