Wayfinding signage in Downtown San Jose designed to make the area more engaging for visitors and residents.
A wayfinding sign in Downtown San Jose designed to make the area more engaging for visitors and residents. Photo courtesy of San Jose.

San Jose is revisiting a plan to make the heart of the city more walkable and easy to navigate ahead of two major sports events.

The city is working to replace outdated signs in the downtown area to highlight local landmarks, businesses and public transportation options before Super Bowl 60 and the FIFA World Cup come to the region in 2026. San Jose has $180,000 in state grant funding to improve wayfinding and needs to spend it by the end of the year. As foot traffic returns to downtown post-pandemic and the city looks to become more pedestrian friendly, officials say the economic future of the area warrants revamped signs.

Existing signs are mostly car-oriented, poorly maintained and there are significant gaps in some areas, according to a memo from Economic Development Director Nanci Klein. Those issues make it challenging for people to find their way around downtown.

“Super Bowl and the FIFA (World Cup) are coming, we ought to figure out the time necessary where we would need to do some of the upgrades,” Vice Mayor Rosemary Kamei said at a Community and Economic Development Committee meeting on May 20.

Nathan Donato-Weinstein, the city’s downtown manager, said employees are working on designing and installing new signs oriented for pedestrians and cyclists throughout the city core.

While there’s a possibility for digital signs and advertisements, he confirmed there are no plans for those at this time and said there are several regulatory hurdles that have to be cleared before anything like that could be installed in a public right of way.

“(The city’s downtown navigation program) really focuses on connecting visitors with nearby areas of interest,” he told San José Spotlight. “The project is expected to be completed by the end of 2024 so we’re on a pretty quick timeline to get these signs installed, but it’s on track and we’re really excited about it.”

The city initially launched the navigation program ahead of the 2016 Super Bowl at Levi’s Stadium with about $2 million in funding. But Transportation Deputy Director Jessica Zenk said they only spent $535,000 before shifting priorities during the pandemic, which put the program on the backburner. City employees began revisiting how to resume the program last year. The city manager’s office is also looking at the program for its sports tourism planning.

The 2016 Super Bowl at Levi’s Stadium brought about $240 million of estimated economic impact to the Bay Area, according to a report by research firm Sportsimpacts. But Santa Clara, where the stadium is located, only saw about 7% of that benefit. San Jose was just a bit ahead at 12%, while San Francisco pulled in about 57% of the rewards.

John LaFortune, president and CEO of Team San Jose and a San José Spotlight columnist, said he applauds all efforts by the city to spotlight downtown.

“Highlighting an accessible downtown San Jose through wayfinding will greatly enhance the travel experience for visitors and locals alike,” he told San José Spotlight.

San Jose councilmembers on the Community and Economic Development Committee, including  Omar Torres and Pam Foley, said they agreed there needs to be a better way to explore downtown.

“There’s a lot of downtown partners who might be helpful in this,” Foley said at the meeting. “So I really am excited to see signs that are not from 1990 and that aren’t faded, and that are easy for us to read and more pedestrian friendly than car centric.”

Contact Vicente Vera at [email protected] or follow @VicenteJVera on X, formerly known as Twitter.

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