New “Wayfinding” Signs in the City

Renee -- December 9th, 2008

You have probably noticed the new large blue and yellow signs around the City of Harrisonburg. They are part of the “Next Step Downtown” project and were created by NW Sign Industries in Virginia Beach in collaboration with the city’s Department of Public Works and based on conceptual designs by Frazier and Associates of Staunton.

The wayfinding signs prominently point to destinations in the city such as Court Square Theater, the Childen’s Museum, the universities, Heritage Oaks Golf Course, and several other Harrisonburg locations.

The Next Step Downtown project also includes other improvements downtown such as banners, sidewalks, and light poles, and its purpose is to “create a more pedestrian and visitor friendly atmosphere that expresses important elements of Harrisonburg’s unique history and cultural heritage and makes downtown a more desirable destination for local citizens, businesses and visitors.”

David Miller, owner of Midtowne Market and president of the Merchants of Historic Downtown Harrisonburg said, “I believe that the wayfinding signage is an important aspect of further revitalization downtown.  The wayfinding design and build was a multi-year process that incorporated Frazier and Associate professional design assistance with our local needs.  These concerns and needs include parking assistance for tourists/unaccustomed shoppers, branding of Historic Downtown as a whole and the task of bringing people who are visiting to our downtown to support the local businesses that thrive here.”

According to Eddie Bumbaugh, executive director of Harrisonburg Downtown Renaissance, there are about 75 new wayfinding signs in all, and when the new wayfinding signs are all up, most of the existing directional signs will be removed. Gateway signs will be put up at the downtown entrances at Routes 11 & 42 and at the East and West entrances of Route 33. These signs should be up around the end of the year, with parking signs to come next.

Download a PDF page with more sign designs and details.

Check out the cell phone photos of the signs below and share what you think of the signs in the comments!

Court Square sign on 42 N near intersection with 33.

2 signs on 42 N near intersection with 33.

Sign for Heritage Oaks Golf Course and Heritage Center on 33 W near Garber’s Church

Sign on Garber’s Church Rd. near the intersection with 33.

Information Kiosk Downtown

Large Historic Downtown Harrisonburg sign on 81 N.

(If anyone has a chance to take better photographs of any signs, please upload them to Flickr and send the link using the Hburgnews “News Tip” form, and I’ll post them here! Thanks!)

28 Responses to “New “Wayfinding” Signs in the City”

  1. Renee says:

    I personally don’t really like the design of the signs. I think some of the signs are a little too big for where they are placed, and I don’t really like the big yellow part at the top. I think they’d look better with that yellow part cut out so the signs had an “arched” shape. Also, I like the original concept art in the PDF of the information kiosk where the top of the kiosk has the same shape as the top of the courthouse “steeple”. I wonder why they didn’t stick with that?

    Overall, though, I think having more signs pointing downtown is a good thing, especially with the “revitalization” of the area going on. I also like the idea of the information kiosk so someone could stop in one place and see an overview of what downtown has to offer.

    It does make the city seem a little more “touristy” which could be good or bad, but I think the businesses downtown will benefit from the signage, which of course is a good thing.

  2. Emmy says:

    Thanks for following up on this Renee. Personally, I’m not a fan of their appearance at all, the insanely large text being my biggest complaint, but it’s past the point of weighing in on that.

    The one question I do have is why the Kiosk has gone up on the side of the street where the sidewalk renovation has not yet begun. Are we sure it won’t have to be moved during that process?

  3. Emmy says:

    I think I worded that last part wrong. What I meant was why has the kiosk gone up now, even though the sidewalk isn’t finished. Are they sure it won’t have to be moved, and why couldn’t it have waited until after that process?

  4. Renee says:

    Emmy, I was also wondering the same thing, but from the point of view of why not wait until all of the renovations are done before touting the “new” downtown? It seems like they could put up the wayfinding and parking signs and the kiosk as they do the sidewalks, then when it’s all done downtown, put up the signs everywhere else in the city.

    The “phases” of the Renaissance don’t seem to me to be overlapping properly and makes it look kind of strange (like putting a brand new kiosk on an old sidewalk that is supposed to be replaced like you said).

    But I’m happy they’re actually doing something, so I don’t want to complain too much.

  5. Congratulations on getting these installed. I work with cities every day who are looking for ways to direct more traffic to their shopping districts and attractions that aren’t on the main avenues. Signage is always one of my recommendations. Otherwise, people driving through have no idea what may be just a few blocks away.

  6. Gary says:

    I was driving into town last week when I saw the first of these signs and immediately thought “Whoa, what an ugly sign!” Then I saw 4 more as I was continuing down Rt 42. They’re definitely out of proportion with every other sign in town, the colors are ugly, and most of them are hard to read because all the lines kind of run together. I hope they didn’t pay very much for the signs because it looks like they were designed by a high school art class. But in reality, they probably paid half a million dollars for them.

  7. rachel says:

    On the PDF, I think the picture of the kiosk with the “Harrisonburg Directory” was actually taken at Opryland in Nashville… :)

  8. Karl says:

    Glad to see Superman will have a place to change clothes :)

    The size of the signs certainly grabs your attention and I think that’s the point. I also think the yellow at the top is another helpful attention grabber. I have been many places with poor signage that you would have needed to know was there in order to see it. Harrisonburg won’t have that problem.

    Surprised Joe hasn’t been out on 33 West with a hacksaw. That sign only directs people to what he’d like to become a private business and a museum documenting the culture of two of the valley’s most influential religions.

  9. JGFitzgerald says:

    I guess that’s all they could put on the 33W sign. Not like there’s anything beyond there of much consequence.

  10. Del says:

    “But in reality, they probably paid half a million dollars for them.”

    $500,000 according to the DN-R last year.

  11. Del says:

    Which would be half a million, I suppose:)

  12. Del says:

    Checked out the PDF. I’d like to know how much this works out to per sign. Or maybe I don’t want to know.

  13. Brian M says:

    I too am not a big fan of the appearance of these signs. I love the concept and I am pleased that we have finally installed way-finding signs in Harrisonburg. Having lived here all my life I think things are easy to find, but then again I still tell people the County Admin offices are where the old Safeway used to be. (Man, that made me feel old)

    The design is not one that conveys professionalism to me. If I drove into a City and saw these signs, I would probably laugh and shake my head. I have to agree with Gary, but saying they look like they were designed by high school students is rather insulting to the students – don’t you think? =o)

    For the amount spent on these signs, I would have though we could have some custom cut metal signs. That would enhance their appearance tenfold. They are easy to read, but they are almost an eyesore.

    The kiosk is way exciting to me! I understand the confusion of putting up the kiosk prior to the completion of the sidewalk in that area, but wouldn’t citizens complain louder if we bought the kiosk and waited a year to put it up? It can be of use immediately and will benefit Downtown. So we’ll let it stand for a while on an old sidewalk. When they get to that part, I bet people will complain that it’s gone and continue complaining until it returns. I’ll bet a doughnut!

  14. Emmy says:

    Well until the kiosk has something in it, it’s not all that useful ;) I see your point about it sitting around though. Is that the only kiosk that will be put up? I saw the Municipal Lot sign on the PDF, so I’m assuming there will be other signs in downtown itself, is that correct?

  15. JGFitzgerald says:


    Unrelated, sort of, but … someone who’s lived in the ‘Burg forever sent me an email today describing Clementine’s as across from the old Leggett store.

  16. Brian M says:

    Wow, Joe. That has me beat.

    I checked with Miriam Dickler, our City Public Information Officer, on several of the concerns brought forth on this page. As I understand it, it would be best to think of the Wayfinding Signs project and the Downtown project as two independent projects. The Wayfinding Signs are designed to coordinate and match the efforts of the Downtown project, but are not the same thing.

    The Kiosk is the only one planned in the Downtown project. It is too heavy to be placed on brick so it must be placed on a concrete slab. So it actually won’t be moved for any phase of the project. It’s there to stay. That is why it was placed instead of waiting because it won’t change. The signage that will go inside the kiosk will feature a Downtown Map, City History, City events, and City news. The panels were sent to a graphics designer who was nice enough to donate his time. They were just received back and with some luck will be up by Jan 1. If not by then, then very soon.

    The Wayfinding Signs project is estimated at $500,000. There will be around 80 signs overall. If you do the math, then that’s $6,250 per sign. It is misleading, however, because not all the signage will be the same. The “gateways” that will be placed at the borders of the City will be much bigger and have a larger cost. I was unable to get a breakdown for the cost of each sign, but if that’s a huge issue I am sure I can get the information in the future.

    Hope this addresses most of the concerns!

  17. Emmy says:

    So that’s the only Kiosk, but there will be other signs downtown correct? So if you are down by the library and want to know how to get to Klines you’ll be able to get there even if you don’t know where the kiosk is?

  18. Renee says:

    Emmy, I believe there will be more signs downtown. They still have to put up all of the Parking Lot signs, so I’m assuming they probably have more directional signs to install, too.

    Brian M, thanks for the additional info!

    Average of $6,250 per sign is definitely a lot, especially since several of them will be little parking signs. I’m assuming that’s an all-inclusive figure including the design costs and installation costs, because there’s no way that much should’ve been spent on just making the signs themselves. It’s still a lot.

    I saw the designs before the signs went up, and they looked better on paper. I guess I assumed there would be a lot of the smaller “cuter” arched signs, and only a few of the gigantic rectangular signs.

    I kind of wish they had a sample of each made up in full size and shown to the city residents for feedback. What was the process of selecting the chosen design? Was there any public feedback period?

  19. Brian M says:

    I just got off the phone with Eddie Bumbaugh, Executive Director of the Harrisonburg Downtown Renaissance. He is extremely approachable about this and other projects. I encourage interested individuals to give him a call (540-432-8922) with specific questions/concerns.

    Eddie was explaining that the Virginia Department of Transportation has some very specific requirements for signage along primary highways (like Route 42 & 33). They require specific size text based upon the road’s speed. They also require that all signs be mounted on “breakaway” posts. This minimizes the chance of death or major injury if someone was to run off the road and hit the post. I know that this definitely increases the cost significantly.

    There were many many public opportunities for public comment regarding the sign designs. While writing this response, I called Eddie back and asked about public feedback. He said that one of the first meetings were held in 2004. The meeting was largely attended and overall everyone seemed to like the current design. There were also multiple focus groups working on the project. The project was presented, and televised, at several City Council meetings as well. So yeah, the public definitely had their chance to say something.

    I did explain that I felt some of the artistic flair that is seen in the banners Downtown is lost on these signs. It seems that with many things, when conveyed from paper to real life somethings don’t quite work out exactly.

    An update on the Kiosk. Eddie said that he hopes the informational panels will be installed by January 31. The City Council has requested some input on the information conveyed and Council just received the paperwork last night. After the Council provides direction, the Committee will meet and the final product will be produced. There were originally more than 1 Kiosk in the designs, but the others were cut due to cost concerns. It is Eddie’s hope that when the project is nearer to completion, some additional funding will be found that will allow for the installation of 2 additional sign/posting areas. One in each parking deck. That is a dream – not a definite.

    A sample sign was originally asked for during the public comment phase of this program, but it was not available. So the City wanted one, but things happen. They tried.

    Any other questions? =o)

  20. SignGuy says:

    When attempting to assign a dollar value to the signs, remember that the cost includes bonds, permits, engineering, (possibly) taxes, delivery/mobilization and installation.

  21. Renee says:

    Thanks, Brian!

  22. Breslau says:

    I’m just glad to see downtown Harrisonburg get so much attention and additions. The whole thing seems like it’s gaining speed all the time. Go, Downtown Renaissance, go!

  23. Emmy says:

    I figured there was a meeting or two I missed on the appearance of the signs so I feel like I don’t have the right to complain. However, I like them better on paper than in reality.

    I understand that they must be a certain size, but does the text for this type of sign have to be bigger than the signs that tell you how many miles it is to the next town? Because with those signs you are going at least 65 and if you can’t see them, you shouldn’t be driving and these are a LOT bigger on slower speed roads.

    Again, it’s too little too late now, but I’m curious.

  24. Watchman says:

    New signs are really kool…I remember when I first came to Harrisonburg in 1975 there was a sign pointing me to Eastern Mennonite College. It was small but sent me in the right direction. Maybe the large letters are for us older

  25. Brian M says:

    I have to say that the more times I drive by the signs, the more reasonably sized they look. Has anyone else experienced that?

  26. Josh says:

    I’m with you. Sort of reminds me of how ridiculous I thought the S Main/Cantrell big green signs looked at first. Now I appreciate them and wish more cities had signs that were easy to make out.

  27. blondiesez says:

    I gotta say — and I live nearby Route 42 in the city — I’m still struck by how big they seem in relationship to the architecture around them, especially as you draw closer to the city center.

    I often find myself at the intersection of Maryland Avenue and High Street, and I wonder what the old row houses south of the intersection (still residential, mind you) think of those big honkin’ signs right outside their front porch. Of course, because I live in the neighborhood, I still perceive it to be more residential than commercial — though I avoid walking my dogs along South High because the traffic unnnerves them.

    I suppose I wouldn’t be so, um, struck by them if they seemed to have some design reference to what architectural details are ‘Harrisonburgian’. Right now they seem somewhat generic and really, really, really. . . . obvious. But maybe it’s just my lack of urban design sense.

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