Think about the last time you were on a college campus or trying to find your way around a massive hospital complex. How dizzying it can be to navigate an airport or even a busy intersection.
It’s this communal experience of needing to know how to get where you’re going that has prompted the city to research how people get around Casper and the surrounding area.
Consultants presented a new wayfinding strategy to Casper City Council during a work session Tuesday night, with recommendations that the city install new wayfinding signage to help residents and visitors alike navigate the area.
The plan was paid for through the Casper Area Metropolitan Planning Organization, a federally-funded urban-planning entity that oversees U.S. Department of Transportation dollars being distributed throughout the county.
While the wayfinding plan is paid for with federal dollars, with a rough price tag of $100,000, purchasing the signs and installing them will fall to the various jurisdictions involved. The estimated cost for total implementation would be between $1.5 and $2 million.
But why is wayfinding important enough to shell out that kind of money? Experts say good wayfinding doesn’t just get people to where they need to be faster, it also enhances their overall experience of a place — definitely a positive for a community in which tourism is a significant economic driver.
One trade publication says “an effective wayfinding system is based on human behavior,” how we use landmarks as visual clues and need to be able to orient ourselves within a given environment. Another publication argues wayfinding is “among the most common, real-world domains of both individual and group-level decision making,” an interesting way to think about something we all do every day.
The planning organization has been working with Des Moines, Iowa-based RDG Planning and Design to complete the plan.
Ryan Peterson, a partner with RDG, gave the council a tentative idea of what the signage may look like during a meeting in the fall and returned Tuesday to share final details with the council.
The idea is that the signs will clearly guide visitors around the area, while giving residents a sense of place. The consultants are recommending about 200-210 signs be installed throughout the county, guiding people toward key points in and around the region. Those points include historic places, recreational options and community gateways.
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To determine where the signs should go, RDG sought community feedback throughout the planning process and identified the most-visited landmarks and destinations.
The top four results, in order, were Casper Mountain, downtown Casper, Alcova and David Street Station, with a litany of other suggestions also presented.
As far as which of the area’s assets should be at the forefront of the imaging, the public said the area’s natural resources were most important.
The imagery on the signs will reflect that feedback, should the various jurisdictions choose to pay for the project.
Casper’s signs would show the cityscape, as it does currently, with iconic landmarks in a row. Mills will be represented by a soaring eagle, Bar Nunn by an antelope. There will be signs for Evansville, Alcova and the mountain, and each were decided upon based on community input.
While the signs will represent their various communities, there should still be an overall regional cohesion, Peterson said.
“Each community is unique in its own way and should have the ability to celebrate that uniqueness” he said. “But we also want them to tie together with some common themes.”
The project’s implementation would align with the city’s long-term goals, laid out in a variety of master plans. Based on goals City Council set for itself at the start of last year, council hopes to see 75 percent of the gateway signage installed this fiscal year.
It’s still unclear where the $1.5 to $2 million will come from. Once RDG has finalized the plan, they will recommend funding models to the city. Until hearing those recommendations, City Manager Carter Napier said he can’t say how the city will budget the project.
The city wouldn’t bear the whole cost, but it would pay a proportionate share with the other towns and the county, if those governing bodies approve it.
Peterson did reference grant opportunities during his presentation to council Tuesday, also saying the cost is a decadeslong investment.
“This is a 20-25 year project,” he said. “We want to make sure you’re proud of what you look at everyday.”
Follow local government reporter Morgan Hughes on Twitter @morganhwrites