It’s Time For A Change

Photo: LRC Blog
It turns out the the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) is now requiring signage to use mixed case lettering as opposed to the traditional all-caps.  In other words, instead of seeing MAIN ST., you will see Main St.  The wording will also be written in a new font called Clearview which will improve roadside readability.  The new requirements appeared in the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices, the encyclopedia of standards regarding signs, signals and pavement markings.  Just in case you never noticed the all-caps signs, we’re going to give you a free pass on this one, because frankly, we didn’t either.
The soon-to-be defunct font, Highway Gothic, was the standard for nearly a half-century until Clearview’s approval in 2004.   Don Meeker, environmental graphic designer and James Montalbano, a type designer, did the research for nearly a decade and developed the font.  According to Montalbano, the fundamental flaw of Highway Gothic is that the counter shapes are too tiny…They look like bullets that you couldn’t put a pin through (New York Times Magazine).  In other words, at long distances, especially at night, with lights on, the words jumble together and become one unreadable mess.  A 1998 study published in Ergonomics in Design Magazine revealed that Clearview font outperformed the current highway fonts (Highway Gothic) significantly while utilizing the same amount of sign space.  There was no need to make the signs larger or cap the font.  Clearview is approachable, so much so, that the font debuted in a 2006 New Year’s day ad for AT&T.
Photo: Clearviewhwy.com   
The Federal Government has not mandated a deadline for when signs must use the new font or utilize the lowercase lettering.  Communities however, must improve the nighttime visibility of roadsigns by 2015.  Naturally, incorporating the font and lettering requirements will go a long way toward achieving this goal.  Some communities are upset though seeing as the government has provided no funding for these changes.
I think it’s ridiculous, says Milwaukee Alderman Bob Donovan, whose city will spend about $1.4 million on new signs over the next four years. Our street signs have worked perfectly well for 100 years or more. I think it’s just the federal government run amok. If they don’t have far more important things to deal with, they’re not doing their job (USA Today).
Brian Amundson, City of Eau Claire, Wisconsin Public Works Director, says the signs are a good, worthwhile program. It really does make a difference. But he says, It’s just that in these difficult financial times, people don’t like it shoved down their throat because they don’t see the immediate value of it (USA Today).
Clearly signs are pricey.  Lets not forget the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act signs with the slogan Putting American Back to Work.  Some critics went as far as calling the signs government waste due to the quantity appearing near highways and the cost associated with them.  Millions have gone towards them.
It is evident though that the Federal Highway Administration is asking for these changes to improve safety.  We know all about distractions on our roadways, and with an aging baby-boomer population, there is an increasing need for upgrades.
Do you see the need for new signs?  Do you have trouble reading them at night?
Read On:
$27 million to change NYC signs from all-caps
ALL CAPS? Not OK on road signs, federal government says
ALL CAPS road signs too hard to read, federal government says
ClearviewHwy Research Articles

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