Alex Goldmark is a senior producer in the newsroom for New Tech City and Transportation Nation.
Manhattan's numbered waffle iron street grid makes central New York one of the easier global cities to navigate by foot. But that doesn't mean walkers don't need a little help, especially in the outer boroughs and Lower Manhattan, where right angles are scarce and the streets twist and tangle like the Indian paths that, in some cases, they are based on. According to a survey by the city Department of Transportation, nine percent of New Yorkers and 27 percent of visitors admitted to being lost in the past week. The DOT wants to help those people—and encourage more walking—with a system of "wayfinding" signs for pedestrians.
It's not all about tourists either. Thirteen percent of local New Yorkers were not familiar with the area where they were surveyed. Many couldn't point to north. So the idea is to place directional signage and easily readable maps with walking directions at transit points to guide pedestrians, especially after they emerge from the disorienting underground of the subway.
The DOT issued a request for proposals for a single integrated wayfinding system that will be piloted in four New York City districts: Long Island City, Queens; Prospect Heights/Crown Heights, Brooklyn; and Chinatown and parts of Midtown, Manhattan.
“As our streets become safer, more inviting places, it’s even more important that a common language unite these spaces and open them up in new and exciting ways,” said Transportation Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan. “An information system that points the way to key destinations knits together neighborhoods and makes local businesses even more accessible.”
Wayfinding can also direct pedestrians to take commercial streets, upping retail sales, or encourage people to walk longer distances, relieving transit congestion. Some of the sample wayfinding images released by the DOT for explanatory purposes show maps with walking times to encourage people to hoof it instead of hopping on the subway for one or two stops.
Some neighborhoods are ripe for visitor guidance, like Long Island City, Queens, which is in the midst of a transformation from an industrial district to a residential one, with an increasing number of restaurant and entertainment destinations, said Gayle Baron, president of the Long Island City Partnership. “The neighborhood is home to thousands of additional residents, 16 new hotels, and expanded restaurant and retail offerings... It is an ideal time to help residents, visitors and employees navigate our often confusing street grid through improved pedestrian signage.” And if people don't get lost, their more likely to come back.
Chinatown boosters hope that pedestrian signs will show how close—and how easy to walk to—Chinatown is from the Brooklyn Bridge and City Hall, encouraging more people will combine visits. Wellington Chen, Executive Director of the Chinatown Partnership says, "pedestrian signs would make our neighborhood more accessible to visitors and locals alike. The street grid can be confusing, even to people who live here.”
Thirty-one percent of all trips in New York City are made by foot.
The deadline to respond to the RFP is July 27.