Business Government

West Hartford ‘Wayfinding’ Plan Nearing Final Stages

West Hartford Town Hall. Photo credit Ronni Newton

West Hartford Economic Development Coordinator Kristen Gorski provided an update Tuesday to the Town Council’s Community Planning and Economic Development Committee.

Wayfinding and signage system recommended by MERJE. Screenshot from Town of West Hartford website

By Ronni Newton

The final steps in implementing West Hartford’s wayfinding project – which was launched in late 2022 – are set to move forward and Economic Development Coordinator Kristen Gorski told the Town Council’s Community Planning and Economic Development (CPED) Committee that fabrication and installation of the first phase of signage could begin by the end of 2024 or early 2025.

Following an RFP process in 2022, the town hired Pennsylvania-based MERJE to help develop a consistent approach throughout West Hartford to wayfinding – to help people not only find their destination and a place to park easily and efficiently, but also encourage them to stay and enjoy West Hartford’s attractions and community assets while reinforcing the town’s identity.

The town has allocated $500,000 in American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds for the project, which is intended to include the consulting and outreach, as well as the program design and development, fabrication, and installation of signage and other markers. Gorski said Tuesday that roughly $400,000 of those funds remain to be used for the project.

Roughly a year ago, MERJE gave a presentation to CPED, focusing on the signage consistent with the town’s most recently blue and yellow logo and branding that appears on the sign in front of Town Hall. The design, which CPED supported, had been chosen with the input of a steering committee that includes members from the town’s various business districts, the Chamber of Commerce, arts and culture organizations, and town staff, as well as Town Historian Tracey Wilson. The town’s Design Review Advisory Committee (DRAC) also weighed in.

Since then, Gorski said Tuesday, MERJE has been working on a finalizing a Design-Development package for gateways, kiosks, directories, and other signage.

Wayfinding and signage system recommended by MERJE. Screenshot from Town of West Hartford website

Wayfinding and signage system recommended by MERJE. Screenshot from Town of West Hartford website

The Connecticut Department of Transportation (CT DOT) has also been involved because some of the proposed new signage is on state roads, and CT DOT gave the okay last week to move forward to the next step in the process, which is submission of an “Encroachment Permit Application,” Gorski said.

Specific and consistent types of signs will be used for specific purposes, such as vehicular directions, parking identification and direction, and pedestrian direction. Some of the kiosks in the more “walkable districts” will be four-sided, Gorski said, and will provide the opportunity for interpretive signage to be incorporated and will also be able to be easily updated.

While the signage will not provide direction to individual private businesses, it will direct residents and visitors to “landmarks, facilities, activity centers, and services.” That includes “restaurant and retail clusters” as well as arts and cultural organizations and facilities, historic sites, parks and hiking trails, religious institutions, and municipal facilities. Private property owners who want to add their own signs will be able to use the same branding.

Gorski said the plan include a total of 175 signs – 20 gateway signs, 28 parking signs, 35 pedestrian signs, and 92 vehicular signs.

Access to the Farmington Avenue parking lot from LaSalle Road is not currently marked. Photo credit: Ronni Newton (we-ha.com file photo)

Parking signs “in general are inconsistent or non-existent,” Gorski said. The wayfinding project is being conducted at the same time as the West Hartford Infrastructure Master Plan, and MERJE is working in tandem with Stantec, the consultant for that project. The availability and accessibility of parking has been a major factor in the West Hartford Infrastructure Master Plan discussions.

The next steps with the wayfinding project, Gorski said, include a final review by DRAC this summer, and final stakeholder outreach to organizations that will be listed on the signage, such as cultural organizations, to ensure wording follows best practices and regulations.

MERJE will be providing a final cost estimate, Gorski said, and will also include a phasing plan that will ensure the installation of signage is coordinated with projects such as infrastructure updates in the Center and along the New Park Avenue corridor – the latter of which CPED was told on Tuesday should be underway next summer. Signs won’t be installed only to have to be moved, she said.

Gorski said she is hoping that the bid process for the hiring of a contractor of the fabrication, installation, and maintenance phase will get underway toward the end of the summer, with the work beginning by the end of this year or early in 2025. The Engineering Department will likely take over once the project hits that phase, Gorski said, and Jim Brennan, assistant town engineer, has already been involved in the project.

Wayfinding and signage system recommended by MERJE. Screenshot from Town of West Hartford website

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