Wayfinding in Edmonton inches forward

At Executive Committee today, Councillors discussed a report which outlined why wayfinding is important, a strategy for moving it forward, and initial implementation options and costs.

Edmonton has very little wayfinding information for citizens or tourists and what we do have is confusing and lacks consistency. It has become clear that our city’s haphazard implementation of wayfinding within the pedway system is a disaster and is a mistake we should not repeat. The City’s push to see Edmontonians shift transportation modes is another big reason to support this initiative – finding your way around can be difficult if you’re not in a car. As Edmonton grows and attracts both more residents and visitors, the problem is only going to get worse. And like most things, the longer we wait to do the work required, the more it’ll probably cost.

wayfinding

The good news is that the City seems committed to doing something with wayfinding in a coordinated, strategic way. Administration understands and has articulated the benefits of wayfinding. The risk is that the funding to do it right may not be available.

Here’s an audio overview of today’s meeting & news:

You can download the cloudcast here.

Hooray for citizen action!

Would the City have come around to this position without citizen action? Perhaps eventually. But without question, the work of the Edmonton Wayfinding Project has had a significant impact. They’ve engaged citizens, they’ve conducted surveys and have done some other public engagement work, they have connected with experts in other cities, and they have pushed for collaboration with City Administration. Perhaps most importantly, they’ve shone the light on a topic that could have easily been ignored, and for no reason other than they want to make Edmonton a better place to live and visit.

The founder of the project, Tim Querengesser, was at Council today to speak to the report and to make his group’s case for the importance of progressing this work. The group published a discussion document today as well, which concluded:

“The Edmonton Wayfinding Society recommends City Council support the reports it is examining and follow their recommendations, with one caveat. The Society recommends the City reconfigure the roadmap toward a unifying wayfinding system for Edmonton to include the pedway/LRT system. Further, the Society recommends that its volunteer-driven research suggests a comprehensive study of pedway users, attitudes and behaviours is badly needed to create a wayfinding system that works in all nodes of Edmonton’s transportation infrastructure. In the interim, the Society also recommends that Edmonton introduce, immediately, guidelines for all new developments that add wayfinding as a factor that is examined. “

Be sure to follow @WayfindYEG on Twitter for updates.

Concern about costs

Today’s report included both a business case and a detailed strategy. The two hefty documents (a combined 97 pages) provide all of the necessary background and detail that you could hope for. The opening paragraph of the business case highlights one of the big problems with wayfinding efforts in Edmonton in the past:

“There have been several attempts to create a corporate wayfinding program in the City of Edmonton which have failed at the value for money decision. While it is understood generally that wayfinding offers many benefits to a growing city, it has not so far obtained support as a priority for the investment needed for citywide implementation.”

Cost dominated much of the discussion today too. Councillor Oshry in particular peppered Administration with questions about the cost of implementation, and argued after the meeting that we don’t need “the Buckingham Palace version of the signs.” He told the Sun that the proposed wayfinding strategy “seems excessive”. Mayor Iveson, however, said “to cheap out on these signs is probably a mistake.”

The overall cost of implementing the wayfinding strategy is estimated at around $10 million. That includes the development of signs, apps, plans, artwork, and more. It also includes the rollout of hundreds of physical signs. A big chunk of that cost, $5.5 million, is for the installation of maps at each existing LRT or transit station. Options for funding the project include: direct funding, which Council would need to approve; incremental funding, which would mean signs only appear as projects are completed; and revenue generation, which could be from sponsorship or advertising. Rollout options were also discussed, such as focused on downtown first and other areas later.

The business case concludes that “a pedestran-focused wayfinding system in Edmonton offers a positive benefit to cost proposition” and that “wayfinding has been shown to be a cost-effective means to overcome barriers to modal shift, a way to improve the local economy and a contributor to overall city liveability.”

Design standards

A lot of design work has already been done, which you can see in the report but also in the prototype signs that were installed around Churchill Square back in April. Future signs will include both “Walk Edmonton” and the City of Edmonton brand, and they’ll likely look a bit different than the prototype signs based on feedback and other lessons.

wayfinding

Icons are meant to be based on national or international standards, to ensure widespread recognition. The Benton Sans typeface is proposed for use across maps and signs, because it has good legibility at both large and small sizes, comes in a wide range of weights, and is a little more unique than Helvetica or other commonly used typfaces.

wayfinding

Consideration has already been given to colors, themes, cartographic elements (like the “you are here” markers), 3D landmarks, and incorporating the pedway.

Governance and maintenance

There was some discussion today about the need for a wayfinding czar, or as the detailed strategy calls the position, a “Wayfinding System Manager”. Harry Finnigan, who worked on wayfinding in Winnipeg and who spoke at Council today, said he wished they had implemented a similar position in Winnipeg. Ultimately though, Administration today decided they would rather have a team of people take responsibility for wayfinding, and Council didn’t push the point.

wayfinding

On the topic of maintenance and operations, the strategy identifies the importance of both a procurement strategy to efficiently buy and maintain signage, and an asset management database, to record information about each sign. That database of information is sorely lacking from the pedway system currently, and would certainly be important to have going forward.

The wayfinding strategy will be managed by Walkable Edmonton, under the Walk Edmonton brand. ETS and Great Neighbourhoods are the two main internal partners. Mayor Iveson also suggested that the Edmonton Design Committee be involved.

What’s next?

To some degree, the City is going to move ahead with its efforts to develop the corporate wayfinding program. At some point however, more funding will be required. There are four capital profiles being recommended for funding in the proposed 2015-2018 Capital Budget, which is when we’ll likely hear about wayfinding next. If those four profiles were funded, that would enable the City to complete roughly 60% of the wayfinding strategy.

That means Edmontonians need to keep pushing for wayfinding if they think it is important! Tell your Councillor if you want to see more funding go into this important project.

For more on wayfinding, check out the City of Edmonton’s website here and the Edmonton Wayfinding Project here.

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.

Use Google Maps to find Edmonton Transit schedules and trip plans

Earlier today I stumbled across this thread on Connect2Edmonton which pointed out that Google Maps Canada now has Edmonton Transit schedules and trip planning features. I immediately jumped over to the website to check it out, and sure enough, it’s all there!

The ETS website has offered trip planning for quite some time now, of course (an average of 89,000 trips were planned each month in 2006). It works well enough, but it’s awkward to use. Everything you do seems to open a new window/tab, and it’s not the fastest service in the world. But the main drawback has always been that you have to know far too much information in advance.

When you need to get from point A to point B, you typically know the address of each, but you don’t know the bus stop number near each one and you certainly don’t know which bus to get on!

That’s where Google Maps absolutely destroys the ETS website. Here’s an example.

I need to get from my apartment building to the current Questionmark office in the west end. I live at 10350 122nd Street, and the office is at 11434 168th Street. Let’s start with the ETS Trip Planner:

  1. Date and time of travel are no problem. The “arrive by” feature is particularly nice.
  2. Enter Starting Bus Stop # or Choose a Landmark. Uh oh, what’s my bus stop number? I could go outside and look or I could try to look it up. Let’s look it up.
  3. Okay not bad, enter my address and click Get Bus Stop #. Okay wow, now I have to choose from 14 different stops! I’m not entirely sure which direction I want. The office is northwest from my house, but do I want a westbound stop or northbound? I’ll choose the first one, heading west.
  4. Now I repeat the same thing for the office address. This time I have a list of 7 stops. Again, I’ll choose the first one.
  5. Now I can get my trip plan! Or not…some sort of error just popped up – “Error in Trip Solution Results”. Excellent. Honest I’m just doing this as I write.
  6. I’m really not sure why I got that error, but I did the whole thing again and after about 30 seconds or so, I got my trip plan – six different route options. Shortest time is 46 minutes.

Now let’s do that with Google Maps:

  1. I enter my home address.
  2. On the pin that comes up, I click “From Here” and enter the office address.
  3. Next I click “Public Transit” on the left pane.
  4. That’s it! I have three suggested routes. Shortest time is 34 minutes, and each one includes walking directions too.

If you want, you can do a few more advanced things as well. Clicking “Show options” will let you choose the “Depart at” or “Arrive by” times, just like the ETS website.

directions

And it gets better! There’s no way for me to get back to that trip plan I made using the ETS Trip Planner. Unless I printed it right there, I’d have to do it again. With Google Maps however, my plan has a permalink! Very nice.

I would love to see ETS link to the Google solution. Competition might be a concern, but it’s probably a better use of resources to help Google improve their system than to continue building an inferior one. I think it’s funny that the “Local agency information” link at the bottom of the results pane is broken. You can thank the new Edmonton.ca website for that!

Of course, the Google Maps solution isn’t yet perfect. It doesn’t seem to contain as much information as ETS, nor does it include Strathcona Transit or St. Albert Transit (as Michael Wilson pointed out to me).

Still, if you need to look up transit information in Edmonton I’d highly recommend you look at Google Maps before trying your luck with the ETS Trip Planner.

UPDATE: Found the official list of cities with transit information at Google Maps. Edmonton is not on the list yet. The currently listed Canadian cities include Vancouver, Fredericton, Ottawa, and Montreal.