Way Finding Signs of the Times

I have never been impressed with way finding in Ottawa. I remember there used to be a sign to Hull, I think it was on Bronson, about a foot square, that was covered by a tree branch for years, until the name ‘Hull’ ceased to exist. I am also often amazed that directional signs are put at the intersection or after an actual exit, rather than 200 meters before the exit. The photo below is a perfect example.

The signs only appears at the exit (red arrow). Great if you are hanging in the left lane as a tourist. Also, a cyclist is in a really crappy spot here, as there is fast moving traffic moving into the exit lane.
The signs only appears at the exit (red arrow). Great if you are hanging in the left lane as a tourist. Also, a cyclist is in a really crappy spot here, as there is fast moving traffic moving into the exit lane. The crumbliest part is the place you should ride your bike. “Should”.

Now the City of Ottawa is building a bike network, you might have noticed way finding signs starting to pop up. The NCC has had their own for a while, and they look attractive, but I think somewhat confusing sometimes, with both the name of the direction and the name of the final destination. Initially I didn’t grasp the two different purposes. Apparently, one of the arrows dropped off (as in the example underneath for the Arboretum)  in some bureaucratic NCC directional sign sub committee.

An NCC path sign with the direction at the top (Lakeside Ave) and the destination at the bottom (Arboretum)
An NCC path sign with the direction at the top (Lakeside Ave) and the destination at the bottom (Arboretum). Initially I thought both were directional.

From what I gather, there are directional signs (“Landsdowne – 2.2 km”), route name signs (“Rideau River Eastern Pathway”) or a combination of purposes, like the NCC signs that guide you to the Arboretum but also to side roads.

An NCC pathway sign
An NCC pathway name sign

The NCC is consistent in its design but has also been experimenting with a very different system in the Greenbelt south of Bells Corners. The system originates from the Belgian coal mines and is now mostly implemented in Belgium and the Netherlands as a wayfinding system for cycling and walking. Every major intersection has a number. Combined with a map or an app, you can simply find your way around by writing down the numbers of the intersections on a napkin. I will write more about that in a future post.

A Waypoint sgn. A very smart system that shows which way point you are, which direction to the next way point (26C or 26J), where and how far the next parking is and the coordinates of the location. Not all that info needs to be repeated on every sign. There is a map for reference, but you could have apps or even a list of the waypoints you want to pass on your route.
A waypoint sign south of Bell’s Corners. A very smart system that shows which way point you are, which direction to the next way point (26C or 26J), where and how far the next parking is and the coordinates of the location. Not all that info needs to be repeated on every sign. There is a map for reference, but you could have apps or even a list of the waypoints you want to pass on your route.

But what has the City been doing? Well, not a very intelligent job. It appears that whatever department has a budget is allowed to put signs up the way they see fit. Currently there are 6 different styles within the City. Here is the proof:

These green signs have been around for a while. The purpose is to indicate bike routes.
Sign type 1: Rectangle, no logo, bike pointing left bound, These green signs have been around for a while. The purpose is to indicate bike routes. I don’t think they are put up anymore, but I am not 100% sure.
sign type 1: Blue, bike in top, full Ottawa logo bottom left.
Sign type 2: Blue, bike in top, full Ottawa logo bottom left. Purpose is the direction of a bike way
sign type 2: Blue, color logo in top, rectangle shape, no bicycle icon.
Sign type 3: Blue, color logo in top, rectangle shape, no bicycle icon.
sign type 3: Blue, full name logo in top, oval cut out at the top. Logo of sponsor SRO at the bottom.
Sign type 4: Blue, full name logo in top, oval cut out at the top. Logo of SRO at the bottom. Bold right through “Safer”
Green (all these green signs point to Lansdowne), includes walking times, oval shape at the top, Ottawa logo at the bottom left.
Sign type 5: Green (all these green signs point to Lansdowne), includes walking times, oval shape at the top, Ottawa logo at the bottom left. Lansdowne logo, not standard font.
bike sign 5: this was the first bike way finding sign: blue, rectangle, bike logo in green square, circle in the top with colour logo.
Sign type 6: this was the first new bike way finding sign: blue, rectangle, bike logo in green square, circle in the top with colour logo. Note the Lansdowne sign in the back ground!

I am afraid it won’t take long before our paths are going to look like this:

Signs everywhere on Albert before Kent. Yucko!
Signs everywhere on Albert before Kent. Yucko!

Actually, it has started already:

As if there is no space at the Experimental Farm....
As if there is no space at the Experimental Farm….

Oddly, the NCC never mentions the Canal, a World Heritage site, as a destination when you cycle the Experimental Farm pathway. I don’t understand that. The canal pathways are also spine routes, so even more a reason to point people there for orientation. But then, there is still the humble Rideau Trail sign with its even humbler directional markers.

The Rideau Trail runs from Kingston to Ottawa. the website is just as humble, but very extensive.
The Rideau Trail runs from Kingston to Ottawa. the website is just as humble, but very extensive.

So my point is that I’d really like the City to come up with one logical design and one system. I also like to see the City and the NCC to at least connect their systems (sharing the same design is asking too much for sure): let’s think from a tourist/consumer/resident perspective rather than from our bureaucratic silos.

Pixo Design

I ain’t no expert in this, but Glenn Gobuyan is. He did do some project work for the NCC (the wayfinding system I described above in Bells Corners) and this is his company: PixoDesign. Glenn will be a speaker at our 4th annual Spring.Bike.Ottawa event on March 21. We often think of ‘supporting local companies’ in terms of beer and cupcakes, but Glenn has done some really interesting work. (Update: Glenn’s presentation was very well received by the 90 or so people at the event)

Paddestoel

And did you know that there is a Dutch paddestoel (mushroom) in Ottawa? They were the directional signs in the Netherlands for a long time and still are, more so in the South and East. The old ones were cast in concrete, the newer ones are made of a plastic material. Do you know where this one is in Ottawa? There is another one in Calgary, on the island in the Bow River. It was flushed away during the flood but will soon be replaced. I know that because I had the new one on my desk a few months ago.

I don't have a better pic currenty, this 'mushroom' with directions, including one to the Netherlands is in Ottawa.
I don’t have a better pic currently, this ‘mushroom’ with directions in km, including one to the Netherlands, is in Ottawa. (image: Google maps)
Glenn Gobuyan from PixoDesign in Ottawa makes a few suggestions at the popular annual Spring.Bike.Ottawa event.
Glenn Gobuyan from PixoDesign in Ottawa makes a few suggestions at the popular annual Spring.Bike.Ottawa event, suggesting destinations rather than ‘trail’ names on the signs, like the rest of the world does.
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