Sunday, February 26, 2012

Grassroots Wayfinding

It only lasted about five weeks but it got a lot of attention, both locally and internationally. It seems like a really good idea and something that could find some legs around here. It is the brainchild of a graduate student majoring in landscape architecture and in urban planning.

It did not happen here in Lexington.

It, is a grassroots effort to demonstrate to residents the ease of walking to various destinations and has linking to a smart phone app from which they get directions and an estimated walking time. It is a way to incorporate the pedestrian into the wayfinding methods of the city. It was apparently also illegal and stopped by the Planning Director.

"Walk Raleigh" was started by graduate student Matt Tomasulo and some friends as a way to get pedestrians into a more integrated utilization of the City of Raleigh, N. C.  Raleigh has a wayfinding system, as does Lexington, but it as basically geared toward the automobile as is Lexington's. Involving the pedestrian seems to be of lesser concern to most city governments, so many of us walkers have to fend for ourselves. In Raleigh, one has to get permission to put up a sign, and as always with governments, some locations may be disapproved or prohibited outright. That takes the spontaneity right out of it for the masses.

I have written about the wayfinding signs here in Lexington and detailed some of the faults which I, and others, have noticed. The fact that our and other wayfinding systems are geared for the motorist stands out as(to my mind) the greatest fault. Now I ask, what effort should we, as the residents of a very walkable downtown, do to enhance the present wayfinding setup?

Last week, Dhiru Thadani, the prime author of the Downtown Master Plan reiterated, in his remarks to the 2012 Lafayette Seminar, that Lexington has a walkable downtown, and that even beyond the limits of the central business area the walkability continues. I did not hear anyone ask if we needed to do more for our wayfinding system nor did I hear Dr. Blues speak of doing more for anything but the Design Excellence group's work on the development standards for downtown. We seem to be planning for more people on the streets on downtown, yet are leaving with an auto-centric signage system. Perhaps the Master Plan is still coming up a little short. I hope that our new Commissioner of Planning could do a bit more in that regard.

On a side note, I read last week that the Colt trolley arrangement is getting a facelift and finally thinking of using Short St (as I suggested back in 2009)  instead of Vine St. Maybe late is just a little better than never.


Peter Brackney said...

"It" sounds like the pedestrian button on google maps/directions.

You need an app for that?

- PJWB @

Nick said...

The pedestrian button on Google Maps is just ok, but it misses a lot of pieces. In Lexington, particularly, there are a lot of shortcuts - often through more interesting places - that Google doesn't route you through. Plus, if we force people to spend all their time looking down at their smartphones, they miss all the scenery anyway.

In addition to signage projects like the one mentioned in the article, there are a few alternatives that I'm excited will improve pedestrian navigation. One is an app called Lumatic that uses real-world photography to provide turn-by-turn walking navigation. The other is a technology called GeoLoci that enables location services to run more ambiently on smartphones without excessively draining the battery (a problem right now). Finally, OpenStreetMap provides tools for anyone to contribute to a map of the world. This enables locals to add and update walking paths and parks that are missed by the major mapmakers, who are more focused on automobile navigation.

All offer new ways at routing human beings (not just vehicles) through the walkable world.

Streetsweeper said...

Nick, I have been adding information to the OpenStreetMap of Lexington for about 6 or 7 months now. There is so much to do just to bring it up to acceptable, in my mind.

Blake Hall said...

I've actually talked to Matt about how he did it and about getting this up in Lexington, specifically the Downtown and Campus area. He started a Kickstarter (called Walk Your City) for a site to help anyone create these signs and it was successfully funded.
He said one of the biggest obstacles of getting people to walk was breaking their over-estimations of how long it would take. That was one of the big purposes of his sign campaign, allow people to passively discover how close other things were. As a UK student, I myself was guilty of this. I would just hit Limestone and Euclid at lunch because I assumed everything else was farther away. It wasn't until I worked downtown and had to walk to campus that I realized it wasn't more than 10-15 minutes.

I've already got a list of sign locations and destinations ready to go, once he gets the site up. Mainly point UK students towards Chevy Chase and Downtown, but also to parks and what not.

Matt said he put up the initial 27 signs in one night with 2 other people, one who was just videotaping the whole thing. If he could do it with 2 people in one night I don't see why we couldn't.