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29.10.06

Your Tax Dollars At Work: Unnecessary Highway Sign Font Manipulation

In some states you have started seeing a strange new font appear on some of your highway signs. You may hvae noticed that a number of the letters and numbers don't look quite the way they used to.
The reason: The federal government have started publishing standards for how to implement this new font, called "Clearview".
And you are paying for this rather radical adjustment to your signage.
It is already becoming more commonplace throughout Arkansas, Texas, and Pennsylvania. But just because PennDot, ADOT, and TxDot like it, is it really necessary?
The study says yes...and the idea is that instead of using standard FHWA (Federal Highway Administration) fonts which come in series A through F with a super boldfaced E Modified font, the latter of which has become de rigueur in Oklahoma and to a lesser extent Missouri, but which has become standard for most state route markers in Oklahoma, with the exception of the new Oklahoma state markers.
The new Oklahoma markers debuted in January with an outline of the state near the top of the frame and the usually D-series FHWA font numbers near the bottom, with some three-digit numbers getting C-series and a few B-series.

(LEFT---An example of an Oklahoma interstate route marker with E Modified numbers and letters)
(RIGHT---(TOP) New Oklahoma state route markers, debuted in January 2006; (CENTRE) Old Oklahoma state route markers, used since the 1960s; (BOTTOM) Old Oklahoma state route markers with E Modified numbers, used in the 1990s and 2000s)

But back to the Clearview/FHWA Standards: I really don't see the need for a new font if the enhanced visibility is only a small fraction (11 to 15 percent) or even if the font uses a smaller footprint in some cases than the FHWA counterpart.
And besides, if the conditions are heavily fogged, or if you are experiencing reduced vision, it doesn't matter what you use on your signs, you are going to have greater difficulty reading the signs.
The FHWA's, TxDot's, and Penndot's own studies show that there is not that much improvement in the visibility in Clearview Series 5WR over FHWA Standard Series D or E, though Series E---that is the font you most commonly see on most highway signs in the United States, Spain, Holland, South Africa (which are using more Normschrift, the font series common to road signs in Germany), Australia (though the state of Victoria, which have begun implementing UK-style letter-number combination route designations, like M1, A2, and B3, are also using Transport, which is common to UK roads and to some extent Pennsylvania), New Zealand, and most provincial highways in Canada.
This may be a sign for you to take better care of your eyes in the first place, see an ophthamologist as necessary, I have, and used to use reading glasses for a while in my teens, and later wore prescription sunglasses, and definitely DO NOT forget to take Vitamin A or at the least eat Vitamin A-enriched foods like carrots.
Also to note that states need to start making larger signs with much larger fonts, which is the experience in Oklahoma and Missouri. Modot are now using larger and bolder fonts with slightly smaller route markers which may well be a disadvantage on that part if you are trying to figure out what route you are about to take especially in dark and/or inclement conditions.
As for ODOT, you can see clearly that their experience is to use bolder fonts and sometimes larger route markers, at least in Tulsa you will see wider route markers for Interstate 244 with bolder numbers. It is not uncommon to see US Highway Route markers still bearing the bolder numbers although most US highway signs bear D Series.






(Hypothetical examples of typical motorway junction overhead signage. In reality State Highway 17 in California is ACTUALLY north/south in Counties Santa Clara and Santa Cruz; also, California have not used white state route markers since 1964.)





(A) Current FHWA standards; (B) Clearview proposal; (X) My solution

Maybe I should offer my own solution to the problem: Fill the whole sign, larger markers as with Oklahoma, larger fonts as with Missouri, but even bigger still, FILL THE SIGN with text and route markers, as much as 25 percent larger markers and 25 to 35 percent larger fonts, that way there can be no doubt about the legibility of the signs.
And we won't need another series of fonts to mess with either.

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