Curbside Curmudgeon: Are We Drowning In Ever More Traffic Signs? What’s Next: “Level Road” ?

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I live at the fringe of an upwelling that is called College Hill. All the roads across it inevitably have to go up or down; it’s a simple fact of nature. As I was driving down from the top of College Hill just now, on a street I take very often (to the nearest hardware store), one third of the way down I suddenly noticed this brand new sign: HILL .  Right; I’m on a hill, and I haven’t reached bottom yet. Thank you, City of Eugene Public Works Department, for informing me of that. But unfortunately, this sign is directly contributing to a phenomena that has been well documented for over a decade or more: the more street signs there are, the more they all get ignored, even the important ones. So some cities have taken to tearing them all down, with surprising results.

This is not an anti-government rant; it’s not as simple as that, as in most things in life. It would require a drastic change of thinking to reverse course, and tear down all street signs, and even traffic lights. Yet it’s been done, or is increasingly being done in Europe, by a more enlightened approach to traffic regulation.

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Drachten, in the Netherlands, was one of the first to ditch all its traffic lights, almost ten years ago. There are numerous of reports (here, here, and here) on the “naked streets” movement that has been espoused by a number of Dutch, German and British cities. The premise is pretty simple: in lieu of being told what to do like sheep, folks will actually pay more attention to what needs to be done, and do it, using their own judgement and socially interacting with others sharing the road. A novel concept indeed.

Here’s a five minute video of what happened in one British town when they killed their street lights. Residents couldn’t believe the difference it made. The busy intersection now carried more traffic, with no more waiting for lights.

Street Signs

Getting back to ordinary traffic signs, I’ve noticed that in response to the over-dose syndrome, the Public Works Department is adding additional orange diamonds to some existing traffic signs, in the hopes that folks will actually notice the more important ones among all the clutter that they’ve created. This sign shown here is not a typical example from town, but it’s all I could find on the web just now. And then the next escalation is signs with flashing LED bulbs; I’m seeing more of those now. Traffic sign inflation; where does it end?