New website lets you navigate the PATH on your phone

TORONTO — Many who venture into Toronto’s PATH walkway get lost in the labyrinth of underground tunnels. But a new website wants to help people navigate the largest subterranean shopping mall in the world.

“I’ve personally experienced the frustration of getting lost in the PATH,” says Eric Rotberg, the 38-year-old inventor who took it upon himself to develop the mobile site, Pathmap.ca. “Once you’ve found your current location and selected your destination, the site calculates the shortest, quickest route to get you there.”

About 200,000 people use the 30-kilometre-long network every day. While many locals use it to get to and from work daily, occasional users and visitors to the city can have a difficult time finding their way through the maze of tunnels that connect 50 buildings and 1,200 shops.

“[The PATH] is a tourist trap in the literal sense. Anybody that comes down there for the first time is bound to get lost,” says Richard Joy, executive director of Toronto’s Urban Land Institute.

It often takes some trial and error to find your way on the PATH, Joy says. “When you’re aboveground, you can always find the CN Tower and get your bearings. But belowground, I don’t think that’s something that can be vastly improved.”

A 2016 report by N. Barry Lyon Consultants suggests that the PATH is underused because of unclear signage. It also said that there’s a lack of confidence for anyone who’s not already familiar with the walkway in finding their way around.

New signs and maps are being rolled out for the PATH, says Tim Kocur, spokesperson for the Toronto Financial District Business Improvement Area. The group helped develop a new mapping system in partnership with the city.

Not everyone thinks that using a phone will help people find their way in the PATH.

“I’m not utterly convinced that you can make the PATH especially navigable for the first-time and second-time user,” says Joy.

Site creator Rotberg says he’s still trying to improve his “bare-bones” navigation tool, explaining that additional features will be added. He’s developing a mobile app for iOS and Android systems that will have step-by-step navigation. “It will prompt you and say, ‘turn left at Tim Hortons’ and ‘turn right at Aldo Shoes,’ for example.”

Other major cities have developed apps to map out their underground pedestrian networks. An app is available for Montreal’s Underground City. Houston’s tunnel system, which is a third of the size of the PATH at 11-kilometres long, also has one.

“Our vision would be to potentially partner with the City of Toronto to make the application official,” says Rotberg.

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