28 December 2008

A New Style of Portland Street Sign Debuts at 117th and Division?

1888.I believe I've stumbled onto something new and rather exciting, and it's been rolled out on one street sign in my own neighborhood.

Recently I saw, on the north side of SE Division Street at 117th Avenue, the street blades you see here:

Interesting, yes? And just in this one spot so far.

This represents sort of a quantum leap in the design of the basic Portland street blade. But more about that in a 'mo. Here's a few more views.

They've added the crossing street block index! It's now an integral part of the blade, and in a slightly surprising way.


It reads well from a distance. Nifty!

The avenue blade retains the traditional Portland look, now within the new white frame with rounded corners. It's looking pretty good ... and readable!

Here's how it might look from a car. You know what corner you're at.

Now, for a little design discussion.

One of the biggest drawbacks of the basic Portland street blade is the lack of a block number. Whether or not you get that the crossing street blade holds the block number of the street you're one (the block number of the named street being self-evident from the number of the avenue), we take it as axiomatic that it's just plain nifty to have the block number on the street sign itself, thus preserving your sanity and relieving you of the need to peer at the front doors of nearby houses, thus perhaps drawing reproachful return glares.

But in general it saves you a step. You have the block number at a convenient, findable place, and it's finally been integrated into the design of the blade itself, just as it has in almost every other major city in the Willamette Valley. Currently, the block number comes on a tab bolted on to the blade itself, and, due to the ways you can have the blades stacked, not always in the same place. Moreover, several somewhat-poorly designed sign-toppers for neighborhood identification omit this information entirely, and the tab has been removed in some of these cases. This design neatly solves that problem.

Now the question becomes how efficiently the information gets delivered. We feel this design does the job quite nicely. By placing the directional (SE), specific (Division) and generic (St) all on the same baseline, the eye reads the street name at one go quite naturally. Reducing the type size on the generic preserves the traditional Portland look. And, by placing the block number a bit up and toward the upper right hand corner of the blade, the eye arrives at an important supplemental bit of information last.

On top of all that is the sheer niftiness of giving the blade a new rounded-corner profile with a wide white stroke around the outside actually contains and defines the design into an aesthetically pleasing whole.

I don't know who in the Portland department of making street signs came up with this idea, but my friend ... you've nailed it.

Beautifully done.

Please make sure you get more of these up. You make me proud to be a Portlander.

Technorati Tags: , , , ,

Powered by ScribeFire.


Anonymous said...

I need a picture of a sign I saw near Flanders and 10th Ave NW in Portland. It depicts a hand dropping a coin, as if into a parking meter, and is meant to remind people parking their cars at the curb to pay for the time they'll be there at a nearby parking kiosk. I need it to prove to the City of Pasadena, where my wife was shopping when she was ticketed, that a clearer, more direct means of communication exists by which a city can easily convey by signage their expectation that folks will pay. Pasadena has misleading verbal signs that fool people into believing that one hour of parking is free...and then there parking patrol officers tag cars with expensive tickets. Hope you've got one of them in your archive somewhere. Thanks.
Paul Vandeventer
Los Angeles CA

Samuel John Klein said...

NW 10th and Flanders, you say? I haven't got one in my files, but I can make one happen in the next few day, if that's not too long a time.

Check back here for it.

Anonymous said...

Many thanks...the sign I saw, if I have my directions correct, is west of the corner of 10th & Flanders mid-block on the same side of the street as the Boyd's Coffee...many thanks for the assist....Paul

Samuel John Klein said...

Hey, Paul (and anyone else who's curious):

We went on a sign safari today, and got the pictures I think you want.

Go here:


To see the blog posting whereon I prattle about it. There's also a link to the Photobucket album that contains larger versions.

Anonymous said...

FYI. Some old signs have the block index as well. I have an old kelly st. sign that has 3200 bolted as a seperate sign above it. Personally I like the look of the old signs a little better. Just personal opinion though.

Samuel John Klein said...

@ Anon: Are you talking about the style of the signs that are currently being replaced? I know about those, yes. Since the replacement program apparently has begun, those still predominate and have seemed to be, in fact, the way the City did it.

The only problem I had with it was that the City largely seemed to do it on main and collector streets, and not so much on the sleepier back streets.

That's one reason why this reblading has me excited. It brings that sort of information to every streetcorner in the city, and that is quite a good thing.

I've also noted the increasing look of the new Clearview font on the new signs. I've heard that this updating has to do with new Federal standards for sign readability and that would suggest that, as Clearview was specifically developed at the behest of the FHWA to improve sign readability and information design on the roadside.

FWIW, I do like the old design too, and have a certain affection for it. I like the new designs, but the old design amounts to a classic.