Toronto looks for better way to help you find your way

With more than 5,000 kilometres of road in Toronto, getting lost in the city is not a hard thing to do.

Luckily the city employs a wayfinding system that’s designed to help people find their way around. The system includes maps, signs, new media tools and the localized use of lighting, street furniture like sidewalk benches, or art.

“The City of Toronto never really had an integrated wayfinding system that ties all of this together in one place.” said Paul Mule, an urban planner with Dialog, a company working on a new wayfinding strategy.

Businesses will save time. Visitors will save time.

—Phil Berczuk

Mule and others interested in improving the city’s wayfinding system met at Metro Hall last week to discuss the current system and how to make it better.

“Now is a good time to do it, now is a time when a lot is happening in the city,” Mule said. “The city’s becoming more dense, it’s developing more.

“The Pan Am Games are coming. We’re going to receive a lot of tourism in the city due to Pan Am Games and it’s a good time to engage in a project like this.”

Some of the proposed changes to the wayfinding system include the use of mobile apps and better visual branding for cultural areas like Chinatown or Greektown.

After the public information stage, the project will be set to move into Phase 2, which will include design work, limited implementation and feedback gathering. The third and final phase involves rolling out the new system across the city.

Phil Berczuk, head of design at British firm Steer Davies Gleave, has been working with Dialog on the wayfinding project for the city. He said he’s seen improved wayfinding work in other large cities.

“London implemented the system initially to address congestion in the underground network … but then found that there was broader benefits and interests across the city to provide that kind of information more broadly,” Berczuk said.

Dialog’s Antonio Gomez-Palacio agreed.

“The reason why so many cities are doing this and why it’s so timely in Toronto is precisely because typically in undertaking their business cases they have found there is a clear return to their investment, that they get a lot of value in direct and indirect ways to a wayfinding strategy.” he said.

Better wayfinding delivers value to a city directly by helping relieve congestion on transit and on the roads, Berczuk said, but the indirect value offered to city dwellers and visitors is also significant.

“There are health benefits, both physical health and mental health,” he said. “Walking more helps reduce stress levels.

“It will also help car drivers find their way to car parks [And] find their way more quickly. … Businesses will save time. Visitors will save time.”

The team working on the wayfinding project is set to present the proposed cost of the project to city council later this year.