Improving Signage on the Jones Falls Trail

October 1, 2015

The signage and wayfinding for the Jones Falls Trail should be improved.  As reported in a Baltimore Sun article “Advocates still waiting for extension of city’s Jones Falls Trail”, a new sign package is coming, but not for years, according to Paul Taylor, chief of capital projects for the Recreation and Parks Department.  This is unfortunate for two reasons: one is the delay and the second is a stated  emphasis on graphics when it should be on useful information. As reported in the article, Taylor said:

 “Officials expect to review signage when the extension is done. That will allow the city to develop a consistent sign package with a uniform graphic design, he said. ‘That’s something we will be looking to do after wrapping up the final phase.'”

Baltimore’s Parks and Recreation Department should be interested in continuously improving their trails in small inexpensive ways, without the requirement of piggybacking on much larger capital projects years away.  There needs to be a way to maintain the trail and do modest improvements on a regular basis.

Existing signs on the Jones Falls Trail look like this. Unfortunately, they do not provide much information.

This sign has a nice graphic, but is an ineffective trailhead sign. A good trail head sign should have an address, a map, mileage markers, and directional wayfinding. It should also be 311/911 identifiable.
This sign has a nice graphic, but is an ineffective trailhead sign. A good trail head sign should have an address, a map, mileage markers, and directional wayfinding. It should also be 311/911 identifiable.
Jones Falls Trail signage does not provide enough information and signs are not always placed at places where trail users have to make directional decisions
Jones Falls Trail signage does not provide enough information and signs are not always placed at places where trail users have to make directional decisions.

Here are examples of  signs with more practical information for trail users.

Frankly, this a great sign. It makes the trail easy to understand and identify where you are. It also provides directions and mileage. This would be a great model for future JFT signage, but it should include an address.
Frankly, this a great sign. It makes the trail easy to understand and identify where you are. It also provides directions and mileage. This would be a great model for future JFT signage, but it should include an address.
There are two things we like about this trail head sign: the map and the rescue location. However, it lacks wayfinding and an address.
There are two things we like about this trail head sign: the map and the rescue location. However, it lacks wayfinding and an address.
Simple and clear directional signage and mileage markers
Simple and clear directional signage and mileage markers
There are four things we like about this sign: the map, the station identifiers, the arrows, and the mile markers.
There are four things we like about this sign: the map, the station identifiers, the arrows, and the mile markers.

Trail head signs should have a map, directional wayfinding, mileage markers, an address location, and be 311 and 911 identifiable.   (If you need to report something, there should be a way to communicate the location to the operator.) Trailheads should be at prominent easy to find places with parking and/or transit. These include the Baltimore Visitors Center, Penn Station, The Maryland Zoo (a more visible location than at the Druid Hill Park swimming pool where a trailhead is now), Cylburn Arboretum, and the Mt. Washington Light Rail station.

Trail signage along the route and at intersections, should include wayfinding and periodic mileage markers. Add “stop for pedestrians” signs in the middle of street crossings without stoplights.

For street crossings, add "stop for pedestrians" signs. Image of crossing in Baltimore's Patterson Park from Google Street view.
For street crossings, add “stop for pedestrians” signs. Image of crossing in Baltimore’s Patterson Park from Google Streetview.

The South Platte River Trail in Sedgwick County, Colorado was very thoughtfully improved. It provides an example of how to get useful input while developing a wayfinding strategy. The South Platte River Trail Wayfinding Project team did a comprehensive study of what was needed that included bringing people unfamiliar with the trail and recording their challenges as new users. See their study here.

Baltimore’s trails can start providing a higher quality user experience, but they will need Baltimore Recreation and Parks Department to make improvements based on critical analysis and feedback about their existing products.

Jeff La Noue

(edited by Laura Melamed)

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