See also Street Furniture Overview
The purpose of streetscape signage, including gateway markers and directional (wayfinding) signage, is to provide an overall image of a neighborhood or district, mark edges or entry points, and give information about directions, destinations, or the neighborhood in general.
Signage plans should be developed on a neighborhood basis, specific to the needs of that district. They are most appropriate to downtown, commercial, or tourist-oriented locations, or around large institutions. Less traveled areas may still include some basic informational signs or neighborhood markers.
Signage includes a hierarchy of types, from most prominent and central, to least prominent and more common. A hierarchy of signage includes:
- Gateway markers (neighborhood or district entry elements)
- Neighborhood orientation signs
- Interpretive signs
- Directional/wayfinding signs
- Standard street and transit signs
Standard Street and Transit Signs
The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA) is responsible for installing and maintaining street and transit signs in San Francisco. To make a request or report a maintenance issue with a standard city sign, call or go to 311.
Special Streetscape Signage
Signage systems are typically installed by community groups like neighborhood or merchant’s associations, or as part of a larger package of corridor-wide improvements. They are not typically installed by individual property owners, residents, and merchants,
Special streetscape signage typically requires a Minor Sidewalk Encroachment Permit or Major Encroachment Permit from DPW, depending on the scale of the project.
If your project involves multiple streetscape elements, you must obtain relevant permits for all features. For projects involving various streetscape elements, DPW will often streamline the process by combining multiple elements under one or more permits.
See Permit Process
Official Codes & Documents
- Better Streets Plan (street design guidelines)
Street types: Downtown Commercial, Commercial Throughway, Neighborhood Commercial, Downtown Residential, Residential Throughway, Mixed Use, Parkway, Park Edge, Multi-Way Boulevard, Ceremonial, Alley, Shared Public Way, Paseo
Sidewalk zones: Extension Zone, Edge Zone, Furnishing Zone, Frontage Zone
All streetscape signage should:
- Be placed at strategic locations with a goal of minimizing the overall number of signs and signage systems necessary; overuse dilutes their effectiveness and clutters the streetscape
- Catch the attention of passers-by but complement the overall streetscape design
- Align with existing site furnishings or be otherwise located out of the path of travel
- Include braille and be multi-lingual as necessary and appropriate to the specific location
- Use a consistent graphic design template; signs that highlight local district or neighborhood character should be encouraged and should be of a similar look and feel throughout that district to enhance the area’s sense of place
- Incorporate neighborhood-specific or artistic elements; flexibility should be granted to artisans and craftspeople to create unique signage
Gateways are markers or monuments located at the entrance to a district or neighborhood to announce the entry to a particular area, or a transition from one area to the next. Gateways may be a literal gateway, markers on either side of a street, a singular large sculptural or iconic element, or even a unique landscape feature or plaza. They are generally more artistic or sculptural, and less literal or functional than other types of signage.
Gateway markers should:
- Be located at defined entry points to a district or a neighborhood, or transitions from one neighborhood or district to another. They may also be appropriate at areas where a freeway becomes a surface road, or where there are other significant changes to the roadway, land use, or building form (for example, where a major roadway becomes a quiet residential street)
- Be large enough to attract attention and identify the neighborhood entrance
- Incorporate unique artistic, sculptural, or culturally-expressive elements appropriate to the particular neighborhood context
- Be placed on corner and mid-block curb extensions whenever possible
Neighborhood Orientation Signs
Neighborhood orientation signs provide a central element to provide district or neighborhood information, including the area’s name, neighborhood map, list of destinations (such as primary cultural institutions, historical buildings, and sites of significance), with a distinctive, coordinated design.
Neighborhood orientation signs should:
- Be located at key points in the neighborhood, such as at a major transit stop, or a central public space
- Include directories/maps to guide people to various neighborhood resources
- Highlight public and private destination points, including shopping, cultural and recreational facilities, parking, restrooms, and other public-serving facilities
- When appropriate and feasible, use new technologies such as interactive and virtual displays with event or other real-time information; however, such design features should be respectful of the neighborhood context and minimize visual intrusion
On most streets, the typical street sign is all that is needed to orient pedestrians to major destinations. However, on streets and public spaces with heavy pedestrian volumes, additional directional signage is often helpful. This is especially true on streets that handle greater numbers of visitors (such as downtown, ceremonial, or commercial streets), on major transit routes, or in tourist-oriented areas.
Directional signs are typically much simpler than a neighborhood orientation sign, featuring only place names and wayfinding information. They should have a distinct and coordinated design in keeping with the character of the surrounding neighborhood or district. Well-designed directional signs can help create a distinct identity to a neighborhood.
In general, directional signs should:
- Include destination icons, place names, and directional markers (e.g. arrows) for local destinations on blades or integral to the body of the sign. A map clearly showing current location and the best routes to nearby destinations should also be considered.
- Share existing poles where possible consistent with the signage design, or be designed as an integral streetscape element. Historic streetlight poles, however, should not be used
- Be located in the furnishings zone and as near to intersection corners as is practicable (but outside of the corner zone)
- Be easy to spot from far away, but designed to be read from nearby with a high level of detailing and craftsmanship
- Use external illumination the focuses light on the signs themselves, not on pedestrians. Internally illuminated signs should be avoided as they are typically designed to attract drivers and are too intense for pedestrians. Directional signs should use reflective coating to minimize glare.
Interpretive signs give historical, cultural, natural or architectural information about their particular locale. They may be part of a historic trail, identify a particular site where an important event occurred, or describe other aspects of a neighborhood’s past or present.
Interpretive signs should:
- Include graphics and photos, with a bold, strong heading and clear, succinct text
- Use a unique, neighborhood-specific design that incorporates creative or artistic elements into the overall design
- Be coordinated with a centralized directory and map when appropriate
Community organizations sponsoring signage projects are typically responsible for maintaining the signage and will typically need to sign a memorandum of understanding with DPW covering ongoing maintenance and liability of the project as a condition of acquiring a permit.
Typically, if you initiate street or sidewalk improvements, you will be responsible for maintenance of those features. Specific requirements will be described in your permit.
The SFMTA is responsible for installing and maintaining standard street and transit signs in San Francisco.
For a more detailed description of maintenance responsibilities, see Maintenance