Edmonton’s Pedway: Wayfinding

This is the third part in a series of posts looking at the past, present, and future of Edmonton’s pedway network.

Have you ever gotten lost in the pedway? You wouldn’t be the first to do so.

In the late 1970s, the City began to think about how to make the pedway more usable, and navigational information (known today as wayfinding) was to play a big part of that. The Pedway Concept Plan of 1976 called for “a standardized information guide applied throughout the system, including directional signs, maps, route directories, and general information signs” and “identification for individual commercial frontages.”

In March 1989, the City published the Downtown Pedway Network Review which highlighted the need for improved signage. “There is a need to develop and implement a directional and information signage program for the pedway network,” it said. “The 1987 pedway user survey revealed that users generally were unaware of the extent of the pedway network beyond a few specific areas.” As is often the case with the City, there was already a project underway to improve the signage when the report came out.

Pedway Documents

In 1987 the City of Edmonton entered into an agreement with Lance Wyman Ltd. for “consulting services in the area of the design of public signage and information systems.” Wyman has had extensive experience in designing branding and wayfinding systems, having worked on the Washington D.C. Metro maps, the Mexico City Metro icons and wayfinding, wayfinding for Midtown Detroit, and branding & wayfinding for Pennsylvania Station in New York City, among many other projects.

Edmonton’s pedway wasn’t the only project Wyman undertook in Alberta. He also designed the branding and wayfinding for Calgary’s +15 network. Here’s what he wrote about it in 2004:

“Symbols can participate with the environment in many ways and can enhance and make a wayfinding system work better. A symbol can be a reminder of history and a functional directional guide at the same time. The Calgary +15 Pedestrian skywalk symbol (bridges and walkways are 15 feet above grade) combines references to the city history and culture (local native Blackfoot star constellation circles, traditional white rodeo hat symbol) to establish a symbol that participates in all aspects of the wayfinding system. Circle patterns are also used to indicate the walking path on +15 maps, and are inlaid into the floors in contrasting materials to indicate the actual walkways. The consistent use of the circle patterns become familiar +15 wayfinding information and is a reference to Calgary history.”

In Edmonton, Wyman’s work was to proceed in three phases. The first would be Preliminary Design, during which data would be collected and Wyman would become familiar with the system. A concept for the pedway system logo, typography, and symbols would also be produced in the first phase. The second phase would be focused on detailed design, resulting in a manual and cost estimates for each element. The third phase would be a demonstration project. The total value of the contract, signed in December 1987, was $117,950.00. Only the first phase at $27,725.00 was funded at first; the other two phases were to proceed subject to funding approval from City Council. The work was to be completed by the fall of 1988.

Wyman eventually produced the City of Edmonton Pedway Signing & Graphics Manual (pictured above), which outlined the pedway network logo, iconography, and other design details. “The Helvetica system of typography was chosen for the Pedway to be compatible with the LRT signing system, which also uses the Helvetica system,” it reads.

pedway levels

Something that may not be immediately apparent is that the pedway logo itself comes in three versions, one for each level of the system. As Wyman puts it, “pedway logos inform pedestrians which of three walkway levels they are on; Subway, Street, or Skywalk.”

Another unique aspect of the design are the directional elements. “The signs give orientation using compass directions that incorporate familiar city landmarks; the North Star to the North, the refineries to the East, the river to the South, the view of the Rockies to the West.”

pedway directions

The manual includes design details on a wide array of different signs, including:

  • Flag Sign (sticks out from building)
  • Wall Sign (flat on building)
  • Elevator Button Sign
  • Pedestal Map
  • Wall Map
  • Waymarker Sign (mounted at baseboard level)
  • Stencil Sign (for paint applications)
  • Overhead Sign
  • Street Name Sign
  • LRT Sign (on the illuminated signs)
  • Entrance Decal (interestingly has different times for entrance hours)

The project was a relative success, and today the signage that Wyman designed can be seen throughout the network. In 1989, the Downtown Pedway Network Review recommended that the designs and signs “be incorporated into the existing portions of the Pedway Network and used in all future pedways.” Furthermore, it recommended that all development agreements should “require installation of this standardized signage system within the pedway link and throughout adjacent developments to ensure ease of access by pedway users.”

Edmonton Pedway Signs

Over the years the signage rolled out, but it very quickly became out-of-date. As new buildings and connections appeared, they did not always follow the same format and some lacked signs altogether. There were long stretches of time during which the pedway map was not updated. Even today, the link to the Downtown Pedway Map on the City of Edmonton’s website takes you nowhere. Today’s system reflects a lack of ownership over the wayfinding aspects of the pedway, resulting in a mess of different signs and maps.

Twenty years after they first tackled the problem, Council decided to do something about wayfinding in the pedway. On November 18, 2009, Executive Committee directed Administration to work with the Downtown Business Association on addressing issues with the pedway, including “signage, way-finding, and new directions, including connections to outside streets.” An ad hoc pedway committee was formed shortly thereafter, and they identified “a system of standardized signage” as a key opportunity. The committee felt that a database should be created containing all of the relevant details about the pedway, so that it could serve as the basis for a web-based map to help people navigate the system.

Edmonton Pedway Signs

The Downtown Pedway Committee was officially established in September 2010 with a mandate to “examine and address the challenges and opportunities” related to the pedway. The committee met six times throughout 2011 and focused their efforts on updating the existing pedway maps, a task they finally completed in March 2012 (you can download it in PDF here). Next they turned their attention to wayfinding.

“The major focus of the Committee has been the creation of an integrated way-finding signage system for the pedway network. A way-finding system performs the essential function of directing, informing and supporting movements that allow public spaces and buildings to function. Such a system is key to ensuring that people can access and use pedways and the transit system efficiently, conveniently and safely. A comprehensive way-finding system involves not only clear directional signage to smooth pedestrian flows, but also includes open spaces beyond the pedway network which extend throughout the downtown, resulting in a more open, uncluttered environment. A comprehensive way-finding system also includes connecting street level activity with the existing multi-level pedway system.”

The Pedway Committee made it clear that they felt improvements to the wayfinding system were necessary, especially given all of the other projects taking place in the downtown area:

“The Pedway Committee feels the time is right to start planning for an integrated way finding signage system for the pedway and throughout the downtown. The downtown is well-positioned to take advantage of this initiative.”

In November 2012 the Pedway Committee made a presentation about the business case for a wayfinding system. They identified “at least 78 different signage types” throughout the pedway network, including 13 in the library parkade alone!

Edmonton Pedway Signs

They proposed a project with three phases to remedy the situaton. The first would be to do initial scoping and conceptual and detailed design. The second phase would focus on a pilot project, with the final phase including final design and rollout of the system beyond the pilot project area. Executive Committee was generally unimpressed with the presentation, and seemed shocked at the cost. The report estimated the cost of implementing such a project at $2 million, a figure based on similar projects that were recently implemented in Calgary and Toronto.

The source of that funding? The report recommended that the project be aligned with the “Green and Walkable Streets” project proposed as part of the downtown CRL. Unfortunately, when Council approved the list of catalyst projects that would be funded under the CRL on May 8, 2013, they broke Green and Walkable Streets into two. The first part, around the arena, was in the “recommended for initial funding” category. The second and much larger part, which includes any potential wayfinding project, was placed in the “to proceed on revenues actually realized” category. In other words, any improvements to the wayfinding system used throughout the pedway are for now dependent on the arena going ahead and the CRL being successful. Improvements may never happen.

So we’re stuck with the same old pedway signage and out-of-date information that has plagued downtown for the past twenty years. We’re stuck with PDF maps instead of mobile apps and other technological advances. And the situation could get even worse with the new arena, Royal Alberta Museum, and numerous other projects being constructed downtown with pedway connections.

It’s important to remember that wayfinding is about more than just signs. “An effective wayfinding system can be a visual ambassador, a means of saying ‘Welcome, let me help you find your way around and enjoy yourself’,” Lance Wyman wrote in 2004. “Wayfinding offers the designer an opportunity to reference the history, culture, and essence of place in an immediate way that will be seen and used on a daily basis.”

  • ggt

    Mack …

    Thanks for the article on the City’s Pedway Wayfinding. I think the historical background was of great value.

    Without getting into esoteric arguments of “design”, the current Wayfinding is not successful. And has not been for many years. Perhaps really never. I believe the City was preparing a Wayfinding report. An email on this was sent to the City in March of 2012 and the reply indicated “we will be working
    towards a comprehensive Way Finding System by this time next year.”.

    Your frustration with the City resorting to PDF’s (electric paper) is understandable. It may require a wholesale culture change within the City to make progress on this.

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  • Max Rhein

    Great article. Something I’ve never really gave much thought too all the times I’ve seen the retro pedway signage. (I may be a bit saddened to see the retro signage updated now I think.) Cheers,
    Max Rhein, Edmonton resident

  • Ig

    It’s unfortunate that the new map is less than a year old and already outdated. It’s also missing or isn’t very clear on a few places that do have pedway access including the empire building and nothing about the pedway at the legislature which is “connected” to the rest via lrt.

    • Craig

      I’m thinking there needs to be an “app for that”.

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