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Throw in your two cents on signs and kiosks designed for visitors to downtown Tacoma

Post by Kathleen Cooper / The News Tribune on Nov. 16, 2011 at 2:49 pm with No Comments »
November 17, 2011 10:23 am

Now’s your chance to help design signs and kiosks to help visitors find their way around downtown Tacoma.

As part of the larger $8 million project to renovate Pacific Avenue, $200,000 has been set aside to finally work on tools to help people find their way around. Such “wayfinding” has been a desire of downtown businesses for years, and staff of the Tacoma-Pierce County Chamber have worked on it for quite some time, too.

Those of us familiar with downtown have no trouble getting to our favorite spots. But spend just a few minutes with someone from out of town and it’s easy to see we need to do a better job helping folks find the things that make downtown fun, like museums, restaurants and the waterfront.

Just a few weeks ago, my family and I spent the morning hanging out downtown. (My almost-3-year-old son could ride the Link all day.) We parked at Freighthouse Square so we could ride the full length of the streetcar, and we rode with a group of people who came to town to train guide dogs. The trainers were taking the dogs on a scavenger hunt to various places like a bookstore, restaurant and grocery store.

The trainers had no idea where to go. There were no helpful maps, particularly at the Link stops. And I had only one copy of Tacoma+ to share! Inside the streetcar there’s a city map, but it lacks landmarks. The Link stops really should have an airport-style map of downtown, with businesses and landmarks highlighted. (Hello, Sound Transit!)

Last week the City of Tacoma and its partners held an open house at the Chamber’s offices to get feedback on the nitty gritty details of the new signs and kiosks. About two dozen people attended, including a representative from the convention and visitors bureau and downtown property owners Dan Putnam, Ted Johnson and Patricia Lecy-Davis.

“We need your feedback, and we need it quickly,” said City of Tacoma planner Chelsea Levy. The designs will be done by the end of the year.

“We need to make sure we’re sending people to the right destinations and amenities – places visitors want to go,” she said. “Imagine you’re visitors to downtown. You’re trying to figure out how to get around and what there is to do here.”

Levy presented early concepts for street signs and information kiosks by Studio SC, a Seattle firm working with Tacoma’s AHBL Inc. on the overall Pacific Avenue plan.

Concept for street signs. Credit: Studio SC

The signs are designed to be seen from a car. They’ll have a maximum of six messages that must be visible from 75 feet away by a car going 35-40 mph. My two cents: As these concepts show, the signs are designed to be seen by drivers going in just one direction. I’m not sure why the signs shouldn’t be visible to drivers going both directions.

Three visitor kiosks are planned for Pacific Avenue at South 9th, 12th and 17th streets. The early concept is for a story board on one side, with a map and other “you are here” information on the other. The city has hired local author and historian Caroline Gallacci to chose the images and write the story. That $5,000 contract is part of the $200,000 set aside for wayfinding.

Concept for visitor information kiosk. Credit: Studio SC

My two cents: I know these designs are conceptual, but I think the kiosks must be clearly labeled. “Information” or “Map” or some other declaration is needed to make it obvious what these are, particularly if one side will be dedicated to historic storytelling.

If you want to contribute your ideas, click on over to the Chamber’s BIA blog where they’ve put together a series of questions. The blog post itself has three general questions, but the Chamber also has attached a link for the city’s full questionnaire. Answers can be sent to Sue O’Neill at the City; Lecy-Davis at GoLocal, or David Schroedel at the Chamber.

Comments will be accepted until Dec. 9.

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