• Entrance to the PATH system outside Toronto's City Hall

    An entrance to Toronto's PATH system, a network of pedestrian walkways and retail outlets that lies beneath the city's downtown core. (Photo: Andrevruas/Wikimedia Commons)

Getting lost in the PATH, the vast and maze-like pedestrian concourse that lies beneath Toronto's downtown core, is practically a rite of passage for visitors and residents alike, but that could soon change. 

On the heels of a survey conducted in February in which more than 80 per cent of respondents said the PATH's current navigation system is confusing and outdated, the Toronto Financial District has redesigned the map of Toronto's 'Underground City' in a bid to make it more user-friendly. That's no small task when you consider the PATH consists of more than 30 kilometres of walkways, the layout of which bears little resemblance to the city above. 

"If you think about downtown Toronto, it’s more or less on a grid, but the PATH is much more organic in nature," says Evan Weinberg, policy and advocacy manager with the Toronto Financial District Business Improvement Area, which represents the businesses of the downtown core, including the more than 1,200 retail outlets found in the PATH. "In coming up with the new design, we really considered the PATH's relationship with the city around it ... and tried to create some visual cues to help people orient themselves."

For comparison purposes, here is the current map of the PATH (left) side-by-side with the proposed new design (right). A larger version of the proposed design can be viewed here.

The current and proposed PATH maps side by side

The new design, which is based on user feedback, includes graphic representations of major points of interest like the CN Tower and City Hall, as well as clearer labeling of transit hubs and neighbourhoods. The map is also drawn to scale and the PATH is shown in context with the the rest of the downtown core. Differently-coloured lines denote whether a section of the PATH connects to another or results in a dead end. Overhead signage within the PATH system will point the way to key landmarks and indicate how much time it will take to reach them on foot. 

And, if you noticed that something rather important seems to be missing, Weinberg says the final map will include a legend, but that there's a good reason it was left off for now. 

"Right now we're testing the concepts, to see if it's readable without a detailed legend," he explains. "At the end of the day, the design has to be balanced with the function, and it’s really important for us that whatever we develop is intuitive for the users."

The public is invited to comment on the design until October 14. New PATH maps and signage are expected to roll out in early 2018.