Improving Wayfinding in Cities

June 25, 2013 at 6:54 pm

Just how important is it for city governments to tell their denizens and visitors where they’re going? An announcement this week by the New York City DOT has brought urban wayfinding to the front pages of city websites and the livable streets blogs.

Walk NYC wayfinding map. Credit: WNYC/Kate Hinds.

Many may think that the maps are primarily for tourists, and to a degree, they are: even for tourists in their own city. How often do you leave the comfort of your own neighborhood(s) to explore others? According to NYCDOT research, 24% of visitors didn’t know how to get to their next destination, and 27% didn’t know which borough they were in. My mother is guilty of this, asking me every few blocks on a recent trip to New York if we were “in the Bronx now, or are we still in Manhattan?”

A nice touch is that the maps will always point in the direction of the map, making it easy to navigate the streets you see right in front of you. A large circle shows how long it will take to walk in 7 minutes. The maps will also go up in subway stations, helping orient those coming up from the often-disorienting tunnels.

Another wayfinding technique I have found useful in other places, mainly European cities with nonlinear streets, are signs in the subway station that point to exits and show you which way the exit goes.

A Local Information map on a platform of the Paris Métro. Credit: Paris Adele.

Maps in the Paris Métro show nearby bus routes and numbered exits. The numbered exits are extremely useful when figuring out which of several station exits to use. Arrows point in the direction you’ll be going once you leave the numbered exit. I like to think I have an internal compass and can always find my way around, but sometimes the disorienting nature of the subway and the tunnels to get out of it can throw me off. Maps like this are helpful.

Capture d’écran 2013-06-25 à 7.49.18 PM

Simple mock-up of how this would display above the northbound exit at the Quincy station in Chicago.

I’m not the best mapmaker, or I would make a map to go with the “sign” I made above.

Have you seen any good examples of wayfinding in other cities that would have been helpful as a visitor or even as a resident?