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)

Advertisements

Jones Falls Trail: Part One Improvements

This is the first of our three part overview for making the Jones Falls Trail (JFT) better.  Imagine you are a tourist and you walk into the Baltimore Visitors Center at the Inner Harbor and you want to learn about bicycling trails in the city.  I am no tourist, but I did go into the Visitors Center and ask the docent for information on Baltimore trails. The docent quickly went behind the concierge desk and produced the Gwynns Falls Trail map and the Baltimore Bicycling map out of a cardboard box. That appeared to be the extent of what was available. After touring the Visitors Center, it is clear that (bicycling) trails have not made it to tourist level attraction.  Trail improvements will help a lot, but a little marketing can go a long way as well.

Adding something like this MTA kiosk that focused on Baltimore trails and the bike network would be great at Penn Station and the Visitors' Center
Adding something like this MTA kiosk that focused on Baltimore trails and the bike network would be great at Penn Station and the Visitors’ Center

In this section, we will cover part one, between the Baltimore Visitors Center and Penn Station. Here’s our list. Feel free to add your suggestions in the comments section.

  1. The Jones Falls Trail starts right out front of the Visitors Center, but how would you know?  Make it easy to find information about the Jones Falls Trail at the Baltimore Visitors Center.   The first step is to create a readily available handy JFT map.  A second step is for Visit Baltimore to promote the heck out of events like Tour Dem Parks and other bicycle events. Lastly, and probably most importantly, there needs to be an easily visible sign and map at the start of the trail. The front of the visitors center is where the Gwynns Falls Trail and the Jones Falls Trail come together. This warrants a good sign, map, and wayfinding.

    Where the Jones Falls Trail and Gwynns Falls Trail come together directly in front of the Baltimore Visitors Center. A trail head map and directional wayfinding should be added here.
    Where the Jones Falls Trail and Gwynns Falls Trail come together directly in front of the Baltimore Visitors Center. A trail head map and directional wayfinding should be added here.
  1. Help separate pedestrians and bicyclists where the trail follows the harbor. The trail is for both walkers and bicyclists, but less comingling would be better here. A physical separation between trail and sidewalk would benefit both pedestrians and bicyclists. Signs that encourage walkers to use the sidewalks and bicyclists to use the trail would help, especially during the crowded summer season.

    Encouraging walkers to use the sidewalk and bicyclists to use the trail in the crowded harbor would benefit both groups.
    Encouraging walkers to use the sidewalk and bicyclists to use the trail in the crowded harbor would benefit both groups.
  1. Don’t allow parking in the trail. This happens frequently at the harbor area. Not much elaboration is needed.
  2. When the trail doesn’t look like a trail, more and better wayfinding is needed.  The trail is a shared sidewalk for much of the way and makes a number of turns.  It is not always easy to discern what is the trail from all the other sidewalks. More demarcation is needed. There should be signs on both sides of every intersection. The trail should not get people lost in the first mile!

    The trail makes turns at Market Street and Baltimore Street with minimal wayfinding. Even on the shared sidewalks, wayfinding is needed.
    The trail makes turns at Market Street and Baltimore Street with minimal wayfinding. Even on the shared sidewalks, wayfinding is needed.
  3. Keep the trail on the east side of the Fallsway. The trail runs from the east side, crosses the street to the west side of the Fallsway, and then crosses the street back to the east. This is difficult to follow and involves crossing busy intersections back and forth. Keeping the trail on the east side of the Fallsway doesn’t have to be expensive. Paint and flex posts could do the job.  The parking lane would have to move 10 feet, but the Fallsway is wide enough to accommodate both sufficient parking and ten feet of trail on the east side. Furthermore, having the trail stay on the east side would help cyclists and tourists avoid crossing intersections and bisecting a homeless tent camp that currently straddles the trail.

    The Fallsway is wide enough to to keep the JFT on the east side of the street, which would prevent several irritating street crossings and from having the trail pass directly through a homeless camp. Picture here: trail on west side of the Fallsway.
    The Fallsway is wide enough to to keep the JFT on the east side of the street, which would prevent several irritating street crossings and from having the trail pass directly through a homeless camp. Picture here: trail on west side of the Fallsway.
  4. Combat the ugliness and improve the crosswalks. The Fallsway is arguably one of the ugliest places in Baltimore.  There are a lot of creative people who could find affordable ways to add vibrancy to the area.  Artists could paint colorful street crossings at each intersection.  This would double as a safety feature, because crosswalks in this area are often faded or non-existent.  The crosswalks should be improved all the way to Penn Station and beyond.

    Crosswalk art would make street crossings safer and add some vibrancy to the ugly part of the trail. DOT would have to cooperate.
    Crosswalk art would make street crossings safer and add some vibrancy to the ugly part of the trail. DOT would have to cooperate.
  5. Have the Department of Transportation and the Department of Recreation and Parks work together. The trail is under the domain of Recreation and Parks, but the trail often uses the street bed. One senses there may be confusion over whose domain is whose  that leads to paralysis or less than optimal solutions.  The trail is used for both recreation and transportation. This should be a joint effort.  Collaboration on improved signage, street crossings, and doing things like keeping the trail on the east side of the Fallsway will require the two agencies to be cooperative.
  6. The blazes are great, but….they are not a replacement for good wayfinding and they will fade over time.  I talked to a family using the trail.  They told me the painted blazes help them find their way.   The blazes were put in by a volunteer (thank you) who may not repaint them forever.  The blazes will wear away if not maintained and they are hard to see at the crowded harbor.
  7. Add signage at Penn Station. Lots of people wait for buses on St. Paul Street.  While they are waiting, they should be looking across the street at a Jones Falls Trail wayfinding sign and a map sign.  This spot, along with the Baltimore Visitors Center, Maryland Zoo, and the Cylburn Arboretum should have signage that provides lots of valuable information.

    Across from this bus shelter at Penn Station is a great location for a trail map and wayfinding.
    Across from this bus shelter at Penn Station is a great location for a trail map and wayfinding.

Thank you for reading. These are our suggestions for Part One. Please read our Part Two and Part Three analyses. Here is our article “Improving Signage on the Jones Falls Trail.”  Of course, please add your comments.

Jeff La Noue

(edited by Laura Melamed)

Jones Falls Trail: Part Two Improvements

This is the second of our three part overview for making the Jones Falls Trail better.  Again, for many of us who use the trail regularly, we know our way around.  However, the Jones Falls Trail should be easy to use even if it is a bike rider’s first day in Baltimore.

In this section, we will cover part two of the trail, the middle section between Penn Station and the intersection of Clipper Park Road/Clipper Road near the Woodberry light rail station.

Click here for Part One. Click here for Part Three. Here is our “Improving Signage on the Jones Falls Trail” article.

Here’s our (Part Two) list. Feel free to add your suggestions in the comments section.

  1. Make it easy to find the Jones Falls Trail from Penn Station.  This website encourages visitors to bring their bicycles on the MARC train and bike the trail or around the city.  In contrast, when passengers step off the train, they can find no information or signage about any trails either inside or outside the station, despite the fact that the JFT passes right by it on St. Paul Street. Let’s have bicycling information at the station! Also adding easy to see wayfinding signs and a map across from the station on St. Paul Street would help get riders off to a good start.

    This kind of sign would be very helpful at trailheads and places such as the Maryland Zoo, St. Paul Street adjacent to Penn Station and at the Baltimore Visitors Center
    This kind of sign would be very helpful at trailheads and places such as the Maryland Zoo, St. Paul Street adjacent to Penn Station and at the Baltimore Visitors Center
  1. Don’t confuse the trail riders. The section of the trail north of Penn Station to Falls Road is confusing.  The Jones Falls Trail doesn’t look like a trail, so extra markings are needed, otherwise new users may stress about how to stay on the trail. If riders are to use the sidewalk, it should be made clear the sidewalk is where they belong.

    Following the trail through these intersections is confusing
    Following the trail through these intersections is confusing
  2. Can the trail avoid the circuitous street crossings? The trail inconveniently forces users to cross the street at Baltimore Bicycle Works and then back again 100 or so yards later at the Street Car Museum.  It would be a much better design if the trail  found its way around the Howard Street bridge support column and then stayed straight. Maybe there is a good reason for the street crossing detours, but a road for cars would not be designed with such a circuitous path.  In the meantime, we need a Stop for Bikes and Peds sign at street crossings, because the majority of Baltimore drivers do not slow down, let alone stop at the crossings.

    It would have been nice if the trail would have stayed straight here. Cars rarely stop at any place the trail zig zags across the street.
    It would have been nice if the trail would have stayed straight here. Cars rarely stop at any place the trail zig zags across the street.
  3. Round Falls deserves more.  The river overlook is in desperate shape.  This is arguably the best place to view the trail’s namesake river.  However, the overlook is falling apart, overgrown, littered, and seedy.  If you can overlook all this, the view of the falls is beautiful.  This could be a great feature of the trail, but the overlook needs to be rebuilt. Could this be a Neighborhood Design Center or corporately sponsored project?

    Waterfall overlook in Ohiopyle, PA. The Round Falls overlook could clean up nicely.
    Waterfall overlook in Ohiopyle, PA. The Round Falls overlook could clean up nicely.
  4. Make trail head signs more useful. Trail head signs should include a map and directional way finding.  Furthermore, why not make the trail head at the zoo entrance? There is existing parking and the zoo pops up on everyone’s GPS. If those attending the zoo walk past an informative Jones Falls Trail sign, they may come back and use the trail.

    This sign looks good near the park swimming pool, but the emphasis should be on providing more useful information. A map and wayfinding signage would be helpful at key locations and trailheads. The Druid Hill Park Trailhead should be at the zoo.
    This sign looks good near the park swimming pool, but the emphasis should be on providing more useful information. A map and wayfinding signage would be helpful at key locations and trailheads. The Druid Hill Park Trailhead should be at the zoo.
  5. The trail in Druid Hill Park can be confusing to follow. There are lots of paths and interior park roads that could be mistaken for the trail.  One can follow the blazes, but we know their shelf life is not forever.  The turn from Clipper Park Road to Parkdale is one of the places that needs better wayfinding.

    The Jones Falls Trail is a little confusing to follow heading northward from here to the trailhead north of Woodberry
    The Jones Falls Trail is a little confusing to follow heading northward from here to the trailhead north of Woodberry
  6. Regular snow and silt removal is needed. In winter, snow is piled up on the trail. The snow and ice remain far after the roads have been cleared off. The rest of the year, silt builds up on the trail.  Regular maintenance of the trail should be scheduled.
    Snow, ice, and silt should be cleaned up. You can crash on this stuff.
    Snow, ice, and silt should be cleaned up. You can crash on this stuff.

    8. The trail is a segment of the transportation system for bicyclists.  Safe connecting bicycle facilities are needed.  The trail is administered by the Department of Recreation and Parks, but there should be coordination and planning with the Department of Transportation to help bicycle commuters maximize the use of the Jones Falls Valley. Because the Jones Falls Valley is flat, scenic, has few intersections, and also direct (it could be a JFX for bicycles), it has the potential to be the perfect commuter shed for bicyclists.  In order to achieve this ideal, bicycle and walking facilities need to be continuous and stay near the river.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                               Jeff La Noue                                                                                                                                (edited By Laura Melamed)

Jones Falls Trail: Part Three Improvements

The Jones Falls Trail is a good trail, but like most things in life, it could be better.  From marketing, to signage, to maintenance-this is where we can point out parts of the trail that could be improved.

This post is about part three, the northern section between the intersection of Clipper Park Road/Clipper Road near the Woodberry light rail station to/from Cylburn Arboretum. (3.5 miles) To read Part One click here.  To read Part Two click here. Here is our article “Improving Signage on the Jones Falls Trail.”

Here’s our list. Feel free to add your suggestions in the comments section.

  1. Add more and better “Wayfinding” signage. Getting lost or directionally confused is a sure fire way to downgrade your trail experience. Luckily, this is a really inexpensive thing to fix.  There are existing signs and blazes that help, but for trail newbies there are a number of places, intersections in particular, that can be disorienting. Adding destinations, mileage markers, and north/south indicators can help trail users more easily point themselves in the right direction. Also, the trail doesn’t always look like a trail, such as where it shares a roadbed and a sidewalk such as Clipper and Clipper Park Roads. In one place, the trail follows the road bed going against  a one way street. New users are likely to be confused.  Make sure the trail is easy to follow.
Jones Falls Trail signage does not provide enough information and are not always placed at places where trail users have to make a directional decision
Jones Falls Trail signage does not provide enough information and are not always placed at places where trail users have to make a directional decision
Wayfinding signage in Arlington, Virginia is very helpful
Wayfinding signage in Arlington, Virginia is very helpful

                                                                                                              

2. Add parking signage and a map at the trail heads. There is trail parking in Woodberry and at Cylburn Arboretum, but it is not marked.  Signs showing drivers how to get to the parking areas would help. What location should drivers put in their GPS’s to get to trail heads? At the trail heads there should be a trail map and directional signage.

There is no Jones Falls Trail signage at the Cylburn trailhead and parking area.
There is no Jones Falls Trail signage at the Cylburn trailhead and parking area.

3. The trail should be maintained. Here are a series of observations.There is a lot of silt in the road at Clipper and Clipper Park Road that should be removed. Some of the new benches are rusted through, sinking into the ground, and have weeds growing around them. The trail is not plowed in the winter and there is some dead landscaping. The blazes (a volunteer made these-a big thank you to this individual) need to be refreshed to remain useful.

4. Don’t repeat the design flaws when the trail  is extended. There are telephone poles and fire hydrants in the trail right of way. Furthermore, the trail looks like a sidewalk in some places. Put bike parking in helpful locations.

5. Make the trail more visible in key locations. Why not add signs to help brand the trail and create awareness? For example, cars go over trail crossings such as Cold Spring Lane and very few know they are passing over the trail. Other locations like Cylburn, The Maryland Zoo and the Conservatory (in part two of the trail) attract lots of visitors. Signage can help cross promote. Add information and signs at visible places to help the trail be more well known.

Nothing subtle about this sign on the Paul Bunyan Trail. The Jones Falls Trail should come out of hiding.
Nothing subtle about this sign on the Paul Bunyan Trail. The Jones Falls Trail should come out of hiding.

6. Connect the trail to light rail stations.  The Jones Falls Trail mostly parallels the light rail line.  Physical connections and signage to and from stations can make them complementary.

7.Tie the trail into the 311 and 911 system.  If there is an issue on the trail, users need to be able to report the problem to operators who will understand where they are.

8. Recognize the trail is never finished.  The trail can always be better maintained. It can be extended. It can have features like sculptures, artwork, or river overlooks added to it.  New marketing for the trail can be created. Spurs can be created to schools, attractions, business districts, or transit stops.  Trail oriented development and restaurants can be cultivated. Corporate, institutional, sports franchise, or foundation partners can be found.   The trail can have better web presence and technology applications. The Jones Falls Trail should be a better amenity for Baltimore year after year. In September 2016, we will write about what was accomplished this year.

Thank you for reading.  I hope whoever reads this can do their part to help Baltimore be a better trail city.

Jeff La Noue

(edited by Laura Melamed)

Street crossings

Toggling back and forth

In part 1 and part 2, there are places where the Jones Falls Trail toggles back and forth across the street.  In part 1, the JFT crosses the Fallsway back and forth. In part 2, the JFT toggles from one side of Falls Road to the other near the street car museum.  Keeping, the trail on one side of the street makes for much better trail design.

JFT crosses the street
JFT crosses the street

The JFT would be better if it would stick to one side of the street instead of toggling back and forth.  Crossings could have better signage and be better engineered.

Safer street crossings

The addition to the toggling back and forth, the JFT also passes through several intersections.  JFT street crossings should be engineered for safety.   Traffic calming and signage should be at every crossing.  See this example from Europe.

Raised crossing in the London suburbs
Raised crossing in the London suburbs

Raised crossings and textured pavings  slow traffic. Image from: Haibat