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Why Wayfinding Needs to be Part of an Active Travel Strategy

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children cycling on a road

Encouraging more active forms of travel is one of the many strategies aimed at addressing the climate emergency and improving health and wellbeing.  Earlier this year the Government launched a £200m fund to help Local Authorities make improvements and upgrade pedestrian and cycle routes and paths throughout the country. Clearly creating safe and attractive routes is critical if we’re to be persuaded to ditch cars in favour of cycling and walking.  But importantly, we also need to know where these car free, safe or green route options are and where they can get us to.


Sources of Wayfinding Information for Active Travel

For the committed, there are various online resources to research and plan cycling routes or discover discrete walking trails. Such as the National Cycle Network, National Trails and Transport for London’s Walk London Trails. However, their primary focus tends to be on walking and cycling for leisure, rather than supporting active travel decisions for routine journeys. On our travels we might see national cycle network route markers or finger posts highlighting specific walking trails.  These may stimulate curiosity to explore further, but to succeed in delivering the change that’s required, we really need to make it easy for people to make more active transport choices within their everyday lives.

Transport for London's Legible London maps designed for pedestrians

Image Courtesy Freepik: Legible London Pedestrian Wayfinding

Visit any city or town in the UK and chances are there will be pedestrian wayfinding signs to assist with navigation. Despite being targeted at pedestrians, it’s the existing road structure that provides the framework for the design of any maps. Where footpaths are included, these tend use traditional map design conventions.  Appearing as discrete dotted lines that can struggle to compete with the bold outlines given to the roads.  Subtle design cues may differentiate a main road from a side street – which can help with making judgements in route choices. Some also include average walking time estimates within varying diameters. However, I’m yet to find an example of a town/city centre wayfinding map, that can truly claim to put pedestrians first. By offering guidance on the quality of different route options from a safety and or attractiveness perspective.

If we’re to prioritise walking and cycling over cars within our urban landscape, we also need to rethink how we design pedestrian maps. Clearly roads provide very visible landmarks and have a critical role in pedestrian wayfinding. But there must be ways of Increasing the visibility of safe, attractive and or vehicle-free pedestrian and cycling routes (to help us make more qualitative choices – beyond the shortest route from A to B), without compromising the legibility of the information.

No doubt many of our wayfinding colleagues are exploring this challenge too, so would be great to see examples. And for anyone responsible for the active transport strategy – you might want to consider including wayfinding information in the mix. After all, the more enjoyable an experience, the more likely someone is to repeat and seek out similar. Not only that, focussing attention on highlighting pedestrian and cycling friendly routes, might also help identify gaps or opportunities for improvements.