Archived columns and blog posts by Matt Elliott

Toronto needs to make good signage a priority

The City of Toronto is rolling out a pilot project with new, more clear development notice signs.
The City of Toronto is rolling out a pilot project with new, more clear development notice signs.

Earlier this summer, my east-side Toronto neighbourhood was worked into a tizzy over the closure of our local park, the very nice Corktown Common, for the duration of the Pan Am Games.

Some people argued that public closure of the park was always part of the plan for the Games. Others argued that while, sure, that might be true, they hadn’t heard about the plan and so felt shortchanged by the closure.

In the midst of all this, I was left thinking about how most of the uproar wouldn’t have happened if only someone had put up a damn sign.

Seriously, spending a few bucks on poster board would have made a world of difference. There should have been a sign up in the park since the day it opened in 2013, letting visitors know about the planned 2015 closure and explaining the plan.
Once people saw that sign, it would have opened up their eyes.

But instead, a sign didn’t go up until just a few weeks before the closure. By then, it was too late.

I can’t pretend to be surprised. Whether it’s park closures, wayfinding or construction notices, Toronto tends to be pretty bad at signage.

There are examples of confusing or missing signage everywhere in this city. Toronto’s sidewalk info pillars have generally been better at advertising shoes than at helping tourists find their way around. And because the TTC’s signs are either non-existent or hard to understand, I routinely see homemade ones created by helpful residents posted in bus shelters, letting riders know about route changes.

And, of course, it’s still common to find construction workers tearing up a sidewalk for no posted reason.

It wouldn’t be hard to get better. There’s a science behind effective signage and lots of professionals out there who could help the city build a sign strategy.

In at least one area, the city has made some progress.

After a push led by local activist Dave Meslin, Toronto is working to revamp its development-proposal signs. Once the final design is approved next year, those clunky wall-of-text signs that attempt to inform people about condo plans should be replaced with simple ones that are easy to understand.

It’s something that all city departments need to take to heart. Ideally, any planned road, pathway or park closure would be communicated with signage at least six weeks beforehand. And every construction site should have signage using simple words and multiple languages.

But to get there, leaders at city hall need to make it clear that they see effective signage as a real priority. And so far, I haven’t seen much sign of that.

Matt Elliott lives and writes in Toronto. Follow him on Twitter @GraphicMatt

This post was originally published at on 2015-08-24T00:00:00.000Z

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Matt Elliott

City Hall watcher, columnist and policy wonk in Toronto.
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