Wayfaring Signs: A No-Brainer For Increasing Walkability

Wayfaring signs in London are a massive help for walkers. Image from LegibleLondon. (Click to expand)

Wayfaring signs in London are a massive help for walkers. Image from Legible London. (Click to expand)

This week, Walkable Princeton is running stories from our recent overseas vacation, focusing on how other towns have found solutions to favor walkability. Previous posts in this series are here and here. Our regular local content is back after Labor Day.

Sometimes it doesn’t take much to make a big difference. A friendly smile. Holding the door open for somebody. Calling your mom. All these things have a value that far exceeds their cost. When it comes to walkability, there are many things we could do to make it easier for people to get around without using a car. Pedestrian zones, protected bike lanes, fleets of hourly car-share vehicles…all these things would be great, and maybe sometime in the future we will see them in Princeton. But in terms of ‘bang for your buck’, it’s hard to beat wayfaring signs as a way of making life easier for people who are walking around.

London wayfaring sign shows the local area with a superimposed 15-minute walking guide. (Click to expand)

London wayfaring sign shows the local area with a superimposed 15-minute walking guide. (Click to expand)

London’s wayfaring signs are an extraordinary help for people exploring the city on foot. The signs came about as an initiative of former London mayor Ken Livingstone (also known as ‘Red Ken‘), who pledged in 2004 to make London a walkable city by 2015. The ‘Legible London’ program has been a massive success, and the clear, distinctive signs are now found throughout the city.

The signs don't just have maps, they indicate local destinations and places of interest. Image credit: Graphic Information Design GDES 2001. (Click to expand)

The signs don’t just have maps, they also indicate local destinations and places of interest. Image credit: Graphic Information Design GDES 2001. (Click to expand)

The signs are disproportionately useful. They completely change your perspective of getting around London. Whereas previously, as a tourist, your first thought for a trip would be “where is the nearest tube station?”; now you are far more likely to try the trip on foot. This is good for everybody, because above ground, you discover so many interesting sights, and are more likely to pop into a local shop or cafe. Research has shown that the signs make walking trips quicker, significantly reduce the chances of people getting lost, and overall, contribute to a 5% increase in walking trips.

In Princeton, we have a wealth of sights and places of interest, some of which are a little off the beaten track (check out this list, which we put together for students exploring the town earlier this year!), but which are easily accessible by foot. Putting up some wayfaring signs would boost walkability throughout the town and increase accessibility and use of some of our excellent parks and amenities. The cost would be minor, but the usefulness would be great. It’s hard to see any downside, so why aren’t we doing it already??

London of course, isn’t just sticking with wayfaring signs. Throughout the city, massive investment is going on in the Crossrail transit project, even in the midst of an economic slump far worse than what we have experienced in the US. The ‘Boris Bike‘ shared-bike program has been rolled out to massive success. And protected bike lanes such as the one shown below have helped stimulate a boom in cycling. Investment in transit, walking and cycling infrastructure isn’t something that is exclusive to big cities like London. It can scale perfectly to a town like Princeton. All it takes is political will. The benefits, in terms of improved quality of life and reduction in environmental degradation associated with excess car use are tremendous.

Protected bike lanes, such as this one in Fitzrovia, have sprung up all around London. (Click to expand)

Protected bike lanes, such as this one in Fitzrovia, have sprung up all around London. (Click to expand)

Is Princeton ready to invest in a walkable future? Would wayfaring signs be an asset for the town? Leave a comment below!

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