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The Toronto Island ferry on an overcast Wednesday morning, June 27, 2012. (Galit Rodan/The Globe and Mail)
The Toronto Island ferry on an overcast Wednesday morning, June 27, 2012. (Galit Rodan/The Globe and Mail)

Proposal aims to help Toronto tourists navigate the urban maze Add to ...

A network of signs, maps and apps is being proposed to make Toronto easier to navigate for both tourists and residents.

Launched late last year by the city, with the 2015 Pan-Am Games acting as a catalyst, the Toronto “wayfinding” team has drafted an initial plan that will go to the public works committee in September, and to council the following month.

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If approved, the project will move into its second phase – narrowing design options and testing the strategy at two sites.

After visiting the CN Tower and Rogers Centre, Toronto resident Chintan Patel and his friends from the United States and India stumbled on nearby Roundhouse Park.

The outdoor exhibit of Toronto’s railway heritage is just the type of historical attraction they wanted to see.

They were not worried about getting lost – they relied heavily on a GPS – but they said that while the CN Tower was an obvious landmark, they felt there was no way to find attractions like the park, located south of the tower. “I’ve been living in the GTA for 11 years. I don’t know which things I can explore,” Mr. Patel explained.

The head of design at Britain-based Steer Davies Gleave, Phil Berczuk, who worked on the Toronto Wayfinding System Strategy, said making connections between neighbourhoods can be challenging – someone visiting the Annex, for instance, might not know that Little Italy is close by.

“There are areas of the city that are undiscovered and unknown,” he said.

The tools

The proposal includes a combination of co-ordinated signs, apps, pocket maps, and urban design. Antonio Gómez-Palacio, who also worked on the strategy and who is a partner at urban planning firm Dialog Group, said some aspects will be obvious but others – lighting, landscaping and public art – subtly guide people toward attractions.

“One of the challenges from a wayfinding perspective is, how do you give people the clues they need?”

Mr. Gómez-Palacio said tall “totem” signs will be placed strategically for “moments when they need that information” at gateways, including transit exits and intersections.

There could also be maps of the surrounding area posted at those sites, in addition to pocket maps that can be handed out at airports and hotels, and apps on smartphones to give directions between destinations and information.

Other signs would be placed on pedestrian and cyclist routes, pointing to places such as St. Lawrence Market and identifying the neighbourhood.

Some signs would indicate how long it takes to walk to nearby attractions, Mr. Berczuk said.

“Often people who don’t walk frequently will overestimate the distance and the time it will take them to walk,” he said, adding that transit options or cabs may stop people from spending time at other attractions.

The sites

Two places have been chosen as pilots for the strategy, if it gets the go-ahead from council. Both include Pan-Am Games venues: One is east downtown and the other is centred around the University of Toronto’s Scarborough campus. “Maybe [the strategy] works in a very dense area, but doesn’t work in an area which is more far flung,” said Fiona Chapman, the city’s manager of pedestrian projects and street furniture management.

Ms. Chapman said the funds for those pilot sites would be included in the $800,000 cost for the second phase, but some of the money will likely come from outside the city’s coffers. She said BIAs, tourism groups and destinations will benefit when visitors are more easily able to find their way around. Toronto differs from other cities because of its grid-like streets that, combined with landmarks such as the CN Tower, make navigation easier, Mr. Berczuk said. He said the difficulty here is navigating between neighbourhoods that are off the grid or out of sight from landmarks. When he visited Toronto for the first time, for example, he said he only knew about the waterfront because he saw it from his taxi.

“When you’re downtown, there’s nothing that suggests there’s a waterfront because you’ve got this massive barrier of the Gardiner,” he said.

The benefits

In some cases, the people behind the strategy want to target people like Siti Nursani, who’s from Bali, Indonesia. She was staying downtown last month and finding her way around exclusively by foot. “As a tourist, I don’t know how to use a bus or train in this city, so I get around by walking,” Ms. Nursani said on her way to the CN Tower. “I’d like to try a bus but I’m scared I’ll get lost.”

When visitors are comfortable with transit, they tend to explore more of the city, and they’ll likely spend more time and money here. “With proper wayfinding, [tourists] would probably consume more of the destination. You could be around the corner from one of the finest museums on the continent and now know it,” said Andrew Weir, vice president of communications of Tourism Toronto, which has assisted with the strategy.

Ms. Chapman said it will cost an estimated $7.2-million to roll out the strategy across Toronto in the final phase. Business partnerships may help pay for it, but they will not include advertising on the street signs.

“Whatever you saw on the street would have no advertising on it,” she said. “Period. Full stop.”

Mr. Weir said languages of visiting nationalities will have to be considered in planning signage. Last year, 154,100 people from China visited Toronto, an increase of 34.5 per cent from the year earlier. Chinese tourists now rank third in the city’s international visitors market behind the U.S. and U.K., according to the association. Visitors from India increased as well, up 13.2 per cent to 75,200.

 

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