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December 11, 2012

Berkley hopes to improve accessibility with wayfinding study

By Jeremy Selweski
C & G Staff Writer

BERKLEY — City officials will be conducting a study throughout the next few months intended to more clearly direct people to some of Berkley’s key destinations and public parking areas.

At its Dec. 3 meeting, the City Council unanimously approved a contract with LSL Planning to provide professional services to prepare a wayfinding system for the Berkley Downtown Development Authority. The agreement is in the amount of $17,675, plus reimbursable expenses.

According to Brad Strader, president and managing partner of LSL Planning, the study is expected to take about four months to complete. At that point, Berkley officials will purchase new street signs and install them at strategic points throughout the city.

The purpose of the study is to establish a system that identifies public parking lots and important public facilities, such as City Hall, the Public Safety Department, the Community Center and the Public Library. It will also designate major entrance points into the city for motorists, bicyclists and pedestrians. The overall intent of the program is to strengthen recognition of the downtown area and support the wayfinding needs of visitors to downtown Berkley.

As Strader told the council, “When we did the parking study for the DDA, one of the things we found was that there was generally parking available within the (downtown) district, but people didn’t always know how to find it. Some of the public parking is not very clear, and with some of the signs that have penalties and threats of towing, people are uncomfortable (parking there). If they come to Berkley once and get towed or ticketed or get a sticker on their window, they may not come back.”

In response to these concerns, LSL Planning recommended that the DDA consider looking into a wayfinding system similar to those in downtown Royal Oak, Ferndale and Birmingham. The next step will be for city officials to help the firm identify which Berkley locations are “key destinations” that should be marked with clear signage.

“We’re looking at kind of a layered system … and bringing some conformity and consistency to all the signs, and then helping people find parking and so forth,” Strader said. “And then (we’re also) looking at cleaning up some of the signage by … just having simpler signs and fewer signs, so that there’s not such a hodge-podge.”

City Manager Jane Bais-DiSessa advised the council that, while money is still tight for the city, there are sufficient funds available to cover the cost of the study. She noted that she will be working with LSL planners on the project, along with city planner Amy Vansen and Public Works Director Derrick Schueller.

Councilman Steve Baker pointed out that the city’s master plan calls for wayfinding initiatives, “so if we choose to proceed with this, it would be a significant step forward in realizing one of those objectives, as well. … I think that the opportunity to help provide guidance above and beyond just the downtown area to highlight some of the key facilities and destination spots across our community is instrumental, not only for visitors who are visiting the community for the first time, but also for those who are looking for a little bit of extra information on a place that they have yet to experience.”

Councilwoman Lisa Platt Auensen said that some of her friends from outside of Berkley came into town Dec. 1 for the city’s annual Holiday Lights Parade and Tree Lighting Ceremony. Unfortunately, once they arrived, they had a difficult time finding a place to park.

“They said to me, ‘You know, you guys really need more public parking.’ And I said, ‘I bet you just couldn’t find it.’ … And so I (told them where it was) and they said, ‘Oh I don’t know where that is; I don’t know how to get to it,’” she said.

Platt Auensen stressed the important role that a strong wayfinding system plays in establishing a “sense of place” within a community. Even something simple, like clear signage, can make a big difference, she contended.

“It seems odd that something like a sign would be that big of a deal … but it’s the small things, the small experiences, that really add up. It sounds like it’s just a sign, but really it’s a communication plan and a promotion plan and all the little things that go into making an experience with Berkley that much more pleasant.”

Mayor Phil O’Dwyer acknowledged the “enthusiastic level of support” for the project among the entire council. He was especially encouraged by the fact that Berkley has worked with Strader and LSL Planning in the past and has always had a positive experience with the company.

“I agree that this (wayfinding system) will make a big difference for the business community, as well as for residents and visitors as they move through the city,” he said. “They will have a sense of direction where they can find things more easily. And I like the idea of keeping things uniform. Once you get signage that’s uniform, it helps the eye to zero in quickly on where you need to go. So I’m very pleased that we are undertaking this task.”

You can reach C & G Staff Writer Jeremy Selweski at jSelweski@candgnews.com or at (586)218-5004.