29 April 2009

I'm Not The Only One Talking About Portland's Street Signs ...

2045.Joseph Rose, The Oregonian's commute columnist, wrote a couple of articles not too long ago about the street signage in Portland, too long ago, not sure how I missed them, but I've stumbled on them, and they take on the oddities and drawbacks in Portland signage, and how it tends to fall short in many areas.

The two columns make very good points as well as at least one strange one, about which one crotchet presently. The first one makes reference to awkward and insufficient directional signage (which I quite assuredly agree with) and then stretches just a bit to draw out dramatic tension between the lacklustre street signage and Portland's progressive transportation reputation.

The strange point came with a quote from one Sharon Linnenkohl, a recent Angeleno transplant who has trouble finding things in town while she learns the lay of the land, and mentioned that "getting to Foster Road from I-205 southbound is a guessing game", which just seems odd to me. But before I seem to be rashing on Rose and Linnenkohl a bit too much, I will say that the overarching point is well-taken, and perhaps explains why we've been seeing a new street blade standard for Portland:

For starters, most of the street-name signs don't comply with new federal regulations adopted for America's aging population. The font on the signs is too small and their ability to reflect light at night is way beyond warranty.

Which is a esteemably fair call, once you get beyond the Federal regulations point. There are a lot of old and badly-reflective signs that need replacment and how, and the newer blades we've been seeing about fit that bill admirably.

The second one points out some more problems, noting one of the more famous critical points, the lower deck of the Marquam Bridge going south. Approaching this bridge and knowing that at the other end you have to go left to leave the stack to go downtown and stay right to go left out of that, is kind of counter-intutive.

There is a reason for it, however, and it has to do with the old Mount Hood Freeway (and now for a digression). The Mount Hood, as planned, was to merge into the lower deck's lanes from the left. Since that was the future designated route in for Interstate 84 (The Banfield was to simply be US 30) It was assumed that westbound traffic would prefer not to have to change lanes (so as to go straight downtown – The Mount Hood was planned for commuters, after all). It was therefore thought that the downtown leg stay on the right so as to reduce the number of lane changes. But the Mount Hood Freeway was never built, and there you go.

The second column continues in the vein of inadequate signage making it hard to find ones way around (and to) the bridges of the Rose City, amongst other things, and touches on the subject I've been obsessed on of late: street blades.

The old street blades are presumably being swapped over because they just aren't up to spec anymore and as the baby boom makes its way up the population pyramid, they're going to need to see where the hell it is they're going. The real payoff from that column, though, are numbers. They're pretty intimidating and intriguing:
  • There are 130,500 signs to maintain in PDX. These include ...
  • 40,000 street blades
  • 5,500 guide signs
  • 10,000 "yellow school" signs
  • 14,000 STOP signs
  • 12,000 Warning signs
  • 49,000 parking signs
  • The annual budget for the sign shop is $702,000, which covers missing and vandalized signs and not much else, apparently
  • The signs are produced in a sign shop that has 1 (one) employee
  • Each new street blade costs $22 to make
  • The real problem is finding hands to put up the signs. Funds are at a bare-bones level, though, so they have to apparently wait for a break in work crew business to erect them.
It looks like a case of doing the best they have with what they got.

But at least now we do have some idea of why the new street blades are going up. And they are more readable, that's obvious (as I think I'm documenting very aptly here).

In Matters Related, Red Electric blogger Rick Seifert posted a couple of times about a sign imbroglio in his Southwest neighborhood. Anyone travelling down Southwest Barbur Blvd from downtown Portland knows about that hard little turn you need to make to get off Barbur going southbound to get to Southwest Capitol Highway to get to the Hillsdale business district and beyond to Southwest Beaverton Hillsdale Highway. It's a very tight corner, but it's at least got a rather adequate sign.

ODOT decided to place a bike warning sign at that intersection, which is a wise thing to do. But why, one wonders, did they put it right in front of the Capitol Hwy/Hillsdale guide sign. Couldn't they step back and say "ahh ... won't work"? Seriously – this really did make the guide sign pointless, and also partially obscured the directional sign to OHSU.

After lodging a complaint with Those Who Must Do Something, the sign was moved, and you can see the Hillsdale/Capitol Hwy guide again ... but the TriMet bus stop sign still obscures the big blue-n-white H.

And so it goes.

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stan said...

Sam, I think it's obvious: You need to convince the city to increase their sign budget and hire you to design, produce and install signs!

Samuel John Klein Portlandiensis said...

Stan: B-). That would be a dream job, yes. The way the budgets out here are going, I fear it must remain a fantasy though ...