Reconnecting the PATH: Toronto PATH Wayfinding System

Finalist 2020

Toronto’s PATH is the world’s largest underground pedestrian complex. The network connects office towers with public transit, and experiences more than 200,000 business-day commuters, and thousands of additional tourists, visitors and residents.

For decades, the PATH has been notoriously confusing and hard to navigate, even for its regular users. The 30 kilometres of tunnels and retail concourses that now comprise the PATH were built piecemeal over the past 50 years and present several accessibility challenges. Various uncoordinated property signage systems sat alongside the ‘official’ but poorly implemented compass-based wayfinding system. This lack of legibility discouraged people from exploring areas beyond their regular commuting route, impacting potential retail revenue and preventing the network from serving as the ‘underground city’ it was intended to be.

To solve these issues, we were commissioned to develop a functional specification and design concept for an improved wayfinding system. This system would need to provide consistency across the entire PATH network yet be flexible enough to accommodate the unique interior design and functional needs of each property that PATH passes through.

After consultations with 80+ stakeholders, we designed a modular family of signs including wall map panels and suspended directional signage that is adaptable to a variety of contexts. The system also includes a printed ‘pocket’ map, a specification for digital signage, and a guidelines document to guide future rollouts of the strategy.

At the core of the wayfinding strategy is a map organized in a two-level colour hierarchy. Connector (blue) routes are continuous paths that allow users to navigate the entirety of the network, joining transportation hubs like Union Station to major PATH destinations such as the Toronto Eaton Centre shopping mall. Branch routes (teal) link minor amenities located off the connectors.

The system also helps people to find major landmarks and neighbourhoods on the surface by linking it to the aboveground TO360 pedestrian wayfinding system. Both systems share a common design language and map base, establishing continuity between the underground and on-street experience.

The wayfinding system was designed from the outset to contribute to the overall accessibility of PATH. Signage graphics meet legislated requirements for clear, appropriately scaled, high-contrast text, and wall-mounted signs are placed at heights suitable for those using wheelchairs and other mobility devices. To assist people in planning step-free journeys through PATH, the maps clearly show the locations of stairways and accessible alternate routes.

To test our work, we installed a full-size mockup in the PATH and created an online survey which received 300+ responses. A pilot map was installed in 2017, and the full rollout began in 2018, with full implementation of the wider system taking place over the coming years.

The new wayfinding system has been met with cries of “finally!” in the local press and on social media. The system builds upon best practices of cartography, graphic design, and wayfinding strategy, demonstrates the role that experiential design can play in bringing legibility to a confusing environment, and gives people the confidence to get lost.

Toronto’s PATH is the world’s largest underground pedestrian complex. The network connects office towers with public transit, and experiences more than 200,000 business-day commuters, and thousands of additional tourists, visitors and residents.

For decades, the PATH has been notoriously confusing and hard to navigate, even for its regular users. The 30 kilometres of tunnels and retail concourses that now comprise the PATH were built piecemeal over the past 50 years and present several accessibility challenges. Various uncoordinated property signage systems sat alongside the ‘official’ but poorly implemented compass-based wayfinding system. This lack of legibility discouraged people from exploring areas beyond their regular commuting route, impacting potential retail revenue and preventing the network from serving as the ‘underground city’ it was intended to be.

To solve these issues, we were commissioned to develop a functional specification and design concept for an improved wayfinding system. This system would need to provide consistency across the entire PATH network yet be flexible enough to accommodate the unique interior design and functional needs of each property that PATH passes through.

After consultations with 80+ stakeholders, we designed a modular family of signs including wall map panels and suspended directional signage that is adaptable to a variety of contexts. The system also includes a printed ‘pocket’ map, a specification for digital signage, and a guidelines document to guide future rollouts of the strategy.

At the core of the wayfinding strategy is a map organized in a two-level colour hierarchy. Connector (blue) routes are continuous paths that allow users to navigate the entirety of the network, joining transportation hubs like Union Station to major PATH destinations such as the Toronto Eaton Centre shopping mall. Branch routes (teal) link minor amenities located off the connectors.

The system also helps people to find major landmarks and neighbourhoods on the surface by linking it to the aboveground TO360 pedestrian wayfinding system. Both systems share a common design language and map base, establishing continuity between the underground and on-street experience.

The wayfinding system was designed from the outset to contribute to the overall accessibility of PATH. Signage graphics meet legislated requirements for clear, appropriately scaled, high-contrast text, and wall-mounted signs are placed at heights suitable for those using wheelchairs and other mobility devices. To assist people in planning step-free journeys through PATH, the maps clearly show the locations of stairways and accessible alternate routes.

Services included wayfinding strategy, product design, cartography, and information and graphic design. We designed a modular family of 60+ signs including wall map panels and suspended directional signage that is adaptable to a variety of contexts. The system also includes a printed ‘pocket’ map, a specification for digital signage, and a guidelines document to guide future rollouts of the strategy.

Design Firms: 

Steer

Client: 

City of Toronto and the Toronto Financial District Business Improvement Area

Project Area: 

30 kilometres of tunnels underneath 2 square kilometres of downtown Toronto

Open Date: 

April 2018

Project Budget: 

$200,000 CD

Photo Credits: 

David Kopulos, Steer

Design Team: 

Juan Rioseco (information designer and project director), James Brown (wayfinding strategist and project manager), Phil Berczuk (technical lead), David Kopulos (implementation coordinator), Emily Whiteside (graphic designer)

Consultants: 

Jedco Product Design (detailed product design)

Fabricators: 

Future Systems

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