Saturday, August 04, 2012

Street Signs of the Times?

The corner of Canterbury and Westminster Roads in the Park Avenue neighborhood (8/2/12).
Recently I have noticed some subtle changes in my neighborhood. With a large local festival coming up this weekend, it's not surprising that streets are a little bit cleaner and lawns are slightly more well groomed. But who would have thought that new street signs were in order?

Over the past weeks, as I have walked the neighborhood early in the morning, I have noticed that slowly the street signs in the Park Avenue area have been changing over. The change to which I refer is not the annual application of "Yes, You Can Park Here" or "No, You May NOT Park Here" paper parking covers which (thankfully) guided visitors to making proper side of the street parking choices. I'm talking the actual signs which denote the street, as pictured in the photos above and below.

Guess what corner? Yup, Edgerton Street and Canterbury Road (8/2/12)
What peeked my curiosity about the new signs is that they represent a shift in presentation: rather than employing all capital letters (as was the case with the previously existing signage as in the pic at the top of the post above), the updated signs utilize both upper and lower case lettering. It seems that the aspect of the sign at issue may be the clarity of the font.

Following a number of searches on Google,  I was unable to find any information specific to the Rochester, NY area, but I did find an interesting New York Daily News article from 2010 about a similar signage change in New York City in which the change there was attributed to the bureaucracy's dissatisfaction with the font resulting in the appearance of all caps. On the surface it may appear a waste of money to make the change (a point inferred in the4 original headline), but the real reason appears a valid one. The actual reasoning behind the change is that "The Federal Highway Administration says the switch will improve safety because drivers identify the words more quickly when they're displayed that way - and can sooner return their eyes to the road."

So the clarity (or lack of clarity) of a street sign's font can be a contributing cause to automobile accidents? Given this logic the use of clear and easily "processable" signage is a matter both safety and aesthetics. If street signs are a method of communicating information (and they are), then the decision we make around font and legibility in smaller communiques (letters, essays, notes) is worth just a tiny bit of consideration, too!

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