Seeing Seattle (v): signs you don’t see in Ottawa

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The above signage was painted onto the sidewalk, at an intersection, just as I wondered which way I was to cross the street. Several downtown walking paths were identified. If in Ottawa, they could guide one to Parliament, or the ByWard Market, etc.

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There weren’t very many of these red signs, but where they were they were obvious and useful. Wayfinding is a reasonable municipal expenditure in areas with lots of visitors. Ideally, they would also be found in other neighbourhoods, useful for visitors and locals alike.

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Seattle has a mild climate, and street people naturally gravitate to nice places with nice climates. However, street people were not the omnipresent and aggressive plague they are in Vancouver, BC. Note that this sign does not prohibit overnight sleeping on sidewalks, just interfering with deliveries in the day.

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Another form of directional sign, with useful information on it.  Seattle is very hilly, and can be confusing. For example it was necessary to walk uphill from the downtown shopping area to get to the  harbourfront attractions because of an intervening hill. Signage helps a lot.

You have all heard me complain about the missed opportunities with the Little Italy signs that are very nice but primarily decorative rather than useful. No signs point out the parks, walking paths, cycle paths; or lead users of those paths to the businesses. Missed opportunity.

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Note the walk figure on the street sign.  It indicates that the street is a pedestrian street. Either because it is too steep for motorists and thus closed to vehicles, or because it is a staircase.

Here in Ottawa, there are no street signs where paths cross local streets, since only motorists need to know where they are.

And no one on paths needs a locational reference if calling 9-1-1, etc.

And none of street signs are designed for anyone except motorists, so a sign will say “dead end” or whatever even if it is open to cyclists or pedestrians.

We have a signage system designed for motorists, and ONLY for motorists. Peds and cyclists just go away and shut up.

I really appreciated the simple way pedestrian and cyclist  needs and wants were incorporated into the regular municipal vocabulary of Seattle.


Directional sign to washrooms. Amazing. Americans have to go pee. Canadians apparently don’t, since the WC’s are hidden away or non existent. On the Ottawa Downtown Moves advisory committee, I brought up the idea of signs identifying washroom locations so locals, but primarily tourists, could find a WC.  It went over like a proverbial lump of … lead.

Someday those planners will be over 55 years old, and much more interested in washroom locations. Or maybe they will spend their pension money on diapers. It Depends.

We have all seen the proliferation of signs in parking lots reserving spots first for the handicapped. Then later came ones for Pregnant People.  Then came ones for Parents with Small Child. I saw all these in one parking lot in Seattle. And more:

There is no end of useful categories of people deserving preference. This lot offers spaces for the environmentally noble. Since fuel efficient cars and e-cars are primarily bought by the more affluent (seen the price of a Tesla recently? you could spot one on almost every block in Seattle) these parking spaces also reward the affluent.

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But what if that fuel efficient vehicle was a big one, like a fuel-sipping Lincoln Navigator? Never fear, there was another preference for efficient vehicles that were also Compact:

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the parking lot with the ridiculously extensive list of priority spaces also had a bike rack near the front door. Whew.

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Some of the Ottawa Hydro access-hole covers are really very attractive. I saw many different designs in Seattle for the electric utility:



Don’t you just delight in the image and the reminder that electrification is progress, is good, not something we need to hide from or assuage our guilt by turning off our lights on certain nights.



A few years back I was on the advisory committee for the Preston Street streetscaping. I suggested they get a donation of some access hole lids from Rome, Italy, it being somewhat related to Italian culture, etc and their lids have the fabulous SPQR written on them. They would be noticed mostly during Italian Week when the street is closed.

That suggestion was as popular as the WC signs. Two thumbs down. Feed him to the lions.