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Calgary considers Plus 15 wayfinding app to help pedestrians navigate the indoor core

The City of Calgary is considering making a wayfinding app for the Plus 15 indoor walkway network, but one expert wonders if the money might be better spent on signage.

The city-owned network of enclosed overpasses allows pedestrians to walk around the downtown without having to go outside at street level – something appreciated by many office workers, especially in the winter months.

A Request for Information was posted by the city earlier this week asking vendors for input on a potential wayfinding app. It doesn’t mean the city is going ahead with the plan, but it means they’re collecting information in case they decided to go forward with it.

Charmaine Buhler, program manager for the Plus 15 said they’re looking at the potential for a wayfinding app as part of a larger policy update around the city’s Plus 15 network.

The city owns and maintains the outside pedways, which connect private and public buildings. BRODIE THOMAS / LIVEWIRE

“We’re just exploring different wayfinding opportunities,” said Buhler. “And so as part of the policy update, we’re looking at various aspects of the Plus 15, not only way finding but accessibility and missing connections. We’re taking kind of a holistic view.”

On the city’s engage website, citizens are invited to give their thoughts on the Plus 15 network. One of the questions asks if citizens would prefer a wayfinding app instead of, or in addition to, the existing signs and maps.

However Tim Querengesser, co-founder of the Edmonton Wayfinding Society and a mobility consultant, said an app alone won’t always be useful for the average person trying to navigate the Plus 15 Network.

He pointed to studies done of wayfinding signs in London and Toronto. One campaign in London called Legible London aimed to help visitors more easily navigate the city.

“Legible London and research in Toronto found a vast majority of people who engaged with the wayfinding signage(…) a had a cell phone in their pocket, said Querengesser. “What that tells you is that there is some added value, some added information, that those signs are creating – or just a more appealing experience.”

He said most people are already using Google Maps, so many would not bother downloading another wayfinding app for a specific purpose.

Querengesser said he spent time in Hong Kong, a city which also has many indoor pathways that are easy to navigate thanks to simple signage.

“You can really easily find your way throughout the system and out of the system,”he said.

He said an app could be helpful, but it depends on how well the app is designed, and what it aims to do.

“Is a Plus 15 app going to just incentivize me to stay within the Plus 15? I don’t think that’s what Calgary wants,” he said. “It wants you to use the Plus 15 as a walking street but also to get out onto other streets. It wants you to stay on your feet.”

Querengesser gave the city points for how it’s handling its review of the Plus 15.

He said Edmonton has a similar network of indoor walkways known as the Pedway, but he said the city hasn’t been examining it as a single network, which is part of what spurred him to co-found the Edmonton Wayfinding Society.

“Here in Edmonton we don’t like to talk about the Pedway system, we don’t like to acknowledge that people use it, and we don’t like to think about how to make it a system and get the best out of it,” he said.

Citizens can give their input on the Plus 15 network until the end of the week at the city’s Engage website.