Sign Sign everywhere a sign
Blocking out the scenery breaking my mind
Do this, don’t do that, can’t you read the sign
As a person who gets around primarily by foot and bicycle, I am very aware of the nuances of my physical environment. Traveling more slowly than I would by automobile or bus, I am more likely to notice the little details of the streetscape, such as signs. I have recently begun to focus my attention on the large numbers of signs on our streets, and how interesting they can be. Many signs have piqued my curiosity because they are puzzling, redundant, or ill-placed, and I find myself wondering about their history as well as their effectiveness as transmitters of information.
I am not an engineer, but I hang out with a few, and I know a bit about the policies that govern which signs are used and where they are placed. The recently-updated Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD), developed by the Federal Highways Administration (FHWA) has a dizzying amount of information about signs. The Manual has an unnervingly orderly view of the streetscape which is frequently not reflected in the crazy chaos of the real world.
As I have begun to notice signs more, I have had a lot of questions. One of the top ones is: if I can barely process all these signs when walking and bicycling, do people in motor vehicles see them?
Well-known authority on bicycle and pedestrian issues Dan Burden, when speaking at last year’s Louisville Bike Summit II, stated that signs don’t help correct problematic traffic situations; they just make us feel better about them. If that is true, then judging by the sheer numbers of signs on our streets, we should feel pretty good.
What do Broken Sidewalk readers think about signs? Do you have ones you particularly like or dislike? Do you think signs are an effective way to communicate information to street users?
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