Elihu Rubin took a look at a sign of 9th Square pole patterns inspired by iconic New Haven features like Yale University, New Haven-style pizza and Union Station. He liked the concept—but looked for similar signs for other neighborhoods.
Rubin, a Yale assistant architecture professor, was among the people who got a first look at some of the 250 new vehicular and pedestrian signs being planned for the city.
A city staffer and a consultant unveiled the latest stage in a new “wayfinding” plan, and sought feedback, at a City Hall hearing Tuesday night. The idea is to update green signs with yellow stripes that pointed the way for drivers and walkers for the past 27 years.
“I think if you’re going to do that, it would be important to have one for every neighborhood.” Rubin said of the 9th Square sign. “You’d have to have one on Howard Avenue, and one for Newhallville, and one on Dixwell, or else you’re just celebrating a handful and not all of them … how the neighborhoods define themselves is actually important.”
Anne Hartjen, a senior project manager and landscape architect in the City Plan Department, and John Bosio and Peter Reed of Pennsylvania-basec Merje design firm presented the plan, and sample signs, at the Tuesday night meeting. The presentation drew 15 people.
The city hired Merje for the $458,000 project, which has been in the works for 2011. A federal grant is paying 80 percent ($366,000) of the tab, the city the remaining 20 percent (or $92,000).
“A lot of them are tipping over, a lot of them are missing blades, and a lot of the destinations have changed,” Hartjen said of current signs. “It’s looking a little dated.”
The biggest challenge with this project, Bosio said, is to make the signs unique to New Haven and its districts, while making sure they’‘ll last.
“If you [created designs for each neighborhood], you would need to do it everywhere,” he said. “It would just be a matter of how many different ones do you have to come up with. When you do a customization like that with finials, or colors or graphics, there’s that long-term maintenance issue that comes up.”
Bosio and Reed presented four designs Tuesday night. Each sign contains a pattern on the back, with the name of the neighborhood or district. The backs of the signs have a graphic pattern of an aerial view of the New Haven Green. The signs use icons for identifying neighborhoods and districts and have a brighter color pallet.
The plan, Bosio said, is to put up 125 vehicular and 125 pedestrian signs, containing either three or five messages. Additionally, solar-paneled information kiosks will be installed to help people navigate on foot.
The vehicular signs would have reflective vinyl panels. These signs also have a UV protection layer to prevent fading and discoloration over time.
Meanwhile, the pedestrian signs are contained to the downtown area and other small pockets with heavy foot traffic. They will report the distance to various destinations, as well as the amount of time in minutes it would take to reach.
The pedestrian signs will point the way mostly to not-for-profit and government buildings as well as parks, though the Omni Hotel will be included.
Design-wise, Bosio (pictured) advised against using too much color.
“We have to be careful with color coding in the long run on urban systems. People don’t pick it up as much as you think they would,” he said. “You don’t want to have all green signs in one part of town and all blue sings in another.”
Hartjen and the Merje design will next evaluate the feedback and refine their designs. By July, Merje is scheduled to present construction documents including all sign locations and designs. The project must be approved by the state Department of Transportation by September, or the federal funding is lost.
The city plans to put the project out to bid this fall, with a fabrication period through the winter and installation next spring.
Hartjen and the designers have been walking around New Haven recently to inspect the current condition of signs.
“We’re looking at the message on the signs. We’re checking if arrows are pointing in the right direction. For example, if we had a sign that had all the arrows pointing straight ahead, that is the first sign we’d eliminate because people tend to move in a linear direction until something tells them to turn,” she said.
Merje has created wayfinding signage for downtown Phoneix, Missoula, Mont., Tampa, and is currently working with downtown Austin. With extremely hot temperatures, Phoenix has the harshest conditions out of all the places Merje has worked. The signs are holding up very well, Bosio said.