City Wayfinding: how did we get here, and where are we going? (part 1)

Imageability: that quality in a physical object which gives it a high probability of evoking a strong image in any given observer. It is that shape, color, or arrangement which facilitates the making of vividly identified, powerfully structured, highly useful mental images of the environment – Kevin A. Lynch, “The Image of the City” (1960)

Legible London wayfinding sign

Today, Kevin A. Lynch is revered as a godfather of modern city wayfinding. An urban planner and a scholar, Lynch’s most influential work dates back to 1960 and a five-year study of the ways in which people imagine, perceive, map and recall a city landscape.

Lynch’s thrust was to underline how the legibility and character of an urban environment feeds into the creation of mental maps in somebody navigating the city terrain. He studied the experiences of people in three US cities; Boston, Jersey City and Los Angeles. Lynch asked participants to sketch out and describe in detail numerous trips through the city, and came to the conclusion that we make sense of our surroundings in predictable and consistent ways.

A legible city, Lynch argued, was one that utilised patterns of recognisable symbols, those that are at once easily identifiable and grouped logically. Lynch defined the elements that make up these symbols as paths, edges, districts, nodes and landmarks.

These same five elements still play a foundational role in the design of modern city wayfinding systems. 2017 marks the tenth anniversary of Legible London, a high profile example of a city wayfinding system with lineage in theories and best practice refined over the half-century since Lynch’s seminal work. And as we shall now see, Legible London is just one of a growing number of wayfinding schemes that continue to prove his thesis.

WalkNYC wayfinding system

Paths
A path in the Lynchian-sense is any route or channel along which somebody travels. Prominent, legible paths are those that lend character, and might include a concentration of specific activity or distinct facade along a street. They may follow an edge (see below) or other topographic feature. Paths should be easily identifiable, have continuity and a functional necessity. Good city wayfinding design uses paths as prominent features on a map, as in the above example from WalkNYC in New York City.

Toronto TO 360 wayfinding signage

Edges
Edges are boundaries between distinct areas: examples in the city landscape may include roads, parks, shopping districts and residential areas; or natural barriers such as water and green spaces. Edges are linear, though do not qualify as paths. The wayfinding design above, from TO360 in the City of Toronto, defines edges along a railway line and major road.

Interconnect Wayfinding map

Districts
A district is a relatively large city area with a common character, one which the observer can easily categorise. It has a homogenous character, taken from its use or function, texture, space, form, building types, inhabitants or typography. Wayfinding maps can define and lift districts graphically, or by using naming styles and conventions, as in this example from Interconnect West Midlands (Birmingham, UK).

Stockholm Wayfinding map

Nodes
A node is a focus point, and highly compelling to the navigator. Squares, junctions and access to transport are examples of nodes. Paths that cross can be nodes, though too many could render them undistinguishable. A node can also be a thematic concentration, such as a commercial street corner. Nodes, as well as areas of distinct public realm, are emphasised on this map for Stockholm Regional Transport by adding extra detail to these areas.

Legible London wayfinding map

Landmarks
A landmark must have an element which singles it out from a host of other possibilities. The key physical characteristic is uniqueness or memorability. To be easily identifiable, it should have a clear form, contrasting with its surroundings, and some kind of spatial prominence. Careful, sparing selection of landmarks is essential in city wayfinding, with neither too many nor too few in use to allow only true landmarks to remain. These can vividly populate a user’s mental map of the city, and aid greatly to spatial awareness. Seen here on Legible London mapping.

Skilful employment of these elements not only reinforces the usefulness of a legible city wayfinding system, but also allows a city to flaunt specific aspects of its character, personality and uniqueness. And as Lynch proscribed, a city with a high imaginability will be legible, navigable, and enticing to its users.

In our next post, we will discuss how cities are seizing this opportunity to install iconic signage and mapping that reflects their own identity while retaining the tenets of effective city wayfinding.

Report links NYC Citi Bike usage to commuter journeys


Citi Bike in New York City is mainly being used for a short stage of a longer multi-stage commute, illustrating the importance of good wayfinding information at cycle hire stations.

A new report into New York’s Citi Bike scheme has been released by the NYU Rudin Centre for Transportation, available for download here.

Citi Bike is proving a success, with 14 million trips during 2016 representing a rise from 10 million the previous year. By the end of this year the system will have doubled in size to 12,000 bikes and 700 stations. The NYU Rudin Centre for Transportation claims that the diversity of transportation modes are what ‘makes New York move’.

The report suggests that riders are using Citi Bike for ‘last mile’ connections on longer transit trips, closing gaps in the fixed route public transport network.

This is why T-Kartor specialises in producing map information specially designed for each stage of the journey. In order to encourage a shift to sustainable forms of transport, complex journeys must be simplified and more options must be simply presented. At bus stops, for example, we produce maps of available bus services, but also local area maps for those searching for their destination, and onward journey maps showing alternative modes of transport in the vicinity.

Key information for cyclists on New York’s Citi Bike maps (produced by T-Kartor) includes safe and recommended routes; infrastructure such as segregated cycle paths; bike hire stations and cycle repair shops.

Information designed specifically for each mode of transport (including walking and cycling) requires basemaps in varying scales, formats and media. T-Kartor’s City Mapping Platform provides one core basemap, constantly maintained in collaboration with city authorities, with outputs to all necessary scales, formats and media. These include information totems, printed posters, hand held map leaflets, digital displays and smart phone apps.

T-Kartor to create bus maps for Paris

T-Kartor has been chosen by the Syndicat des Transports d’Île-de-France (STIF) to supply up to 40,000 automated bus passenger information maps throughout the Île-de-France region.

Passenger information is a requirement for all of the 40,000 bus stops in the Île-de-France. Previously it has proved difficult for the STIF to coordinate 80 separate bus service operators to produce this information to a consistent high standard. T-Kartor’s online production system will automate the production of the information, allowing bus service operators to login, order and download information for the appropriate bus stops, then print and mount the posters at bus stops.
STIF
The maps, produced by T-Kartor to meet the STIF’s detailed design specifications, comprise a basemap with relevant places of interest. A 5 minute walk circle is added help users appreciate the distances involved. Bus stops symbolised within the 5 minute walk circle are accompanied by a routes tabs which denote the bus routes serving the stop and the end destination to show direction.

STIF

T-Kartor will utilise our considerable experience in this field throughout the project. Our online platform is already deployed to existing customers such as Transport for London and the New York City Department for Transport. The system’s automated output tools will now be customised so that all of STIF’s products meet their high standards for quality and ease of distribution.

The first phase delivery is expected to be previewed for selected bus service operators by the end of November.