Signs, Signs, Everywhere a Sign

Believe it or not, there's an entire newsletter dedicated to signs. Street signs. Traffic signs.

And, even more unbelievable, it makes for fairly interesting reading.

For example, we'll soon see so-called "strong" signs-- fluorescent yellow-green signs--used for pedestrian crossings, bicycle crossings, school crossings and school bus stops.

They're designed to be more visible and to increase the driving public's awareness. So they won't be used for anything other than pedestrian, bicycle, and school areas, because, to do so, would make them appear as regular as the signs we're used to, those familiar yellow signs, which we'll continue to see for curves, for example.

How about barrels in the middle on the roads to warn of pedestrian crossings? The newsletter says they're nonuniform, nonstandard and potentially harmful. Although they appear to provide safety, they could lead to some serious negative consequences.

Speaking of safety, did you know that "Children at Play" signs are in disfavor among signage experts?

According to the newsletter, Mass Interchange, from the Mass Highway Department, the Federal Highway Administration and U Mass/Amherst, "Children at Play" signs are unclear and unnecessary, because, among other reasons, they suggest to drivers that, if no such sign is present on another street, children aren't playing there and it's okay to be less careful.

Drivers who see the signs may wonder, where are the children? Always there? What time of day?

Further, they give parents and children a false sense of security. Relying on signs, parents might monitor their children less closely and children might interpret the sign to mean it is acceptable to play in the street.

Finally, if you put one sign up, other blocks will want a similar sign. And the effect of too many signs is that they become ineffective. Proliferation breeds disrespect. There are other reasons cited, such as the cost to purchase, erect and maintain the signs.

And, there is no evidence that "Children at Play" signs prevent injury or decrease the speed of vehicles.

So, what does the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices suggest? That towns and cities post signs for school zones, pedestrian crossings and playgrounds, signs that give clear messages to drivers about the kind of zone they're entering.

The newsletter notes some things that we're all aware of--locating signs on the right hand side of the roadway, for example. But it then points out that, for special emphasis, signs can be put on both sides of the roads.

Rural signs should be at least five feet above the pavement. But in business, commercial or residential districts, where parking or pedestrians are, signs should be at least seven feet above ground level. And, don't put two or more signs on the same pole if they carry unrelated messages.

Signs, by the way, can be turned slightly away from the road to avoid glare, if necessary. And all regulatory, warning, guide, and construction signs applicable at night must be reflectorized or illuminated.

Posts get involved, too, of course. And they can't, whether wood or steep, be too strong or too big. To protect drivers who crash into them.

What kind of signs get the fewest complaints? Street signs. Which are often missing! People don't complain, because drivers just expect them to be missing. If you do find them in place, you'll note that they are longer horizontally than vertically, that they probably have white letters on a green background, and that the letters are at least four inches high.

Why, you may ask, is all this important? Consistency. If drivers know what to expect, if they know what certain sign shapes and colors mean, they'll react to the rules of the road--at least those posted on our streets and highways.

And, that means that you're a lot safer.

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