8.14.2007,7:46 AM
I can't read it!!!!
I have two issues with road signs: too many of them and either they are glaringly intrusive or I can't read them.

A recent blog post on Cognitive Daily caught my attention: Roadway psychology: selecting the right fonts for highway signs. Now why would that be? Because of two reasons: road sign overuse and ineffectiveness.

The absence of jumbled signs along the highways in Oregon and Calgary, BC (Canada) is a striking contrast to those cluttering the roadsides in Texas and elsewhere. The collective "Buy Me! Join Us! Do This! Don't Do That! You Are Here! We Are Nowhere! Take Me, I'm for Sale! Go There! Come Here! Oh My God!!!!" is not just information overload, but bullshit load. Somewhere in that mess may be some vital information for our direction or safety but it is engulfed by the plethora of competing "me! Me! ME!" signs.

Even on rural roads do the spawn of the Roadsigns exist. As I daily turn onto my country road, there are at least six or more signs. In addition to the obligatory road sign for speed, one states a weight limit of just over two tons and the next sign cautions drivers of rough road caused by large transport trucks. Well, if truck drivers would heed the first sign, the latter would be unnecessary and the road not so ridden with potholes, washboard and crumbled edges.

Then there are the four to six little demon signs of houses for sale. Oddly, some of these seem to be able to clone themselves or the contractors think that more signage, the same signs, is better. It's like nonstop shouting. Is everyone deaf but me? I want to clamp my hands over my ears, or in this case, my eyes. Or, like Edward Abbey, just stop and pull the damned things up and toss them in a big pile on the side of the road. Ironically, the sign bearing the road name is tiny; so small that I can't read it until I am almost upon it!

I've pondered over this need we have to overwhelm our visual sense by erecting signs; bigger, brighter, taller. And so many of them. I've posited that the visual sensory input of most people on the road reaches a saturation point where they no longer see them. Yet when we need road information, we can't find it because its drowning in the clutter of signs. Frankly, I find the jumbled mess distracting, irritating and bad for my blood pressure.

Apparently 'Those That Think' in Oregon and Calgary realized this desensitization and legislated a density and size limit for road signs. Or perhaps it was solely the aesthetic perspective: unblemished scenery. Regardless, I find such roads more calming and less distracting. And necessary roadside information is readily visible: "There's a sign up ahead. Pay attention! It's communicating something important."

Conversely, road signs bearing names are hard to read because the font is too small. The size for signs usually conforms to state and federal standards. But try fitting "Martin Luther King Blvd" on the standard-sized road sign. (Every city seems to have the obligatory MLK Blvd.) Sure, it will fit but then no one can read it.

Apparently, according to the blog post stated previously, the font itself can be an issue. Now that was news to me. The font and illumination at night may impede legibility by 'overglow'; when the tiny spaces in the letters cause the illumination of the letter to be indistinguishable. Letters form 'glowblobs' and the word or words may be difficult to read.

Now add that to the small space on the surface of the sign and we have a real problem finding our way around at night.

A new font has been developed, tested and approved for use in twenty states. Of course, I giggled at the name given to the old font:
Highway Gothic. And nodded at the name of the new font: Clearview.

For an interesting read on the conception, development and testing of the fonts, read the article that appeared in the New York Times:
The Road to Clarity

Now if we can petition to increase the size of the informative signs and tear down most of the advertisement signs, we might actually have a pleasant ride.

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posted by Macrobe
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