Curating Waterloo: Wayfinding for regional trail systems

The Netherlands is internationally known for its highly comprehensive cycling path system. Fortunately for visitors, it is very accessible because of its equally extensive wayfinding and signage systems. Tourists can access large and small towns, picturesque landscapes, and little-known ancient landmarks easily on trails. This encourages experiential learning about Dutch geography, society, and history.

Every junction is numbered, has a route map, and has a sign indicating direction of landmarks or settlements near to that point as well as directions to other numbered junctions. This numbering system allows visitors to easily spot locations of interest on the map and navigate to them. Along the trail are signs that indicate scenes that were the subjects of famous Dutch Landscapes, with some descriptive elements and a photo of the painting.

The ease of navigating through the system encourages exploration by reducing the risk of getting lost. It is up to the visitor to take what they want from experience. A self-directed meandering path through an environment can give a visitor andappreciation for the geography, history, and ecology of the country open to their own interpretation.

Cities and regions with walking and cycling trails should create integrated wayfinding systems that reduce the amount of uncertainty for those unfamiliar with the terrain. Enriching a regional trail system with appropriate signage creates a frame of security for meaningful exploration and learning in urban and rural space, thereby making the entire region an accessible experience. This could be a junction-based navigation system with information on distance and travel time available to visitors and locals who can easily plan their adventures.

Wayfinding should include reference to attractions of all types. The visitor should be able to see and get a feel for both the exciting and mundane parts of a region. They should be able to construct and enrich their own knowledge. That being said, it can be useful to actively inform visitors about a specific element of a region. This kind of system would work in Waterloo Region to make an attraction out of the everyday aspects of rural and urban life.

The bike rides to St. Jacobs or Kitchener or Stratford are all very possible. There are some amazing rides even around the university. But it is not really an option aside from the most daring of cyclists. Such a system would open up this region to exploration with confidence by all. We can showcase the region and help people get a better, on-the-ground appreciation for this place through simple informational tweaks like this one.