New Pedestrian Signs Aim to Help Lost New Yorkers and Tourists

By Serena Solomon on June 24, 2013 4:48pm 

CHINATOWN — The city's Department of Transportation unveiled the first of 100 new signs Monday designed to help not just tourists but also seasoned New Yorkers navigate the city's streets.

The project, WalkNYC, will provide freestanding signs on sidewalks and in subway stations incorporating points of interest such as landmarks, playgrounds and community facilities as well as nearby Citi Bike share stations.

The first sign was installed at Mulberry and Worth streets, at Chinatown's Columbus Park, and more will roll out this summer on 34th Street, in the Garment District, in Brooklyn near Prospect Park and in Long Island City. 

"It is easy-to-read maps with local destinations like transport stations on it, building numbers and a marker system so you known just how many minutes it will take you to walk to your destination," DOT Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan said at a press conference Monday.

"When people know where they are headed they are much more likely to explore the city with their wallets," she added.

Three more signs will be installed throughout Chinatown and the DOT is working with the Metropolitan Transportation Authority to install WalkNYC maps in subway stations and on bus routes to "create a common language and design" that will eventually be found on maps throughout the city, Sadik-Khan said.

The map's style and language are already displayed on the side of Citi Bike share stations in southern Manhattan and parts of Brooklyn.

A year-long survey of pedestrians across the city found that 1 in 3 New Yorkers did not know which way north was and 1 in 10 admitted to having gotten lost in the previous week, according to Sadik-Khan.

The signs stand 8 1/2 feet tall and are positioned to show the area the pedestrian is facing.

"The maps are in the direction you are facing so you no longer have to worry what is south or north, east or west," Sadik-Khan said.

WalkNYC's first map in Columbus Park shows two different views: One side, designed for pedestrians facing west, shows the Civic Center and TriBeCa, while the other side, designed for those facing east, shows the South Street Seaport and Brooklyn.

The mapping information will also be provided to software developers to create smartphone apps, Sadik-Khan said.

The signs cost $15,000 apiece, plus maintenance to keep them graffiti-free. Eighty percent of the funding comes from the federal government, while the rest comes from local business improvement districts, as well as the DOT. This summer's first phase of maps, including about 300 that have already been installed at Citi Bike stations, will cost $6 million.

Wellington Chen, executive director of the Chinatown BID, said the signs will show both tourists and New Yorkers how easily they can walk around Chinatown's sometimes confusing streets.

"We are not on the grid system here like at 34th Street," Chen said. "Imagine coming here where the streets are angular."

Chen also hopes the maps will draw visitors from other areas, once they know how close Chinatown is to other destinations.

"Most people think that they need to get a cab to get here from the South Street Seaport," Chen said. "Guess how much time it takes to walk? Six minutes, just six minutes."

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