Walk (and bike) Your City – Ottawa edition

Thanks to a not-so-micro grant from Awesome Ottawa, I was able to order a heap of signs from Walk [Your City]. (The lone project I’ve ever backed with Kickstarter!)

If you haven’t seen these signs online, it’s a guerilla wayfinding system for walking and biking that measures distance to places in time rather than highway mileage (or errr… kilometerage). Obviously, measuring in time units isn’t a perfect science as some will be speedier pedestrians or cyclists than others. But the purpose is to start thinking about directing people around a place using peoplepowered-units rather than vehicle-units.

Walk [Your City] offers colour-coded signs for institutions, commercial districts, public spaces and amuseument, but I stuck with the blue version to blend in with Ottawa’s official colours.


With a rogue nameless sign-stealer running amok in Ottawa, I didn’t want him or well-meaning city-folk removing them, so I avoided placing signs in certain areas. For example, not on (or near) a stop sign, not blocking any sightlines, and not on private property (even if they have a city sign post in their yard). I wanted to make sure the investment in signs had as long a lifespan as possible.

On Sunday, I packed up my camera equipement, signs and zip ties and headed off! See if you can spot them around Hintonburg and Centretown.


There are interesting things in Ottawa, but sometimes it’s hard to find them. For example, maybe you wouldn’t think that on the other side of this dirt path and row of dumpsters is one of Ottawa’s most popular bakeries (there’s now an art gallery and soon a micro-brewery). I’m hopeful that the property owner will throw down a bit of asphalt to make it a bit more welcoming.

(Tuesday update:  Well, less than two days later, the croissant sign has been removed.  Clearly by someone who hates croissants.)


The pathways in Ottawa are one of the most popular places to walk and bike (just look at these statistics for biking), but there are almost no directions to get you from the pathway to nearby destinations.  The pathways were originally designed for recreation, but they’ve become the defacto spine network for traffic separated active-transportation across Ottawa. Lots of people use these pathways, especially familities cycling with children who aren’t old enough to “appreciate” sharrows. (Ah, sharrows!)

Given their popularity by locals (and being a top tourist activity flaunted in most of Ottawa’s official tourism promotional materials), you’d expect to find a little more information about nearby amenities than simply how many kilometres it is to Parliament Hill. Why? Because, you can’t get a croissant on Parliament Hill.

So, I made a little video about the signs.

Midway through the morning, I was feeling peckish and decided to take the most direct route back to Centretown using Wellington St. West. It was Sunday and there wasn’t much traffic – otherwise, I would normally take the sidestreets. But I’m glad that I did follow the worn out sharrows because Bread By Us was open! So I did a U-turn and parked outside their door.



My hybrid croissant-cinnamon roll and coffee was just what I needed to finish up the sign task. I sat at this awkward bench to enjoy the first warm Sunday of spring. (Seriously, what an awkward bench. Mounted on a concrete platform so that your feet dangle off the edge.  It could use a bit of a sweep too.  Oh, and maybe some tables for maximum croissant-in-the-sun enjoyment!)


When I’m in charge of signage, you’ll always know where to get pastries.


The time consuming part of the project was documenting it all with photos and video. Not being much of an on-camera person, there were a lot of retakes. Hence, the blooper reel:

If you take part in the upcoming Janes Walk weekend (http://www.janeswalkottawa.ca) you may get to see some of these signs up close.

If you like what you see, why not ask your local BIA or city councillor about adding more people-centred directions to your area of town. Because there’s more to see in Ottawa than just Parliament Hill.

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