Being Smart with Street Signage

While walking along a sleepy residential street in my St. Paul neighborhood, I noticed something ugly about a traffic circle.


There are eight signs in total; four warning of the upcoming traffic circle and four instructing each direction which way to navigate the circle.

We need to design residential streets in a manner where most signs are not required. Here’s another example a couple blocks south in Highland Park.

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This is another sleepy residential side street with no significant traffic flow and a low speed limit. So, why are there signs warning you of a stop sign less than 200ft away? These types of signs are all over the place.

These neighborhood signs are unsightly, expensive and unneeded. Supposedly designed to make driving around our neighborhoods safer, but they do little of the sort. They offer a false sense of security on local streets where vehicles should be driving slow enough that seeing traffic circles or stop signs shouldn’t be a problem.

We should to sell these signs for scrap and use the money to fix neighborhood problems like this:

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BonusHow San Francisco redesigned those confusing “no parking” signs.

14 thoughts on “Being Smart with Street Signage

  1. Phil

    They’ve completely blighted the 4200 block of 18th Ave when they put speed humps in last year. (It was part of the 17th Ave bike blvd.) Several giant bright yellow signs mar the otherwise quiet streetscape now.

    1. Matt SteeleMatt Steele

      Yet we have fewer signs a few blocks south on 45th and 18th and people survive just fine.

      Speaking of signs, there’s a lack of useful signs in some cases too. I was a part of an organization looking to calm Cedar Ave. We had funding for crosswalk signs and one of those “stop for pedestrian” signs in the middle of the street. They are very much needed…. that intersection is awful and I’ve asserted my right of way to cross but I’ve cumulatively had hundreds of cars pass me by without stopping. Anyways, Hennepin County refuses to allow needed signs to be placed on the right of way, at no cost to them. But then the city litters my street with signs annoucing the presence of speed humps.

  2. Cory Johnston

    There are so many that few read them at all and that’s probably a good thing since if they tried, they would probably cause an accident by not watching the road. We had an issue here (lower Michigan) where no one knew if there were limitations on street parking during snow season, which there is a local ordinance. Many people, including city council members, did not think there were any signs, which there were. Many residents, especially those who were ticketed, did not think there was an ordinance or signs because they have never been ticketed before, which is probably true. The signs did exist, were so lengthy that you could never read it while driving at the posted speed, some were behind tree branches and the language on the sign did not agree with the ordinance. A long way of saying they did no good since no one bothered to read them or knew they existed. We have become blind to signs.

  3. Sean Hayford OlearySean Hayford Oleary

    I’m not sure I agree about the traffic circle signage. Unlike a full modern roundabout, those neighborhood traffic circles are often confusing to motorists, and it is fairly common that they, for example, turn left in front of the traffic circle rather than going around. While there are 8 signs, a given driver will only see two, and a pedestrian maybe three.

    I do agree that the advanced stop sign warnings are excessive in low-speed areas — except perhaps on major streets where you might not expect a stop sign (like on Chicago Ave at 56th St). My personal favorite is 32nd St adjacent to South High, where there are stop signs every block for a stretch — yet engineers still feel the need to warn you that there is another stop sign ahead.

    On the other hand, there are some areas where I think we don’t sign enough. Although it’s less common than it used to be, there are many, many marked crosswalks that have no signage at all. In Norway, 99% of marked crosswalks (except at signals) have adjacent signs. For places with winter, this makes a lot of sense — many of our crosswalks are obscured or completely buried by salty roadcover or sheets of packed ice. Having a signage is a useful backup all year round, but especially during the winter.

    1. Matt SteeleMatt Steele

      There’s a new mini traffic circle around the block from me, installed last fall as part of the Southern Bikeway. Despite the fact that there are yield signs and signs telling drivers to go around the circle to take a left, I have had multiple people fail to yield the right of way to me. But the street intersection is designed that we’re going so slow that I can easily react despite having the right of way, and live moves on.

    2. Rosa

      Last snowstorm someone drove right over the traffic circle at 17th & 34th, took down most of the signs.

      Personally, i think the more signs the better, since as soon as drivers stop being confused they go back to driving 15 miles over the speed limit and expecting to never have anything unexpected (like a pedestrian) pop up.

      I especially appreciate the signs for things people are just supposed to know, like the YIELD TO PEDESTRIANS IN CROSSWALK signs along the new light rail line.

      Oh and the new bike-friendly street signs are awesome. I don’t know when they went up, but that one sunny week we had I noticed a lot I’d never seen before. This way to 11th Ave, this way to the Greenway, this way to downtown, this way to the LRT.

      Next nice day I’m taking the Bryant bike bridge over Lyndale, see if it has biking signs or if it still looks like a highway onramp.

  4. Janne

    In defense of unnecessary neighborhood traffic signs, I value then as a place to park my bike when I’m visiting friends. I respectfully ask for more of them!

    1. Sean Hayford OlearySean Hayford Oleary

      Hah! Excellent point, Janne. I’ll also give props to Minneapolis to their near-universal use of the round posts. Most other jurisdictions (including St. Paul) use the U-channel post, which is not nearly as easy to lock a bike to.

      The round posts have always struck me as an odd luxury, since each one must be cemented into the ground (U-channel posts can just be stuck into most dirt with special equipment). Aesthetically, though, it looks more finished, and the round posts seem to hold up better to rust.

      1. Rosa

        I think they are supposed to actually save money, because they are more resistant to being driven over or smushed by a snowplow, as well as rust.

  5. Ross

    How timely. My good friend and I were just discussing how over abundant signage is on all roads. The countless “Do Not Enter”, “One Way”, ” Turn Here” signs…. They are expensive– often several hundred dollars just to install.

    While talking with my buddy we came across one point that your article didn’t mention– each additional, unnecessary sign is just another way to inundate drivers and bicyclists with too much information. Essentially, the over abundance of signs makes me (and I think others too) ignore all signs. I’m just inundated with information. In the age of set the phone down (a good idea) it seems that we should consider the same rule with signs (Cut the Unnecessary signs down?). They are distracting and do lead to a false sense of security.
    Finally, I think advertisements and billboards should maybe be subject to the same campaign.

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