Dale Street and Central Avenue signs with honorary street names.

A Far-Too-Deep Gander at Street Name Signs

Editor’s note: This is the first in an occasional series by Wolfie Browender for Streets.mn.

The signs that bear the names of streets stand on nearly every corner in the United States and many other places. Much of the time these ever-present markers are all but ignored. They become important only when we visit an unfamiliar place, whether it’s an out-of-the-way spot in our town or in another locale. At that point, street name signs become an indispensable tool for getting to our destination, even with navigational aids like GPS and Google Maps.

The utilitarian purpose of street name signs requires they be simple and easy to read. As you might expect, federal regulators have crafted precise standards which cover the size, shape, color, and fonts used on street name and other road signs.

Manual on uniform traffic control devices cover
The cover of the 864-page Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD).

All this and much, much more is spelled out in a publication called the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD).* Most street name signs have just the street name, although some municipalities add their logo, and even fewer feature another decorative adornment to their signs, which MUTCD regulations allow.

In this occasional series, I will feature street name signs from one or more communities along with some brief comments.

This inaugural post is about the street name signs of St. Paul. Having just said that these posts will be brief, I confess this one will be longer than any other because, living in St. Paul, I have seen and documented the greater-than-average variety of street name signs.

St. Paul’s official street name signs lean strongly toward the basic—but with an important addition. As you can see, the signs have white lettering on a green background, the most common color scheme for municipal street name signs in the U.S. The font of choice for St. Paul’s signs is Clearview Highway-1B. Older signs are printed in all capital letters, but since 2009, when regulations changed, new signs have upper- and lower case-letters—the first letter capitalized with the remainder in lower case. Some studies show signs with both upper- and lower-case letters are easier for drivers to read.

Stinson & Mackubin - lower & upper case
The Stinson Street sign was installed since 2009 when MUTCD regulations were changed to require upper- and lower-case signs. The Mackubin Street sign, however, is the older, all caps version.

What makes St. Paul’s signs different and more informative than most is the addition of the block number on the lower right (above). Not only do you know what street you’re on, but one glance shows which block of the street.

  • Old Rondo
  • Floyd Smaller
  • Ron Ryan Jr., a St. Paul police officer killed in the line of duty in Dayton’s Bluff.
  • Minnesota native Bob Dylan had a Billboard top 10 hit in 1965 with "Positively 4th Street." Located in Lowertown.
  • Mother Teresa of Calcutta Boulevard
  • Tiger Jack and Mrs. Nurceal Rosenbloom and Rev. Dr. James Battle Sr.

St. Paul has another, limited series of official street name signs around town. These honorary black-on-white signs, above, pay tribute primarily to people who have made notable contributions to St. Paul.

Lastly, a sample of street name signs on a few of St. Paul’s private thoroughfares, below.

  • Deer Park - Highland Park
  • Signs in Bandana Square development in Como.
  • Parkside Drive, Battle Creek neighborhood
  • Germain Landing, East Side

* The first edition of the MUTCD was published in 1935 and was about 165 pages long. The current MUTCD is an 864-page tome that only an unrestrained group of bureaucrats could author.

Wolfie Browender

About Wolfie Browender

Wolfie Browender has lived in Saint Paul with his wife, Sue, since 1986. He is proud to live in Minnesota's Capitol City. Wolfie is a native of the Milwaukee, WI area. The father of two adult daughters, Wolfie bikes for fun and exercise. You can follow his travels throughout Saint Paul on his blog Saint Paul By Bike-Every Block of Every Street at SaintPaulByBike.com.