Finding your way around downtown Edmonton is about to get easier

Walk around downtown today and you might notice some new signage. New wayfinding prototypes have been installed around Churchill Square, part of a pilot project being led by Walk Edmonton.

Edmonton Wayfinding

Each sign contains directions to nearby destinations, a map of the area the sign is located in, and information about the wayfinding project. Importantly, the directional information and the map contain time estimates for pedestrians. This should help pedestrians to orient themselves and make it to key destinations.

Edmonton Wayfinding

The Downtown CRL Plan (PDF) contains a catalyst project called Green and Walkable Downtown that refers to “a phased and coordinated program of street and public realm improvements” focused on pedestrians. It also highlights the notion of a wayfinding system:

“Wayfinding refers to the system of visual cues, such as signage and maps that people use to find destinations and navigate neighourhoods. In the downtown context, a coherent and effective wayfinding system is particularly important to pedestrians and cyclists.”

“The wayfinding signage that exists downtown today is inconsistent and in some cases incoherent or absent. There is currently a patchwork of signage systems. A Wayfinding System would include signage at street level for pedestrians. Web and mobile phone-based wayfinding tools could also be developed. All components will be well-integrated, sharing a mutual look, language, and logic that will facilitate movement.”

Edmonton’s current wayfinding is a mess. It’s a mix of different approaches, developed at different times, with no coherent system or plan. It’s not just the pedway either, it’s everything. I’m really excited to see this start to change, and just in time for what is perhaps the busiest construction period downtown has ever seen, with the LRT, arena, Royal Alberta Museum, and many other projects underway. Good wayfinding is about to become more important than ever before.

Edmonton Wayfinding

This is just a first step, and there’s lots more that could be done. I’d love to see a digital component as well, with a mobile site or apps or both. Connections could be made to ETS wayfinding, and of course, we need to fix the pedway signage!

The City is running an online survey to gather feedback on the proposed maps and signs. You have until May 4 to provide your input!

Edmonton Wayfinding Project

While the City has been working on wayfinding for a while, it was a group of interested citizens that really got things moving.

Tim Querengesser put a project up on Make Something Edmonton in March 2013. It was focused on the pedway, but it quickly attracted a group of interested Edmontonians. After a couple of meetings, they expanded their scope to wayfinding more generally.

Tim had moved to Edmonton from Toronto not long before starting the project. When he discovered the pedway he thought it was great, but found the signage to be very poor. After travelling to many large cities, he had seen plenty of examples of excellent signage. Tim figured he should try to do something about it. “In Toronto there’s a ‘don’t get involved’ culture,” he said, “but I really wanted to get involved here.”

Edmonton Wayfinding Project

Putting up a Make Something Edmonton page was all it took to get started. The group is now known as the Edmonton Wayfinding Project, and they’ve been a critical factor in the development of the City’s wayfinding effort. They’re all volunteers but they’re quite active. They have published articles on wayfinding, organized an installation at Harcourt House, have created a buzz in the media, and have met with the City numerous times to provide guidance and feedback.

There’s no question the group has had an impact. In fact, the City’s own report on wayfinding (PDF) says so:

“Wayfinding is also a topical item of conversation in the city as a result of to advocacy and projects improve use and navigation of the Pedway and River Valley Parks. The ‘Make Something Edmonton’ group are an example of grass-roots community interest that has raised the profile of wayfinding in the city.”

Have you ever wanted to change something in Edmonton but thought it was too difficult? Let this be an example of how anyone can make a difference as long as you’re willing to put in a little time and energy! It’s so exciting to see a group of engaged Edmontonians going after something they care about. Imagine what could be done if there were another dozen groups like the Edmonton Wayfinding Project!

Kudos to Tim and the entire team on your achievements thus far; keep it going! You can follow the group on Twitter at @WayfindYEG.