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Confused pedestrians rejoice! Improvements coming to PATH system signage

For almost a century, Toronto’s downtown has been criss-crossed with underground passages that have allowed pedestrians to avoid the weather and traffic, if not each other.

After a growth spurt in the 1960s and ’70s, there are now more than 30 kilometres of pedestrian walkways known as PATH connecting the basements of 75 buildings and 1,200 retailers, mostly in the financial district, with more tunnels planned in downtown south and toward the St. Lawrence Market area.

Despite iconic signage and maps designed in 1988 by Gottschalk, Ash International, and Keith Muller Ltd., navigating PATH is not for the easily befuddled. PATH has evolved haphazardly and inconsistently. There are maps in most building entrances, but it’s hard for a neophyte to know when they’ve left one building and entered another, or find their way into the system at all. So the Toronto Financial District BIA is doing a survey with the intention of improving the PATH wayfinding system.

“Last year we completed a PATH audit where we looked at every PATH location, every PATH sign and every PATH map to identify the key problems that are currently out there,” says Tim Kocur, communications manager at the BIA.

The seeds of the initiative started in 2011, before the founding of the BIA, when the city initiated a master plan study to shape the growth and enhancement of the pedestrian network over the next 30 years. The plan found that “many tourists and first time users of the network in particular, have difficulty interpreting the existing signage and mapping to find their way. It’s also clear that many people simply do not know how and where to enter the PATH. Connections between the PATH and the street are often difficult to find, and poorly signed. Survey work by the Master Plan
team indicates that about 25 per cent of entrances to the network are indicated by signage.” That plan suggested a separate study on wayfinding and signage, a project the BIA has taken on.

The ’80s-era logo will not likely change. “The PATH is an extremely well-known brand. The original branding firm did an excellent job. It’s very well used by the city and by the buildings. When you say PATH, most people in the downtown core know exactly what you’re talking about,” says Kocur.

Kocur says the BIA expects to have a proposed new map ready in May for further public and stakeholder input.

Writer: Paul Gallant
Source: Tim Kocur
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