Ottawa Tourism

Wayfinding Strategy

WayfindingThe purpose of the project is to research and develop a consistent Wayfinding Strategy for Canada’s Capital Region, including design of a pilot project.  The project is to be completed by summer.

What is wayfinding?  It is an information signage system that guides people through a city, campus, or buildings that enhances our ability to navigate and understand our environment.  Because the study will be looking at the design needs and constraints of a system that is intended to offer a solution of how we assist pedestrians in a consistent way to move through the whole region, a wide variety of information gathering is required.

A unified approach to pedestrian Wayfinding in Ottawa and Gatineau (.pdf)

Frequently Asked Questions

What organizations are participating in this project?

  • Ottawa Tourism
  • Tourisme Outaouais
  • City of Ottawa
  • Ville de Gatineau
  • National Capital Commission
  • Public Services and Procurement Canada
  • Canadian Heritage
  • Parks Canada
  • Byward Market BIA
  • Sparks Street BIA
  • Downtown Rideau BIA
  • Via Rail
  • Ottawa Macdonald–Cartier International Airport

What consultations have taken place to date?

  • Meeting of federal stakeholders was held in February.
  • In March, five half-day working group sessions were held with over 120 organizations and businesses invited from across Ottawa and Gatineau.
  • In March, pedestrian intercept surveys were carried out over two days at key locations in Ottawa-Gatineau.
  • An on-line survey was used to solicit feedback from workshop participants as well as the public. The survey was promoted through participating organizations, and yielded over 250 survey responses.

What wayfinding systems are in place today?

There are many pedestrian wayfinding systems in place today, each covering a limited area, with no linkages between them or consistency in nomenclature, look and feel with the result that there is no recognizable system for pedestrians/visitors to use, as can be found in markets such as Vancouver, Edmonton, and Calgary.

Who is responsible for wayfinding in Ottawa-Gatineau?

Everyone and nobody.  There is no single entity responsible for wayfinding because it can be on both public and private property and serve different purposes depending upon location.  Several BIAs, the National Capital Commission and Heritage Canada, both municipalities and transit operators, and many individual organizations have implemented wayfinding systems in Ottawa-Gatineau.  No single body is or can be responsible for wayfinding planning and implementation in the whole geographic region.  As such, it must be a coordinated service.

How much will the wayfinding system cost?

  • A small information sign found next to something of interest on a metal pedestal installed on a concrete pad costs $5000 to manufacture and install.
  • Depending on materials and designs selected, a tall pedestal sign with pointers showing the direction and walking times to key destinations averages $5000 to manufacture and install.
  • Depending on materials and designs selected, a medium sized wayfinding sign with map(s), directional, location, and other information costs approx. $14k-$22k to manufacture and install.
  • Depending on materials and designs selected, a large wayfinding sign with these and other information costs approx. $16k-$28k to manufacture and install.

The cost for a system of signs will depend on the type and number of signs, and whether additional investment is required for bringing in power for lighting or WIFI services etc.

How do we know that it will improve tourist experience?

Through a series of public consultations and surveys, several questions were asked to tourists regarding their experience and if they foresee that such a wayfinding system would improve their overall experience.  An overwhelming majority of the tourists agreed that a unified wayfinding system would in fact improve their experience and help them guide their way to particular destinations.

How do we know that it will have a positive economic impact?

Based on the results from other similar projects such as Toronto 360 and Legible London, it has been found through studies that for every dollar spent, that a return between $0.90 to $2.40 in transportation benefits can be expected.  Other benefits such as improved sense of security, fewer lost visitors, and improved visitor experience are more challenging to quantify, but would also be realized.

What other cities have implemented this kind of system?

London, New York, Toronto, Vancouver, Helsinki, Rio and many including several capital cities from around the world have implemented this type of program. In Canada, most major destinations including Toronto, Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton, Banff, and many smaller destinations have already put this system in place. Montreal’s wayfinding system is currently being developed.

How many years would it take to fully implement?

Each phase of the project is contingent on the success of the previous phase, so the focus currently is on Phase 1, or developing the feasibility study and wayfinding strategy. From there, a Phase 2- design, and the speed of destination-wide implementation will depend upon the annual budget allocated.

What will the signs look like?

A variety of draft concepts have been developed around themes relevant to Ottawa including:  wood/lumber, water/river, capital/festival, and nature/maple leaf.  Potentially, one of these or a new concept entirely would be fully developed during the pilot stage.  Concepts developed to date are being used as discussion tools for illustrating different approaches and opportunities for sign development.

Why do we need physical signs with Google Maps and other apps in use?

Physical signs remain useful within modern wayfinding systems because:

  • Not all visitors have data plans while travelling, or use them sparingly.
  • Outdoor conditions are not always favorable (cold, rain, glare).
  • They can immediately orient a person within their surroundings.
  • They can be seen and understood without interrupting the visitor experience.
  • In-destination wayfinding signage has become an expected foundation of the visitor experience. Think of times when you have been traveling and used wayfinding to guide you through a destination. Canadian destinations already widely use physical wayfinding, Ottawa is a late-adopter in this case. Toronto, Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton, and also smaller destinations who place value on tourism as an economic generator, such as Lunenberg, currently have physical wayfinding in place.

Are the signs going to be technology enabled?

The decision to provide power, to provide WIFI, and to use identifiers such as QR codes will be made at a later date.

Will the signs tie to a web site?

All signs will have a unique identifier. The decision to use these on a web site will be made at a later date.

Who decides what goes on the signs?

Consultations to date have identified a strong alignment in opinion on the priority items to be shown on the wayfinding maps.  The consultant team has recommended four tiers of information as well as where and how icons/symbols should be used. International best practices will also be taken into account as will the needs of local BIAs when establishing what should appear on wayfinding signage.

How much will it cost to replace or fix if damaged?

Modern wayfinding structures are often modular to ease replacement and minimize costs.  The most common items damaged are the base and the panel faces.  Both can be designed to minimize the need for full replacement.  Costs will depend on detailed design, and the supplier selected during Phase 2.

Won’t they lead to more sidewalk congestion?

Wayfinding systems can add to sidewalk congestion if not properly planned and designed.  Every potential site will be evaluated to identify physical, by-law, visual guidelines, and other constraints to determine its suitable for a wayfinding sign.  Where appropriate, local organizations such as the BIA will be consulted.


Ottawa Business Journal: Why we all win when visitors can find their way around

Ottawa Business Journal: New wayfinding signs could soon be coming to Ottawa-Gatineau

Government of Ontario