.Wayfinding Finds Its Path Forward

Santa Cruz signage is getting a long-awaited update—seven years in the making, to be precise—and designers are making the most of every sign’s real estate.

In the city’s Wayfinding project, each sign’s front side will direct drivers, pedestrians, and cyclists toward parking and tourist attractions, while the back of each sign will guide them in a more visual way, with selected images of local public art indicating a specific part of town. Spanning from the Westside to the harbor, the signage is designed to provide a unique canvas for attentive viewers to get an experience of the neighborhood they’re approaching.

“We’ve taken pieces of artwork from the Beach Flats, so you see glimpses of it as you’re heading that direction,” says artist Jon Rawls, the local artist tasked with curating the art selection. The same goes for the Westside and downtown.

Wayfinding should help orient drivers toward parking so they can get out and enjoy the walkability of Santa Cruz, says Bonnie Lipscomb, the city’s of economic development director. Once out of their cars, visitors will be able to get information from more detailed kiosk maps to help them navigate between areas like the San Lorenzo Riverwalk, downtown and the wharf.

The $1.4 million effort first began in 2011, but got put on hold by the dissolution of California’s redevelopment agencies at the end of that year. That money thawed four years later in 2015, according to the economic development department’s website.

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The new signs, scheduled to be installed this fall in 175 locations around the city, are supposed to create a cohesive look that’s uniquely Santa Cruz, and Lipscomb says her staff has struck a deal with the public works department to take down more signs than they put up in an effort to reduce visual clutter. It’s been nearly 20 years since city workers installed the old purple-and-teal directional signs.

Lipscomb updated the City Council about Wayfinding at a March 27 meeting alongside consultants from the Pasadena-based Hunt Design group, which is taking the lead on the project.

The consultants, Jen Bressler and Emily Morishita, held two community listening sessions, gathering input on the signs from more than 80 people. And the designers apparently realized that even their own enthusiasm for signs was no match for the passion of the Santa Cruz community. The designers’ original idea was to incorporate the redwoods and waterfront into the design, before they heard the community preferred a more modern, simple look.

On the front of each sign, the designers have settled on the unofficial city colors, blue and yellow, which appear at both UCSC and on the Santa Cruz Warriors’ uniforms. A simple yellow-and-blue “P” sign will direct vehicles toward parking.

Three gateway signs will be placed at the main entrance corridors including the Westside, the wharf, and the intersection of Highway 17 and 1, near Ocean Street. The design proposal to the City Council shows a tall post with the words “Santa Cruz” illuminated in a soft LED lighting at night. Some smaller gateway signs will go on the city’s eastern borders.

Economic Development Coordinator Amanda Rotello says the city may also change the River Street sign away from the unhelpful—perhaps even slightly misleading—“Welcome to River Street: Downtown Santa Cruz.” The new sign may read simply “Welcome to Santa Cruz.”



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