Sydney's pioneering system of accessible pedestrian signs (Australia)

By News Editor / Updated: 25 May 2015
With its warm climate, dense and compact make-up and relatively level terrain, Sydney is a walker’s paradise. The city also has pedestrian sign system that helps residents and tourists get around, including those with visual impairments and reduced mobility.
However, Sydney wants to get more people walking. A recent study said that to encourage more pedestrian travel, the city needs to improve its ‘wayfinding’ infrastructure. Today, Sydney is piloting a new network of signs and is on course to create the world’s most extensive and accessible wayfinding system.
In Sydney’s Local Government Area, an area of 26km2, 28 per cent of all residents walk to work. Walking accounts for over 92 per cent of all trips in the city centre. In Sydney’s Long Term Transport Master Plan, walking is highlighted as a critical mode of transport.
The Legible Sydney Wayfinding Strategy Report, commissioned by the city, says that in order to encourage more walking, Sydney needs to review and improve its pedestrian wayfinding strategy. However, an evaluation of Sydney’s wayfinding conditions revealed there are obstacles to overcome. The lack of co-ordination between different wayfinding systems, outdated information, and the accessibility of wayfinding systems for people with limited abilities were all points that needed to be addressed.
The new strategy was adopted in December 2012. In October 2014, the city launched a pilot project to test the new signs and infrastructure created as a result of the strategy.
In action 
The new wayfinding system is based on four guiding principles: consistency; accessibility; sustainability; and city legibility. With these strategic elements the following distinct signs were designed:
  • Pylons provide a map of information including phone numbers and websites as well as Braille/tactile contact number and location reference.
  • Flagsigns reassure routes with place references and directions similar/same as displayed on pylons. Posted secondary to pylons and where pylons are not suitable.
  • Fingersigns apply where legibility from a longer distance is required, and where there are few routes departing from decision points.
Tactile indicators
  • Signs placed adjacent to pedestrian-crossing push -buttons that allow touch-reading by people who are blind or reading at close range by people with visual impairments.
  • Installed to freestanding and wall-mounted pylons. Also displayed individually to transport hub entries/exits to transport hubs, significant destinations, transport structures such as bus stops, phone booths, tourist information bureaus and kiosks.
Destination markers
  • Signal arrival at a destination such as a significant park, civic building or place. Features the name of the destination and relevant interchangeable information.
Interpretation markers
  • Identify a site, a place or a journey. Can be stand-alone marker or in proximity with pylon. Graphics feature on both sides.
The signs use consistent colours and graphics to make them easily identifiable. The inclusion of the City of Sydney logo is a constant assurance of the systems quality, management and ownership, and the typography is specially designed to be read by visually impaired users.
Information is logically structured to be understood quickly and easily, while universal symbols and internationally recognised pictograms will help non-English-speaking visitors. Sustainability also plays a role; the signs are designed to be easily maintained to maximise their lifespan. All signage has a modular design: smaller components can be easily updated without replacing a complete sign.
In October 2014 Sydney launched a pilot project with prototypes of the signs installed in specially chosen locations. This process also involved removing the old signs to de-clutter the environment. The city is waiting on the results of the pilot before rolling out the system in other areas. Early feedback is very positive. Once the results are conclusive and the design specification finalised, the project will be ready for full implementation, involving the installation of approximately 2 200 signs.
Sydney reserved a budget of 8m AUD (€ 5.68m) and set itself a limit of 10 years to complete the project. Sydney’s Lord Mayor, Clover Moore, believes that the wayfinding system will help to make the city easier to navigate. ‘We want walking to be a positive experience for the entire community,’ she said. ‘Wayfinding is a critical step in our plan to create a city where walking is easy and convenient for everyone.
‘This infrastructure will deliver major economic, environmental and health benefits. It will help local businesses by increasing pedestrian traffic, boost people’s health and wellbeing, and ease traffic congestion by encouraging more people to walk.’
Sydney expects to implement the wayfinding system in the city centre in 2015 - a complex stage of the project rollout as this area has a dense concentration of destinations. 
Challenges, opportunities and transferability 
The new system is simple, functional and cost-effective. As such, it is easily adapted by other councils and local governments worldwide. Consistency in placement and messaging is the key for success – a conclusion reached by Sydney following consultations with blindness charities Vision Australia and Guide Dogs NSW. There is little use of tactile and Braille signage which cannot be found due to unpredictable placement.

As the City of Sydney is a local government, it does not have the capacity to extend this project beyond its land boundaries. Therefore, creating a wayfinding system which is coherent in a larger district can be a challenge. Due to strong support from users of the system and the Human Rights Commission it is anticipated that other cities in Australia and worldwide will adopt similar systems as well.
The Legible Sydney Wayfinding Strategy and Design Manual are available to be used by other councils. They can be downloaded below.
Walking and cycling
Ruth Leiminer
Daan Kuiper
16 Jan 2015
25 May 2015