'Walk Your City' wants more pedestrian-friendly signs in Ottawa

An international grassroots campaign hoping to get more signs that provide directions to walkers, cyclists and other non-drivers has made its way to Ottawa.

Local woman gets grant to bring grassroots American campaign to Ottawa's streets and paths

Lana Stewart said she put up about 20 of these "Walk Your City" signs in Ottawa's Hintonburg and Centretown areas on April 20, including this one near the Corktown Footbridge. (Andrew Foote/CBC)

An international grassroots campaign hoping to get more signs that provide directions to walkers, cyclists and other non-drivers has made its way to Ottawa.

The "Walk Your City" initiative started in North Carolina in 2011, hoping to create more walkable communities by giving directions to local restaurants, unique businesses and other cultural attractions.

It has seen signs posted in at least 30 countries, according to its website.

Instead of giving a distance in miles or kilometres, the signs give an approximate time it would take to walk or bike there.

Ottawa blogger Lana Stewart said she first heard about the project about two years ago, when it was in its crowd-funding phase.

"It's actually the only (Kickstarter) I've ever contributed to … I've always been really supportive of walking and biking initiatives in the city," she said.

Last year she applied for and got a $1,000 micro-grant from Awesome Ottawa, a group of people who pool money together to fund one project per month they think will "(forward) the interest of awesomeness," according to their website.

After buying and shipping the signs from Walk Your City and waiting until the spring, Stewart set out April 20 to put about 20 blue and white signs up around Ottawa's Centretown and Hintonburg neighbourhoods, leading to her own favourite spots plus suggestions from people online.

Wants to show destinations aren't as far as you think

Stewart said the campaign helps tourists and locals alike.

"You deserve to be able to get off a bus and know where you are and how you can get places, you deserve to be able to bike easily or walk easily and not need to use your phone to get directions and find out where you are," she said.

"It's hard to know where you are when you're on the pathway, it's hard to know what's nearby, you may go by these amazing neighbourhoods and never really know it."

When it comes to improving the city's appeal to tourists, there is much support.

"Definitely the passion that's there and the desire to share how walkable and (bikable) our city is, is a great initiative," said Jantine Van Kregten, director of communications for Ottawa Tourism.

Avi Caplan is one of Awesome Ottawa's trustees and said it challenges the vehicle-centric way some people see Ottawa.

"We like ideas that cause people to see the city in new ways," he said.

"It's also a great example of someone getting out there and doing something; they had an idea, a little bit of money would make a difference."

Tried to follow bylaws

Ottawa's sign bylaws allow signs on private property giving a message that is "political, civic, charitable, philanthropic, educational, artistic, cultural or religious in nature" without a permit.

Ottawa blogger Lana Stewart won Awesome Ottawa's monthly grant in November 2013. (Courtesy Lana Stewart)

They do have to follow certain conditions, such as staying up for a maximum of 10 days, not blocking driver and pedestrian views of traffic signs and intersections and staying a certain distance away from driveways, intersections and other traffic features.

The bylaw also states temporary signs aren't allowed on trees, sign posts, lamp posts or parked vehicles on private property.

Stewart said she tried to follow the bylaw by not putting signs on private property or in a place where they would distract drivers, and mostly put them near Ottawa's bike path system.

"I thought it would be fairly safe and there aren't too many for them to seem (like clutter) … just enough to be useful," she said.

She said she has some money left over from the grant for more signs, whether to replace ones that are taken down or put them up in new areas.

She said people in Sandy Hill, Lowertown and the Fisher Heights neighbourhoods have expressed interest in getting signs up in their areas and she personally would like to see signs available in French.