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As Long as We Remember...

January 2, 2006

Sign of the Times

Alan Imhoff

In a drive recently heading east on Liberty Road (MD 26) that I do with some regularity, I was approaching the village of Mount Pleasant to stop by my favorite bakery. As I cleared the horse farms, at the bottom of the first hill, a sign was posted that I had never seen before - anywhere.

Obviously a new sign, its paint was still vibrant and not smattered with the coatings of recent snow storms of sprayed salt; a sign that to me represents the changing condition of the American public.

For all to see was a diamond-shaped sign of a familiar bright yellow. Caution - railroad crossing, Caution - bridge may ice before roadway, Caution - 35 MPH! Yep, Caution - 35 MPH. Right in the middle of the yellow caution sign, was yet another sign; the ubiquitous black and white sign telling me what the maximum speed should be.

My first reaction upon seeing it was, good, it's about time the State Highway Administration recognized the excessive speeding through the 50 MPH zone that begins at the traffic light at MD 194 (Ceresville Mansion) and continues into Mt. Pleasant and beyond.

Then the more I thought about it, the more it brought home just how immune to signage we have become.

As a society literally driven to excess, we seem to acknowledge that there are rules and regulations; yet because we are who we are, we really don't need to pay them much attention.

We see the familiar black and white signs of 25-MPH, 35-MPH, 55-MPH, etc., yet how often do we really see them? A yellow Caution sign that reads "Traffic Calming Ahead" has replaced the 25-MPH sign that use to adorn the light post in front of my house. The reason, most of us traveling the streets of my neighborhood very seldom go 25-MPH.

Had we all been following the rules of the road, my neighborhood would not now have seven "speed humps" and a traffic circle plus all the attendant signage required to alert us that these things exist. Signs at each "hump;" signs all over surrounding the traffic circle; signs warning us that these calming devices lie in wait; all because we do not follow the rules.

When you travel the Golden Mile (U.S. 40 West) in Frederick City or the Platinum Mile near the FSK Mall, have you ever really taken the time to read all the signs the State Highway Administration, city or the county have placed to remind us of the rules of the road or directions to find something. Oh, yes, and do not forget all the signs to tell us where our favorite shopping place or restaurant or car dealership is located.

So, is it any wonder in most cases we have become immune to signs.

Which leads to another question. If the State Highway Administration has recognized that in order to grab our attention (Isn't that what signs are supposed to do?) that it takes a yellow caution sign to highlight a black and white speed sign, what is next?

If it takes seven speed humps and a traffic circle to calm down speeders in a residential neighborhood (with only about 150 homes) how many more will be needed?

Oh, yes, one other little thing. Since most of us have trouble reading signs to begin with (Maybe because there are too many too close together giving us too much information.), we probably need to require that all cars be equipped with an automated Global Positioning System that will drive our car for us to our destination. Just punch in the address and away we go.

This would help relieve all those drivers who are confused with all the directional signs where U.S. 15 intersects with U.S. 40 and how to get to I-70 and I-270, that seem to need to turn around in front of my house all day long. (I'll excuse those that are turning around to avoid the stacking problem to turn left off 40 on to 15 north.)

Maybe we ought to look into what a town in England did - remove all signs. Their accident rate dropped, people slowed down because they were not sure what the other fellow was going to do and - believe it or not - pedestrians had the right-of-way.

Or, most likely what we will see is more yellow Caution signs to highlight what we should already know. What color and shape will be next? Perhaps a bright mint green oval or maybe use the shapes used in computer programming flowcharts.

Just imagine the decision symbol (a slightly elongated diamond shape) for an exit off of highways in say, chartreuse or a process symbol (a long rectangle) for shopping mall information in rose.

What would you like to see?

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