Wayfinding In Winnipeg
Image by klbw

In 2003, Winnipeg became one of the first cities to create a wayfinding system that was coordinated with graphics and maps that would help navigate the city’s downtown whether by the walkway system or driving. Add into the mix Winnipeg Transit, you had a logical and consistent format to get around the town.

It has been more than 10 years since the system has been put in place and more cities across Canada have come on board and have come up with innovative ways to improve the idea.

Winnipeg’s unrolling of wayfinding was not without trouble. Costs were underestimated and publicity surrounding the plan was spotty. The city’s website is not exactly informative about it and some the improvement zones have their own version of the mapping system.

To be sure, Winnipeg probably needs to re-examine the program, expand it and make it smart phone friendly. They could probably take a note from Winnipeg Transit who, despite controversy from the rapid transit debate, continue to try and meld technology and infrastructure. The Navigo app and signage with realtime updates is excellent and only getting better.

Winnipeg Transit has to think city-wide though. That is the mandate for the operation. Winnipeg’s wayfinding though seems stuck downtown. It needs to spread out to other areas such as parks and recreation. Imagine the Winnipeg Zoo and Assiniboine Park coordinated into this wayfinding system on multiple platforms of technology and infrastructure.

A coordinated approach should be made for every road, every walkway, every cycling path, every business zone and all recreation and park service.

Winnipeg Transit is doing a good job in moving ahead.

The signage, the apps, the clocks on arrival times are excellent for Winnipeg Transit.

The debate aside on rapid transit…Winnipeg’s bus service has increased ridership because it finds a way to work despite many misgivings about public transportation some people have, especially those in power.

There are map geeks all over the world and even in our own city. How often have we gone to a new place and had the delight of restaurant placemats featuring maps of the local area? It is a quick way to get to know an area. Quite honestly, we don’t have enough maps in the city. It is not enough to have people use cell phones with a mapping system from Google.

The maps have to be extremely local. They have to be attractive, innovative and and informative.

It is good to have consistency. Winnipeg does not have a numbered street system so it is very important for people to have a common frame of reference. If a Winnipeg person tells someone to drive down Waverley to get the turn-off for the University of Manitoba, it may not make any sense to someone not familiar with the road. How many people in Winnipeg know that Waverley is Route 80? Yikes, talk about a disconnect between local knowledge and what is on a map.

While a bus may have the route number on it, it doesn’t mean Winnipeggers who drive cars will know. It seems the city and province should sit down and come up with a signage policy that might incorporate the name and route number but getting the two governments to cooperate is always a daunting task.

The signage downtown and in the Walkway system is accompanied by maps to major areas of the city. Kiosks are present and offer maps for people to navigate the city street system, Concourse and second level overpasses. The problem with the system is the city’s website offers very little information on the system. There has been adding of new technologies such as interactive kiosk maps, no new apps for smart phones and no use of Google streetview to show the walkway system first hand.

The wayfinding has not been expanded at all. It is an orphaned program that once was championed by Gord Steeves but has no one speaking for it now.

It is hard to see who in the city will champion wayfinding in the city. Other major cities in Canada such as Edmonton and doing a re-think on the subject and Calgary and Toronto have been adding to their systems with great effort.

We can and should do better. Now only is it fun but it is good business. It is entertaining and it is informative. It can be the way to distinguish your city and create excitement.

And for Pete’s sake, we should do better on signage leading into the city of Winnipeg.

This has been a guest editorial by John Dobbin.
To read more from John, visit his blog Observations, Reservations, Conversations