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West Hartford ‘Wayfinding’ Project Moving Forward

Access to the Farmington Avenue parking lot from LaSalle Road is not currently marked. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

The consultant hired by the Town of West Hartford to establish a holistic and consistent plan for public signage throughout town presented an update on their work to the Community Planning and Economic Development Committee.

Style that the wayfinding steering committee favored, which will be used in next steps of the project. Screenshot from MERJE presentation to West Hartford Town Council CPED meeting, June 21, 2023

By Ronni Newton

West Hartford’s wayfinding project – which was launched in late 2022 – is heading to the next phase following a presentation by the consultant to the Town Council’s Community Planning and Economic Development (CPED) Committee last week.

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 easily and efficiently, but also encourage them to stay and enjoy West Hartford’s attractions and community assets. The project, which has an estimated price tag of $500,000 for the consulting and outreach, as well as the program design and development, fabrication, and installation of signage and other markers, is being paid for by American Rescue Plan Act funds.

Glen Swantak, a principal with MERJE who presented the results of the company’s analysis and some schematic design options to CPED, noted that his team is also collaborating and coordinating with Stantec, the consultant the town engaged for the West Hartford Center Infrastructure Master Plan project.

Screenshot from MERJE presentation to West Hartford Town Council CPED meeting, June 21, 2023

MERJE has already done an online survey and hosted discussions with stakeholders who are part of a steering committee drawn from the town’s business, nonprofit, and arts and culture communities in the various neighborhoods, as well as town staff, Swantak said. They have also looked at existing signage throughout West Hartford – including the relatively new sign at Town Hall with the blue logo with yellow accents – and have outlined the combination of branding currently in use with recommendations for how to maintain existing elements but in a more coordinated approach. They are also taking into account the town’s history, and looking at branding of surrounding communities to ensure that West Hartford’s design will be distinctive.

Swantak noted that the project addresses not just wayfinding for motorists or pedestrians who are currently in West Hartford, but also includes technology so that people will be able to in advance find places to park, or plan their visit to include certain attractions.

Town districts and parking

West Hartford Center currently has an orientation map, and there’s a separate map of Blue Back Square – with inconsistent style, and no indication of landmarks or other points of interest including the murals and public art.

West Hartford Center map (left) and Blue Back Square map. Screenshot from MERJE presentation to West Hartford Town Council CPED meeting, June 21, 2023

Trail signs and park signs are good, Swantak said. Parking signs, however, are inconsistent.

Variety of parking signs currently in use in West Hartford. Screenshot from MERJE presentation to West Hartford Town Council CPED meeting, June 21, 2023

There are many ways to cross into West Hartford. “You’ve got a lot, got over 20 entry points,” Swantak said. While they aren’t recommending a formal gateway at each point, the goal will be to bring some consistency, perhaps with a header above the signs.

Screenshot from MERJE presentation to West Hartford Town Council CPED meeting, June 21, 2023

The town has various business districts, none of which are connected other than Blue Back Square and the Center, Swantak said. Because there are “fuzzy boundaries,” he said color coding doesn’t make sense.

There was only one suggestion made by MERJE that any of the CPED members took issue with.

Stantak said there has been discussion about how to refer to West Hartford’s central business district on signage – whether it should be called “Town Center” – which he said was favored by 50% of the survey respondents – or whether or not the separate names for “West Hartford Center” and “Blue Back Square” should be maintained.

“What we’re proposing … is that whole area could be considered town center,” Swantak suggested, for the purposes of directing people when they are getting off the highway, but adding that it is still something they are working through.

Committee member Ben Wenograd asked if the term was being used as just a generic term, or was intended as a suggested name change. “That seems to me to be a relabeling. … That seems new to me and a little jarring,” he said.

Economic Development Coordinator Kristen Gorski, who is the town’s lead on the project, said they are “still trying to figure out what the best terminology, best branding is.” She noted that those who are local understand the different between the Center and Blue Back, but visitors from out of town don’t and they are looking to keep the two distinct while creating a unified brand. She said businesses in West Hartford frequently use the term “town center.”

Town Manager Rick Ledwith told We-Ha.com on Tuesday that there are absolutely no plans to re-label the town. He said that the names West Hartford Center and Blue Back Square will not be changed.

Screenshot from MERJE presentation to West Hartford Town Council CPED meeting, June 21, 2023

Appearance and location of signage

MERJE’s presentation also included looking at destinations and how best to direct people. One type of signage will be used to direct motorists – with font size dictated by Department of Transportation standards – while kiosks for pedestrians have smaller font, and will be a standard height. All will comply with ADA recommendations and consistent terminologies and abbreviations will be used.

It appears there is a “parking heavy system within town center,” Swantak said, and that will dictate where destinations kiosks should be located.

“The pedestrian signs can also be located at points of exits from the parking,” he said. “This is something that is going to be very important to coordinate with Stantec.”

For pedestrian kiosks, Swantak is recommending four-sided totems.

Screenshot from MERJE presentation to West Hartford Town Council CPED meeting, June 21, 2023

The location of parking is not always obvious, with much of it hidden behind storefronts, and Swantak said the style of the signage that does exist is inconsistent. They will be recommending a style that can be used to identify parking throughout town. “When we look at it … we want to either do something that’s enhanced or either custom to West Hartford.”

They are also looking at signage for the new proposed circulation plan being recommended by Stantec – which would open up what Director of Community Development Duane Martin calls the “Memorial Road Connector” to provide access between LaSalle Road and South Main Street and to the Town Center garage.

Separate from the wayfinding presentation, but later during the same CPED meeting, Martin said that negotiations are underway for easements with the owners of the three properties owners that need to agree to open up the Memorial Road Connector to vehicle traffic. There is strong interest in doing a trial, with removing the existing bollards to provide one-way access eastbound in the narrow area just south of Bricco that runs between LaSalle and the Town Center  garage, and two-way traffic between the garage and South Main Street.

One of the recommendations of the West Hartford Center Infrastructure Master Plan is piloting opening of the Memorial Road extension. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

Regarding the town’s parks and trails, and the multimodal connections between them, we “want to make sure we have those wayfinding tools in place to make those connections,” Swantak said. Trailhead identification is also important.

Swantak emphasized that the existing gateway signs and the Town Hall signs are not going away, and want to coordinate with Stantec, with art and history, with brick. “Those hardscaping elements … how are those going to be incorporated and where should they be incorporated into the design.”

Swantak said it was the opinion of the steering committee that “Option 1,” which he shared with CPED, was preferred. That option incorporates various existing elements – including brick, the finials from the poles in the Center, a hint of yellow as exists in the town’s logo.

Screenshot from MERJE presentation to West Hartford Town Council CPED meeting, June 21, 2023

Screenshot from MERJE presentation to West Hartford Town Council CPED meeting, June 21, 2023

There will be flags on the poles, an “i” on information panels, and a “P” identifying parking lot entrances.

Also part of the wayfinding project will be looking at the bicycle directional system, “maybe enhance it by adding destination signs that tell people while they are that bike route that there’s a destination …” Swantak said.

Swantak said the next steps – which should be completed by September – will be proposing plans for sign locations, more specific designs, and preliminary budgets. CTDOT will review the submission, and that should be complete by September or October. Documentation will be wrapped up by the end of the year so it can go out to bid and an implementation and installation schedule can be established for 2024.

CPED members gave the go-ahead to move forward with the next steps in the design, although Wenograd stressed that “Town Center” should not be re-labeled.

Screenshot from MERJE presentation to West Hartford Town Council CPED meeting, June 21, 2023

 

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