News

Oh, The Places You'll Go (In Boise)

Citizen teams help Boise find its way

by

Presume for a moment that you're standing in the middle of downtown Boise and a visitor asks you for directions to, let's say, the zoo. How good would your directions be? Or how about to the Greenbelt? The Discovery Center? Or any of the downtown parking garages?

In spite of the crazy quilt of signage, much of it from public entities, a visitor is hard-pressed to negotiate from Point A to Point B (let alone our mind-numbing abundance of one-way streets).

So with all of the dramatic changes to the city's landscape--everything from JUMP (to be completed in 2015) and the City Centre Plaza (2016)--the Capital City Development Corporation and the Downtown Boise Association think that the timing couldn't be better to incorporate a big and (hopefully) simpler way of finding your way. It's, quite literally, called "wayfinding."

"Every wayfinding system is different," said Susan Jurasz, principal in charge with Oregon-based Sea Reach Ltd.

Jurasz should know. Her firm has already designed wayfinding systems for Seattle, portions of Los Angeles, and the Oregon cities of Portland and Beaverton.

Wayfinding offers a uniform network of direction and identification signs. If some of the examples that Sea Reach unveiled at two recent work sessions in Boise's Rose Room were an indication of signs of the times--ranging in design from clean, modern looks to simple, modular rectangles to more classic styles, with textures of brick and sandstone--the face of downtown Boise will change even more, and sooner than later. The Sea Reach team has spent the better part of this year familiarizing themselves with Boise.

"For this city, we wanted to promote the walkability," Jurasz told Boise Weekly. "These aren't signs for motorists. We want people to get out of their car, so we present them at a pedestrian or bicyclist level."

But one person's idea of downtown Boise might include nearby neighborhoods, while another person's concept might only include a four- or five-block square. So, before deciding on a firm to help them find the way (Downtown Boise Association Executive Director Karen Sander said companies from across the United States expressed interest), the DBA and CCDC first had to define "downtown."

"This was the fun part, because we started with all of these different maps, all the geography. But then we have to bring in all of the new, different plans that will change downtown," said Sander. "But when you layer those on top of one another, it can be pretty confusing."

Ultimately, they decided to frame downtown Boise, at least for the first phase of wayfinding, from 16th Street east to Broadway and from the Boise River north to State Street.

"That's the first area of this, but it's growable," said Sander.

After months of research, the Sea Reach team was ready to share some preliminary design options. You can see some examples of the preliminary designs in a slideshow (you'll find it at the upper right of this story).

But preliminary designs in the 20th century might have included some artists sketches on a white board. A 21st century preliminary design looks much more polished (see the above examples) because of computer imagery.

"That can be deceiving because people may say, 'Oh that looks pretty good. We're done.' But these designs are just the equivalent of sketching," said Peter Reedijk, Sea Reach's creative director.

"We're presenting these options to these groups," he added, looking out on a packed June 11 work session.

And attendees liked what they saw--some examples more than others. More important, they were asked to contribute to a list of nearly 50 downtown destinations, another list of 20 destinations on the periphery of downtown (Boise State University, Hyde Park, Ann Morrison Park) and 25 more destinations farther than a 30-minute walk from downtown.

It's also important to remember that wayfinding is not geared for Boise natives.

"No, wayfinding is for a visitor, without question," said Jurasz. "But that isn't to say it doesn't aid a resident."

Another key to putting up new signs is taking down a lot of the existing ones that might add to the confusion.

"We took an inventory of signage and identified those that might work against wayfinding," said Sander.

The next step? Sea Reach is expected to return to Boise, sometime right after Labor Day, and present a final design.

"We'll have a mock-up, so that people will be able to see how big they are, and we're hoping that we're dead-on with their recommendations," said Reedijk.

CCDC and the DBA would ultimately put out another request for proposal from companies to fabricate and install a wayfinding system.

"The end result? More people will explore downtown, they'll spend more time here, they'll explore our businesses," said Sander. "This process has been fantastic. This has been one of the most vigorous responses to a project that we have ever had."