Toronto expands $11M wayfinding project to help people find their way around

Finding your way around Toronto is becoming easier as the city rolls out a network of new wayfinding signs beyond the downtown core.

Hundreds of signs being installed as part of the Toronto 360 Wayfinding Project

Christine Dunn (left) and Joanne Adams (right) are visiting Toronto from Warwick, England. They are seen here in front of the TO360 'wide totem' sign at Nathan Phillips Square. (James Morrison/CBC)

Finding your way around Toronto is becoming easier as the city rolls out a network of new wayfinding signs beyond the downtown core.

The signs, which are part of the Toronto 360 Wayfinding Project, or TO360, will be installed at busy street corners and transit stations throughout the city. They feature easily-readable maps and area information such as neighbourhood names, nearby businesses and historical facts.

"It's really difficult to navigate in a city like this," said Chris Ronson, a project manager in the city's transportation department. "So if we can help people orient themselves and to find the destinations and communities they're looking for, and help them find their way back, then we'll consider this project a success."

Started in 2011, TO360 aims to make Toronto "a more walkable, welcoming and understandable place for residents and visitors alike" through a "unified signage and mapping system," according to the project's website.

Chris Ronson, a project manager with the city's transportation department, is pictured here next to a TO360 "narrow totem" sign at King Street and Tecumseth Street. (James Morrison)

Ronson said the signs will be placed at key locations where pedestrians make decisions about which route to take to their destinations.

"I'm sure all of us have been in a situation where we get out of a subway station and we don't know which way is left, which way is right," said Ronson. "Signs like this, when you get out at the station, really help people orient and navigate."

A variety of signs will be installed as part of the project: "wide totem," "narrow totems," "fingerposts," installed on city streets, and "wall signs" on buildings and transit stops.

A visual rendering of the TO360 "wide totem" and "narrow totem" wayfinding signs. The wide signs are at "key arrival and descision points" throughout the city, while the narrow signs are installed at pedestrian corridors. (City of Toronto)
TO360 fingerpost signs are in locations where totems are not an option due to narror sidewalks. The wall-mounted maps are mounted inside and outside buildings such as subway stations, parking garages or libraries. (City of Toronto)

Hundreds of signs to be installed

In fact, Ronson said around 40 of the signs are already installed.

The city completed a pilot project in 2015, in conjunction with the PanAm Games, consisting of 21 different signs in the area of Union Station, City Hall, the Entertainment District and the St. Lawrence District. The project was deemed a success, and now the city is moving forward with a city-wide rollout of the scheme.

More than 100 signs will be installed this year alone, on sidewalks in the High Park, King West, Exhibition Place, Entertainment District and Queens Park neighbourhoods. Up to 200 more will be installed in 2019, as the project expands along Yonge Street and into North York and Scarborough.

Grant Humes is the executive director of the Toronto Financial District BIA, where more than half of the pilot-project signs are currently installed.

"Prior to [the TO360 pilot project] there was limited wayfinding in the area," said Humes. "One of the things I see when I walk on the streets in the financial district is you'll see the people actually looking at the signs … and you can very clearly see how intuitive they are."

Humes said the project has been such a success that his organization has identified several other areas that could use a sign, and has plans to install more next year.

"The city's created a system that is very good from the point of view of helping create comfort for people that are unfamiliar with the city," said Humes.

The city will install hundreds of wayfinding signs at busy street corners and outside transit stations in the coming years. (Ryan Patrick Jones/CBC)

Joanne Adams and Christine Dunn agree. The British tourists from Warwick, England arrived in Toronto on Tuesday and spent Wednesday familiarizing themselves with the city.

"I think it's really helpful. It's very clear," said Dunn of the TO360 map at the corner of Bay and Queen streets at Nathan Phillips Square. "It's quite easy to pick out where you are and which direction you need to go."

Adams said the sign reminded her of the wayfinding signs in London, from which Ronson's team drew inspiration when developing Toronto's system.

"They're really useful, even though we know London very well," said Adams.

Beyond signage

The TO360 project is much more than a collection of physical signage, Ronson said. It includes printed and web-based maps such as a new Toronto Visitor Map and a digital application.

At the heart of the TO360 project is a detailed GIS information database, which forms the basis of all of the mapping products.

Through partnerships with various organizations in the city, Ronson said, people will start seeing more of the same maps installed at bike share stations, MetroLinx stations and, perhaps, TTC stations in the future.

"Any good wayfinding system has to be consistent for users," said Ronson. "Our aspiration is to make sure that these kinds of products are with the user at every part of their journey."

In total, the city has committed $11.8 million to invest in the TO360 Wayfinding Project, Eric Holmes, communications manager for transportation services said. Around $3.8 million has been invested so far.


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