Navigating the city of Missoula may become easier for tourists and residents alike when the first phase of a new wayfinding system falls into place this year.
While “Aquifer Below” and “Power to the Pedestrian” aren’t likely to make the cut for new signage, getting to the Missoula Art Museum, the Wilma Theatre or the nearest parking garage will, supporters told the City Council’s Committee of the Whole on Wednesday.
“We’ll focus first on pedestrian directional, parking and airport business district wayfinding, mainly because those are the areas we have funded at this time,” said Matt Elllis, a member of the Downtown Master Plan Implementation Team. “One of the first layers we’ll introduce this year will be the pedestrian layer. Most of it is in the downtown area.”
The final plan also includes Missoula gateway signs, district gateways and vehicle directional signs. The signs are similar in architecture and style and, proponents say, can help promote the city’s finer assets.
“This began in 2011 around branding and wayfinding,” said Ellis. “We had 25 agencies and organizations come together. While we only had 50 percent support for branding, we had 100 percent support for wayfinding.”
The planning process cost roughly $88,500 to complete and was paid for by 10 organizations, including Mountain Line, the University of Montana and the Downtown Business Improvement District.
The city’s Developmental Services contributed $25,000 toward the plan, as did the Missoula Redevelopment Agency. The Missoula County Development Authority pitched in $10,000.
“Our next step is to present our final plan to all the funding agencies and to the community,” Ellis said. “We need to transition to implementation, and we’re happy to say the city has taken ownership of the bidding process for fabrication and installation of the signs and wayfinding materials.”
Carrying out the plan will occur in phases and cost roughly $1.5 million to complete. Of the 319 proposed wayfinding signs, 110 are vehicle directional signs costing $390,000.
More than 50 signs designate parks and trails, 43 direct pedestrians around the city, and 31 serve as interpretive and mapping signs.
“We need to figure out how to do budget allocations for funding over time so we can get other components done, including vehicle directional, community gateway, district gateways, pedestrian kiosks and maps, parks and trails, interpretive signs and bicycle routes,” Ellis said.
While additional funding sources are being sought, the Missoula Parking Commission is working to complete the parking signs. Ellis told the committee that wayfinding for parks and trails, which carries a $215,000 price tag, will take place in phases as the city budget allows.
The process has been years in the making, and supporters are eager to see the project completed. The consultant contracted for the work – MERJE – recommended other efforts to reduce sign clutter and eliminate unnecessary signs from the wayfinding concept.
“Some of the unnecessary signs they’ve identified – some of us may not agree – are the Missoula aquifer signage, the ‘Power to Pedestrian’ signage and bike-lane signage where appropriate,” Ellis said.
The consultants have also recommended moving community designation and award signs to a central location, such as Caras Park. MERJE also recommended the city update and consolidate its mandatory traffic signs.
“We hope this plan becomes a part of everything we do in the community in terms of future projects, like the Russell Street corridor or the Van Buren interchange,” Ellis said. “We hope that when opportunities for wayfinding come up, we follow this plan and implement it.”
Linda McCarthy, executive director of the Downtown Business Improvement District, said the project’s return on investment can be measured in increased tourism and patronage to certain attractions.
Citing studies conducted in other cities, McCarthy said wayfinding projects increase tourism and dollars spent in the community, and boost extended stays and trail use.
“The other way it can be measured is through quality of life, experience and pride in your community as a resident,” McCarthy said. “You see signage that highlights our assets and major destinations and parks. It speaks to how we feel about our community.”