WEST HARTFORD — A design company that has handled projects in New Orleans, Austin, Texas, and other major cities across the country is behind the town’s wayfinding signage project.
MERJE, which the town selected through a competitive process, has also worked on wayfinding projects in New Haven and smaller communities closer to West Hartford’s size.
Town Manager Rick Ledwith said the plan intends “to assist us with our wayfinding efforts, of course with our goal to better assist visitors and residents to move around town and encourage them to stay and enjoy all that West Hartford offers today, including shopping and dining, historic sites, parks and trails.”
Glen Swantak, the design principal for MERJE, said these projects are about much more than just physical signs.
“When you think of wayfinding, sometimes you think it’s just all about the signage,” Swantak told the town’s Community Planning and Economic Development committee on Wednesday. “That’s really not what it is. It’s a holistic approach that we look at. Before you get to West Hartford, you’re getting on your computer, you’re looking at where you’re going to go. When you arrive, you’re using place technology like your GPS or mobile apps. The environment plays a huge role in wayfinding — how you get around, whether they’re landmarks or districts or destinations or architecture.”
MERJE is in the first phase of its plan with West Hartford and has so far held stakeholder meetings, toured the town and issues surveys to better focus their plan.
A survey they sent to residents and other stakeholders in December received nearly 400 responses, with 92 percent of them being from West Hartford residents.
Swantak shared what he considered some of the more interesting results from the survey with the committee during his presentation — one of which was whether or not respondents considered Blue Back Square and West Hartford Center to be the same or separate districts. Responses were nearly even, with 51 percent of survey takers saying they include Blue Back Square as part of West Hartford Center.
“That’s something that I think is going to be one of the big questions that we have as we do this program,” Swantak said. “Do we direct to both of those things are separate districts, or is it all considered West Hartford Center?”
Somewhat unique to West Hartford, Swantak said, was the fact that when respondents were asked how far they’d be willing to walk to destinations that 49 percent said they’d be willing to walk more than 10 minutes. Typically, Swantak said, these surveys indicate a majority of people would be willing to walk up to 10 minutes.
Swantak also noted that some respondents said that parking in West Hartford Center can be difficult to find, possibly an indication that signage needs to be updated to better guide cars to lots hidden by buildings. A recent study by Stantec, who the town hired to work on the West Hartford Center Infrastructure Master Plan, showed there are over 5,000 parking spaces in the center and Blue Back Square combined.
“Parking is definitely an issue,” Swantak said. “With parking garages that aren’t always open, or parking lots that are behind businesses, that’s something we’re going to have to resolve and look at.”
Once completed, the wayfinding signage will attempt to connect West Hartford’s various shopping and dining districts — like the center, Blue Back Square, Elmwood and Park Road — as well as the town’s landmark locations, parks, trails and other places of note.
Kristen Gorski, the town’s economic development coordinator, said MERJE is also having conversations with other town consultants like Stantec.
“I have been working directly with Stantec…to communicate in terms of where we are with wayfinding signage, and vice versa,” Gorski said. “We have connected the consultants to have conversations as we get a little bit further into both projects. We intend to bring in other stakeholder groups. It was really important for us to bring this overview to the council at this early stage before moving forward and meeting with large stakeholder groups.”