Sharring experiences in urban infrastructure delivery.

Wayfinding Signage

By: Tom Davis Category: Signage


The Houston Downtown Management District installed a wayfinding signage system to help drivers and pedestrians find major destinations. The signs are large, custom designed units of several sizes that include locally created art on the back side. Some are lighted and that is helpful but it introduces a complication–providing electrical power from a metered circuit in the right of way. That also creates a long-term cost to the operational side of the managing organization.

WayfindingLaBranch.jpgThe large primary signs are located on major access routes into downtown.  Then large signs or smaller “secondary” signs are place along the routes to the major destinations.

Commercial destinations are not listed but the areas of downtown are cited that is indicative of the commercial location. Drivers intuitively know where to go.

Shortly after the signs were installed Houston was selected to host Superbowl 2006.  With thousands of people from all over the states coming to town and trying to find there was TxDOT agreed to install signage on their freeway signs directing drivers to “DOWNTOWN DESTINATIONS”.  With those signs leading drivers into downtown and the wayfinding signage inside downtown many drivers do not feel so lost.  But even then a good map is a cherished possession.

One of the issues the planners faced was there are many significant, popular, non-commercial destinations in downtown Houston and not all of them can be listed on a reasonably sized sign–or else it becomes a billboard. We did have to address an accusation that the largest ones that extend over the street are “billboards”.  See the first photo here.  On one street we redesigned the signs to be upright.Art on back of wayfinding sign

Notice the small banner shaped sign on the sidewalk side as that provides help to the pedestrian. There is a map there that is oriented so that “up” is in the direction the person is standing. There are those today that do not think the map is helpful as it is hard to read at night and too high. [I think they just have bad eyesight and will not wear glasses.] So there is a contract in the works to replace the map with small-font text sign with arrows that directs walkers to smaller destinations in the immediate area.

When the original designs were developed the City Traffic Engineer would not allow smaller text there as the concern was that drivers would try to read it and cause accidents. I like the map but some people do not read maps well so maybe the text is an option that will serve more people…now that our new engineer will allow smaller text.

Once you decide on the size of the sign and the location the necessary foundation can become quite a large to resist the wind loads. The large sign you see here has a 24″ diameter by 18 feet deep drill pier with anchor bolts to connect the sign all below the sidewalk.  We also had to make minor adjustments in the locations occasionally when pipes or duct banks were encountered and we did want to pay to have them moved.

The good news is that Hurricane Ike in 2008 only damaged one of the signs. It was in a location known for wind channeling through the buildings and likely the wind velocity was far higher than the report winds that scary night.

The design and many meetings was lead by Guy Hagstette as Director of Planning and Design for the District. My role was to manage the installation of the large drill pier foundations.



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