Thursday, December 22, 2011

West Salem Wayfinding Says Where but not How

Signs matching the downtown wayfinding went up recently in west Salem. While they are great for telling you where, they aren't very much help with how.

The Map Doesn't Give Direction

If the maps work for people with some knowledge of the area, a reliance on implied knowledge means the maps likely fail for people unfamiliar with the area - their target audience! Because the maps are dominated by auto-centric busy roads, and essentially ignore the logic of walking, their mode-blind presentation misses details key for people on foot or on bike.

Suppose you are from out of town and attending an event at the Conference Center. You are out for a walk and you encounter the map on the far end, the west end, of the Union Street Railroad Bridge. The map marks three destinations outside of the park:
  • West Salem Shopping
  • Westgate Shopping
  • Edgewater District
Your location - and the map's - is marked by the red arrow.

There are no straight connections to any of these from the map's location. The best alternative routes are indirect - but they are left to the viewer's imagination. The maps fail to show you how to go there.*

If for example you continue on the logical path in green, you hit the deadend, clearly marked on the map.

Crucially, none of the crossings on Wallace are marked. Consistent with the downtown grid, and the maps already located there which you would have earlier seen on your walk, you might suppose that you could cross Wallace at any corner. But of course this is not the case! There are only three places to cross. And if you don't know the area, you'll likely guess wrong - since there are no indicated routes.

Downtown Maps May not Need to Give Direction

It's worth stopping a moment to consider the grid.

The downtown historic, streetcar grid has short, square blocks, and by taxicab geometry there are many different ways to get somewhere. Each way is a different combination of zigs and zags, but in the end the path segments sum to the same distance, the same two legs of a right-angled triangle. The important thing is that there are few wrong turns.

So a downtown map doesn't need to show the best routes.

A Person needs Direction to Cross Wallace

By contrast, this part of west Salem offers many wrong ways, and in almost every case only one right way. The routes are also highly constrained and always indirect. Fences, property lines, and busy roads all constitute real barriers. A good map will need to show the best routes.

But this west Salem map treats all features and routes equally, and the democracy misses the fact that places good for cars aren't good for people on foot or on bike.

In this map the foregrounded road system is distinctly oriented for cars. Wallace has the same line width as Musgrave or Glen Creek inside the park. Instead, the roadways should retreat into a background layer over which a bike and ped layer is foregrounded. As it is here, in both its priority of car routes and the lack of editorial guidance for the best walking routes, the map does not use good information design.

The map's prospects are also ironic, given the intended development of Marine Drive, the widening of Wallace (of course Wallace & Glen Creek is already funded), and the third bridge. The proposed alignment shown here would have significant impacts on the Union St. Railroad Bridge and Wallace Park, rendering the wayfinding map totally obsolete.

Hopefully the map will continue to underscore the need to develop better crossings on Wallace.

Until then, given the awful walking situation across and near Wallace, this wayfinding map does a stylish job with where, but doesn't help so much with how.

* A rejoinder will probably be that there's a separate system of directional signing on the bridge. I contend that the map requires the use of this signage, but would be more useful if it functioned independent of that signage - if you could at a glance grok the right way to go.

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