The Pollution We Don't See

This is an enhanced cross-post from my montly column, Community Design Matters, inThe Roswell Current.

They are there for our safety.  To protect us from others and ourselves.  They inform us and guide us.  But, until you sit back and look at all of them in their glory, you don’t realize that they suffocate us, degrade our environment and tell us just how stupid others think we are.  Most of them serve a purpose but many of them are redundant.  Virtually all of them have a colored front, a shiny back and are supported by a cheap steel bar.  They lack any level of charm and are often put in precisely the wrong place. 

I hope this isn't occurring frequently enough to warrant a sign

What I’m talking about are signs.  Just look around the next time you are at an intersection.  You would be hard pressed to find a place that has fewer than 10 signs of some sort visible.  We don’t accept litter, we regulate air and water pollution.  However, when it comes to sign pollution, the polluters know no bounds.  Case in point is the recent courtroom victory of georgia billboard companies versus north fulton cities that don’t want billboards polluting their cities.  Rather than siding with the people and the cities, the court has ruled that North Fulton cities must reimburse the billboard companies $4 million.  Get ready for more billboards!

Here’s a sample of the sign pollution that goes largely unnoticed every day: 

Entrance, Do Not Enter, Wrong Way, Stop, Yield, 4 Way Stop, 3 Way Stop, Yield to Oncoming Traffic, Keep Moving, Slow Traffic Keep Right, Blind Driveway, No Trucks, No Parking, Parking, Compact Cars Only, Handicapped Parking, Fire Lane, Turn Arrows, No Turn Arrows, Speed Limit, Round About Ahead, Stop Ahead, Speed Bump, Speed Hump, Dip, Gas, Lodging, Food, Mile Marker, No Left Turn, No Right on Red, Watch for Pedestrians, MARTA, Kiss-Ride, Airport, Low Flying Planes, Speed Monitored by Detection Devices, Slow Children at Play, Animal Crossing, Thru Traffic, Hospital, School Zone, Walk, Don’t Walk, Neighborhood Watch, Adopt a Highway, Body of Water Notice, Watershed Notice, Bridge May Ice in Winter, Use Headlights When Raining, City Limits, County Line, State Line, Overhead Clearance, Commemorative Road Markers, Keep off Grass, Historical Markers, Memorial Highway, Memorial Bridge, Tourist Interest Signs, Highway #, Billboards (electric and traditional), Subdivision Signs, Street Signs, Shopping Center Signs, Store Signs, Exit

Are half of those are even necessary?  Do we really need to be on the look out for Low Flying Planes and in the know that Speed is Monitored by Detection Devices?  Do we really need 8 Wrong Way signs at one off ramp?  Head on collisions are tragic but most are caused by drunks who would miss a hundred wrong-way signs. 

Are we truly safer with all these signs or is it DEsigns that make us safer?  There is a concept in Europe called a woonerf devised by a radical traffic engineer where all traffic signs and signals are absent.  It looks like chaos but it’s actually much safer than a standard intersection.  Why?  Because drivers are forced to pay attention.  When a driver feels uncomfortable, the driver pays more attention.  When drivers pay more attention, they crash lest often.  Our roads have been designed to make it easy to not pay attention.  Their straight & wide designs forgive us for texting, eating, looking down and generally not focusing on the road.

Do we need more signs or do we need better roads?  The next time your DOT wants to put up another sign, think about the true necessity of that sign and ask if we need a new sign on that road or a redesign of that road.

Above, I mentioned a woonerf which is a signless intersection.  The Strong Towns Blog which I follow regularly recently had a post with a number of video links that illustrate the power of the signless intersection.  This one was my favorite because it illustrades how the same intersection works with and without lights.  There are several more videos that get into more detail and examples that you can check out here.

Now, where could we put in a woonerf and create a shared space in Roswell?  I think there are two spots in particular that would serve as a perfect testing ground..  They are the Norcross St. and of Webb St. intersections on Canton St.  Traffic is slow enough that cars, pedestrians and bicyclists can all interact well with eachother.  I would go further and propose that the speed limit be reduced from 25 mph to 15 mph from Goulding south to Magnolia.

These are the types of ideas we need to be thinking about and implementing.  They are cost effective, decrease traffic and safer when implemented correctly.