How Can Wayfinding and Navigation Tools Support A Slow Street?
By Samuel Baron
Wayfinding and navigation tools are a type of soft infrastructure – they do not form the foundations of our streets, but in many ways they can contribute to a higher quality street experience. Wayfinding and navigation tools also encourage greater use of what Slow Streets refers to as ‘slower modes’ (walking, cycling and transit). Walking, cycling and transit become more accessible when information is readily available. Incorporating wayfinding and navigation tools into a city’s street network improves the legibility of our cities and changes the way we experience slower modes. For example, simply providing bus arrival times at a stop allows riders to feel more secure, knowing exactly when their bus will arrive. When riders are unsure when their bus will arrive, they tend to exaggerate the actual wait time – 5 minutes can actually feel like 10 minutes.
While Slow Streets focuses on ‘hard’ infrastructure changes (bike lanes, wider sidewalks, etc.) in order to generate greater value from our streets, ‘soft infrastructure’ should not be neglected. Below I highlight two examples of how wayfinding and navigation tools can contribute to a higher quality street experience.
Walk NYC In 2013, New York City unveiled its Walk NYC project which “provides a clear visual language and graphic standards that can be universally understood, encourages walking and transit usage by providing quality multi-modal information, and provides consistent information across a broad range of environments in the city” (Walk NYC). The signage provides an estimate of nearby walking times to adjacent points of interest, bikeshare stations, landmarks and practical destinations like Subway stops. The signage also features some choice bus routes.
(Image Source: New Work, NYC Wayfinding)
The Walk NYC project has also placed the wayfinding signage with its Citi-bikeshare stations, integrating a multimodal aspect to the wayfinding system. The signs also tell you which streets feature bike lanes, so that Citi bikeshare riders can find the safest route.
Walk NYC also partnered with the Department of Transportation and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority to install the signage in transit stations. These maps provide not only neighborhood specific info, but also important transit information. The DOT remarks that “With the addition of these new neighborhood maps in the subway, there will be a standard wayfinding map for pedestrians, transit riders, and cyclists alike for the first time in New York City history.”
(Image Source: New Work, NYC Wayfinding)
This project in particular is important because whether you are cycling, using transit or driving, ultimately at some stage in your journey, you are on foot. We are all pedestrians – even drivers. Improving the pedestrian experience through a coherent and accessible wayfinding program helps contribute to safer and more accessible streets. For example, if you are emerging from the Subway station in an unfamiliar neighborhood, the wayfinding system can help provide a basic sense of orientation.
Transit Screen is a live, real-time display of all transportation options at a person’s current location. What is particularly interesting about Transit Screen is that the system goes far beyond displaying bus or train arrival times. It also includes other options like carshare and bikeshare. The displays are placed at strategic decision-making locations (for example, near the entrance of an apartment building), so that users can identify which mode will work for them best in that given moment. While not necessarily used for street navigation, the user is empowered through easy access to legible, real time information.
In a mulitmodal city, knowledge and information is power. Transit Screen makes users aware of the full tool-kit of transportation options available at their disposal providing location specific real-time information, mitigating the frustrating psychological experience of ‘waiting’ for transportation to arrive. Part of the challenge with living ‘car-free’ or ‘car-lite’ is contending with the flexibility that car ownership offers. Car owners know exactly where their car is parked and for many people this creates a sense of security. By contrast, non-drivers can experience insecurity if they don’t know when their bus is arriving or whether their bikeshare station has any available bikes.
Multimodal resources like Transit Screen allow users to identify which mode will work best for them by simply providing good information. In this way, slower modes can be just as attractive and flexible as car ownership.
Certainly, concerns about the encroachment of media and signage in public spaces are warranted. However, if executed tastefully and properly these types of soft infrastructure can contribute to a higher quality street experience and a better mobility experience for slower modes. Taking a bike out from a bikeshare station becomes safer for novice riders if they know where the nearest bike lane is. Likewise, transit riders are extended greater flexibility in navigating their transit options when they are presented with more comprehensive information. These types of soft infrastructure should not be overlooked as we design our cities and streets for a multimodal future.