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WAYFINDING A Guide for Urban Trail Networks

CONTENTS What is Wayfinding?


Why Does Wayfinding Matter?


Elements of Wayfinding


Wayfinding Checklist


Design Elements






Path Design


Design Principles


Avoiding Clutter


Standard or Custom?


Wayfinding and Accessibility


Wayfinding and Networks


Wayfinding in Action


FAQ and References


Author: Carlo Urmy Illustrator and Photographer: Yijia Chen 2017 The Emerald Network An initiative of LivableStreets Alliance 70 Pacific Street, Cambridge MA 02139 www.emeraldnetwork.info

WHAT IS WAYFINDING? Wayfinding is using environmental information to figure out where you are, and how to get where you want to go. Wayfinding is something we all do every day, whether we are commuting to work, hiking in nature, or trying to find what we need in the grocery store. Often we are unaware of how small design decisions can aid or hinder our ability to navigate our environment. Effective wayfinding design can provide people with the information they need to reach their destination.

Urban planners

Graphic designers


B A or B?

Wayfinding design

Environmental psychologists

Traffic engineers

A multi-disciplinary field

Design elements for urban trail networks: Maps, both digital and physical, help people see the entirety of a trail or trail network, and understand where they are in relation to their surroundings. Signs serve a number of different uses in urban wayfinding. They can show which direction to turn, confirm that you are on the route, or identify specific destinations or hazards. Path Design is also very important in urban wayfinding. The use of paving materials, planting, road marking, and sight lines can all help with the wayfinding process.


2 (Image Courtesy: Edmonton Wayfinding Project by Mack Male via Flickr Creative Commons)

WHY DOES WAYFINDING MATTER? A path or trail is only useful if people know where it is and where it will take them. Put simply, effective wayfinding design enhances the use and experience of public spaces. It reduces frustration and confusion, allowing people to get where they want to go in a quicker, easier, and more efficient manner. Wayfinding systems help to advertise a new trail or trail network. Kiosk maps, signage, and clearly marked intersections help attract users to new facilities, or help them discover new ways of getting around their towns and cities. Wayfinding adds context. People are unlikely to get on a new trail if they don’t know where it leads to, or where they will be able to exit. Most importantly, wayfinding helps users understand individual routes as a part of a broader network of trails and greenways. This knowledge can motivate more people to choose active forms of transportation like walking and cycling. Compare it to driving: a motorist can feel confident that there will be a continuous road network and signage guiding their trip from start to end. Wayfinding systems for trails and greenways give people walking and biking a similar confidence as they use new or unfamiliar routes. 3

ELEMENTS OF WAYFINDING Wayfinding is divided into four different processes:

Orientation is the process of figuring out where you are, relative to your destination or other known areas. You can orient yourself by checking kiosk maps, looking for landmarks, or reading signs which identify a location. Route Decision is deciding how you are going to get from one point to another. You can decide on a route by looking at maps, following directional signs, or simply by seeing your destination in the distance. Route Monitoring is determining whether or not you are still on the path and heading in the right direction. Often the easiest way to confirm a path is by using the paving or other ground material. You can also use signs or other verbal cues to confirm that you haven’t gotten lost along the way. Destination Recognition is being able to recognize when you have reached your destination. Signage is very helpful, as is maintaining clear lines of sight from a trail to potential attractions like neighborhood centers or recreational facilities. 4

WAYFINDING CHECKLIST When walking on a trail or greenway, stop and look around. How many of the following questions can you answer? Orientation

Where am I? What is nearby? Am I close or far from my destination? Route Decision

Can I get there from here? Is this the shortest route? Route Monitoring

Am I still on the trail? Am I going in the right direction? Destination Recognition

Is this what I’m looking for? Are we there yet?

If you answer yes, how do you know? If you answer no, what interventions would give you the missing information?



Maps are one of the most widely used tools for wayfinding. When designing a map there are some important things to consider: How can a user locate themselves on the map? As a rule of thumb, a user should be able to identify a river, intersection, or landmark at any point along the trail and then locate that same feature on a map to confirm their current position. What is the extent of the map? Does it show one particular link, or an entire network of trails? If a map shows too much it can be unreadable, but if it shows too little, users may not be able to identify how a trail connects to a broader city or regional network. For this reason, it can be helpful to include two scales on a single map. What information will you include on the map, and what information will you leave off? It can be helpful to think in terms of layers of information. For example, streets and roads might be one layer, off-road trails another, water a third, and destinations and facilities a fourth. In general, a map with about five layers of information will seem simple and user-friendly, while a map with ten or more may seem confusing. 6

There are three main kinds of maps: Kiosk Maps are maps permanently set at the side of the trail or at major intersections. They are useful for orienting users, especially with the ubiquitous “you are here” marker. They can also be combined with directional signs at intersections, allowing users to quickly understand where each path will lead in a broader context. (Image Courtesy: Close Stranger 3 by Garry Knight via Flickr Creative Commons)

Print Maps can be sold or given out for free at trailheads and kiosks. They can be consulted at any point along the trail, or taken home for future use. They can be less useful for orienting oneself however, since it isn’t possible to put a “you are here” marker on a portable map. One way to overcome this obstacle is by including mile-markers or road signs on trails, or by marking highly visible landmarks on maps for easier orientation. (Image Courtesy: GPS by Hernán Piñera via Flickr Creative Commons)

Online Maps are increasingly being used to help people navigate cities, but can’t fully replace traditional forms of wayfinding design. When opening a new trail or greenway, check online for regional maps of trails and bike paths to make sure that your project is included and that all information is accurate, even on services like Google Maps. (Image Courtesy: Getting Directions by Tom Chapman via Flickr Creative Commons) 7


(Image Courtesy: Neighborhood Greenway - wayfinding sign on E Union St by SDOT Photos via Flickr Creative Commons)

Signs are used to provide explicit information at specific points along a trail. Here are three things to consider when designing signs: Consistency: What kinds of signs are already in use in the area? While you may have to create new styles of signage, it is generally best to use signage in a consistent way across a city or region. This reduces confusion and contributes to the sense of a consistent and continuous network. Style: How will the signs be quickly differentiated from one another? For example, signs used for navigation might be one color, while warning or regulatory signs might be in another. These techniques can also be used to emphasize or prioritize certain information. Again, try to be consistent with local or national standards. Location: Where will the signs be located? In general, signs are most necessary where people have to make decisions about which route to take, and locations where it is easy to get confused — entry points, intersections, and forks. Confirmation signs can be spaced at even intervals along a trail, providing predictable feedback to users. 8

Three primary signage families: Confirmation Signs confirm that you are still on the path. They contribute to route monitoring. Turn Signs indicate where cyclists or pedestrians should turn to continue on a given route. For example, if a bikeway moves from an on-road lane to an off-road trail, a turn sign should be placed. Decision Signs are used at intersections or splits in a trail to indicate directions for different destinations. They are used for route decisions.

Markers are used to highlight historic markers, lookouts, and significant views. Amenities such as bike parking, information, facilities etc. along the paths can be pointed out by additional signs.

Warning Signs indicate potential hazards, like street intersections, a change in terrain, or upcoming construction work. Regulatory Signs indicate policies and rules for a space.

All Images Courtesy: www.highlinedesign.co created for the Foy’s to Blacktail Trails



(Image Courtesy: Greenway by Diamond Geezer via Flickr Creative Commons)

The design of a trail can provide constant feedback as people navigate a space, even without explicit or written cues. Much of the information we use to navigate on a daily basis is not derived from explicit sources like signs or maps, but from more subtle material and spatial factors. For example, the curb on a city street tells us which space is meant for cars and which space is meant for pedestrians. Other common cues in an urban setting include tall buildings on the skyline indicating a downtown or urban center. For perspective, it can be helpful to walk along a trail or greenway and discover what information you can gather without looking at any signs or written information. Can you use visible landmarks to locate yourself in the environment? Could you find your way in or out of the space, even if you were unfamiliar with it? In general, the design of a path or trail should tell users a few things at every point along its length. Users should know if they are still on the trail, as well as how to follow it forward. They should also be able to see at least one feature (whether a river, a tall building, or an adjacent road) which they can reference as they move through the space. 10

Many elements can influence wayfinding:

Ground Materials are one of the most obvious cues as to whether you are on a trail in the first place. Whenever possible, a continuous ground material should be used along an entire trail, in order to reduce confusion and provide clear directions.

Path markings like yellow lane lines, directional arrows, and crosswalk striping all provide important information about how to move through a space.

Planting and Lighting can also serve as wayfinding tools. Grass will invite users to stray off a trail, while hedges or bushes can block off certain areas. The density and height of plantings will also affect visibility; closed off areas may feel unsafe, while open, brightly-lit areas invite lingering. Sight Lines and Visual Cues are important for orienting and route confirmation. When standing on a path, it should be possible to get a sense of where you are, even without a map. This can be achieved by maintaining sight lines towards an intersection, river, road, or high point. 11

AVOIDING CLUTTER When designing a wayfinding system, it is possible to provide too much information, potentially confusing users.

Some research has indicated that providing too much signage can overwhelm users, causing them to miss the most important information. So-called “sign clutter” can be unattractive, but can also make roads and trails less clear, and less safe. To avoid clutter, there are a few simple rules of thumb:

(Image Courtesy: Wayfinding by Karen Neoh via Flickr Creative Commons)


“Sign Clutter”

Show, Don’t Tell Don’t use explicit cues when implicit ones will do. For example, at an intersection of a trail and road you could use a “Road Crossing” sign, but it might be more effective to ask how sightlines, curbs, road markings, and other design features could show pedestrians the intersection. Establish Hierarchies Make decisions about what information is most important in a given context, and use design to make that information more prominent. For example, directional and traffic control signage can be higher, larger, and more brightly colored, while informational or supplemental signs can be lower to the ground and more subtle in appearance.

Most important Secondary important

Be Clear and Actionable Avoid signage that is vague or difficult to act upon. A classic example of this is the “Thickly Settled” sign, which provides no specific information and doesn’t tell drivers how to change their behavior. If a sign is necessary at all, a “Slow” sign would be clearer, and a posted speed limit would be even clearer still, since it gives explicit directions to the driver. 13

STANDARD OR CUSTOM? Using custom-designed elements can help establish a sense of place, but it’s possible to over-do it.

Signage, graphics, planting, materials, and public art can all help to establish a unique, place-specific identity for a new trail or greenway. These could highlight local history, natural resources, or a unique design vision. But before you start improvising, think about setting your stage with some standard signage and materials. These can help build a more cohesive regional system.

Know What’s Out There When designing a wayfinding system, familiarize yourself with what systems and standards are already in place. Federal, state, and local governments all have standards for signage and the design of roadways. Before you create something new, get to know the kinds of signage that local residents will already be familiar with. Standardize Critical Information When possible, signage used for wayfinding should stay consistent across a region. This reduces confusion, and helps build a sense of an overall network of trails and greenways. Seeing the same signage in multiple locations can help people understand that there is a larger system of trails out there to explore. Get Creative Even when using standard signage and ground materials, there are many ways to introduce custom design elements. Furniture, informational kiosks and public art are all ways to establish a specific sense of place, without conflicting with navigational or safety information. 14

Standard Signage

National Park Service Signage


Custom-designed Signage

(Image Courtesy: Melbourne City Museum Signage, Emery Studio by Rory Hyde via Flickr Creative Commons)



Public art 15

WAYFINDING AND ACCESSIBILITY Wayfinding is different for everyone. There is no one way of using, moving through, or experiencing a space.

When designing a wayfinding system, it is important to plan for users who will speak different languages, and have different levels of vision, hearing, and mobility. For many users, small design decisions can have a big impact. Language and Literacy Know what languages are spoken in the area you are designing for, and try to include the most common ones in maps and signage. In some cases, using icons or visual symbols may be more universally accessible, including for people with limited literacy skills. Use Non-Visual Cues For those with limited vision, wayfinding can be much more difficult, but there are interventions that can make a big difference. Using auditory signals and tactile pavers at intersections can greatly increase safety. Many aspects of trail design are also important, including maintaining consistent road materials, adding curbs, or using high-contrast colors for lane markings. Clearly Mark Accessible Routes It can be hard to make all trails accessible for those in wheelchairs or with limited mobility. However, clearly labeling which routes are handicap-accessible helps users plan their routes, and gives them the confidence to use a space. Avoid dead-ends, where a sudden change in trail design or materials could force some users to turn around unexpectedly. Temporary obstacles, like construction, should also be clearly marked. 16

Universal Signage: Combines acoustic, visual and tactile features to improve wayfinding process for users who with disabilities.

(Image Courtesy: Universal Language of Images by Ryan via Flickr Creative Commons)

(Image Courtesy: Downtown Seattle by nickfalbo via Flickr Creative Commons)

(Image Courtesy: Disabled by amboo who? via Flickr Creative Commons)

(Image Courtesy: Handicap ramp to building by Eric Fischer via Flickr Creative Commons) 17

WAYFINDING AND NETWORKS Wayfinding is about more than not getting lost. It’s about understanding how the parts relate to the whole.

Building greenways and urban trails means balancing budgetary, legal, and environmental concerns. Amidst all of that, it’s easy to lose track of the human experience of a place. Designing for wayfinding requires you to re-center that experience, ask how new users will recognize and understand the project, and how it will fit into their daily lives and transportation needs. While an attractive and useful wayfinding system can enhance the experience of a single trail, the real power of wayfinding lies in understanding how that single trail relates to a larger network. Even in our own cities and neighborhoods it can be difficult to see how one trail connects to another, or to understand what the safest, most pleasant route from one place to another will be. As a result, people may use a single trail daily without ever knowing about other spaces just a ten-minute walk from their door. Or they may never realize that their weekend running spot could be part of a whole new commute to work. Good wayfinding design helps people perceive how the pieces fit together, and contribute to the sense of a large, coherent network. With this knowledge, users are more likely to explore new places and try new modes of transportation, leading to healthier, more active, and more sustainable communities.

Good wayfinding helps different spaces work together to achieve their maximum impact. 18

Without wayfinding - single route

WayďŹ nd ing

With wayfinding - clue of a network 19

WAYFINDING IN ACTION Walk [Your City] began as a DIY intervention in Raleigh, NC, letting residents print out their own signs with directions and walking times to local destinations. Designed to be low-cost and adaptable, the system has now expanded to Louisville and San Jose, and has launched an online toolkit for cities that want to engage local residents in creating a wayfinding system for their community.

Photo: Walk [Your City]


Seattle Neighborhood Greenways is an effort to create pedestrian and bicycle-friendly streets outside of the major flow of traffic. This has been accompanied by a major wayfinding effort including bike dots, painted “sharrows,� green box intersections, and a program of signage marking bicycle boulevards throughout the city.

Photo: Seattle Dept. of Transportation http://seattlegreenways.org/ 20

The 2012 Seattle Design Festival featured a temporary urban installation by Studio SC. Large printed arrows were placed around the city to point out unique, and often overlooked, examples of environmental design, including clock-towers, murals, or even manhole covers. Temporary and low-cost interventions like this can be a great way to engage with both visitors and local residents, especially in connection with festivals or special events. Photo: Trevor Dykstra


WalkNYC is a series of new kiosk maps created by the New York City Department of Transportation. Featuring place markers and arrows to major destinations, the kiosks also rotate the neighborhood map to correspond with the viewer’s current orientation. This eliminates the need to know which direction is north, which can be confusing on gridded Manhattan streets.

Photo: PentaCityGroup

https://www.pentagram.com/work/walknyc 21

FAQ When is the best time to plan for wayfinding? Ideally, you should think about wayfinding from the very early stages of a project. When planning a trail or greenway you can consider what sorts of connections need to be made clear, and predict where navigation problems are likely to occur. Wayfinding can then inform design at every step along the way, from planting, and paving to installing signage. That said, it’s never too late: quick, low-cost interventions can greatly improve wayfinding for existing paths and trails.

Who pays for wayfinding? Wayfinding projects have been sponsored by governments, development corporations, non-profits, and local business districts. A number of organizations have supported wayfinding initiatives through grant-writing, including the Knight Foundation, the US Department of Transportation’s Transportation Alternatives Program, and the Massachusetts Downtown Initiative.

Does Massachusetts have standards established for wayfinding? Many agencies within Massachusetts have established standards for trail signage and wayfinding, but there is no single standard for off-road trails and greenways. The Massachusetts Department of Transportation maintains standards for traffic and road signs, while the Department of Conservation and Recreation sets standards in its “Trail Guidelines and Best Practices Manual.” The Boston Complete Streets initiative is also developing standards for road marking, signage, and wayfinding within the City of Boston.

Are there resources on wayfinding? Yes! Look on the following page for more information. 22

REFERENCES General Sources + Wayfinding Theory Lynch, Kevin. The Image of the City. Cambridge: MIT Press, 1960. Gibson, David, and David Pullmann. The Wayfinding Handbook: Information Design for Public Places. New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 2009.

National Standards National Association of City Transportation Officials. “Urban Bikeway Design Guide.” Island Press, 2014. 9 http://www.ocpcrpa. org/docs/projects/bikeped/NACTO_Urban_Bikeway_Design_Guide. pdf) The Signage Foundation. Urban Wayfinding: Planning and Implementation Manual.” 2013. (http://www.signs.org/pdf2013/ Wayfinding_Manual_2013.pdf)

Massachusetts Examples Cape Cod Commission. “Cape Cod Regional Bicycle Wayfinding Design Guidelines.” 2012. (http://www.capecodcommission.org/resources/ transportation/FINAL_BIKE_GUIDELINES_REPORT_2012.pdf) Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation. “Trails Guidelines and Best Practices Manual.” 2012. (http://www.mass.gov/ eea/agencies/dcr/services-and-assistance/grants-and-technical-assistance/dcr-guidelines.pdf) Mass Audubon. “All Persons Trails.” 2016. (http://atfiles.org/files/ pdf/MassAudubon-Access-Guidelines.pdf) 23

Author: Carlo Urmy Illustrator and Photographer: Yijia Chen 2017 The Emerald Network An initiative of LivableStreets Alliance 70 Pacific Street, Cambridge MA 02139 www.emeraldnetwork.info

Profile for LivableStreets

Wayfinding Guide - A Guide for Urban Trail Networks  

Learn how wayfinding can help inform, engage, and attract people to greenways and other trails networks. We’ve created this free resource fo...

Wayfinding Guide - A Guide for Urban Trail Networks  

Learn how wayfinding can help inform, engage, and attract people to greenways and other trails networks. We’ve created this free resource fo...