Signs of the Times

Larger, brighter signs encouraged to help older drivers.






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Publication: Parks & Recreation
Author: Adams, Haley
Date published: January 1, 2012

In August 2011, the Federal Highway Administration eliminated the 2018 deadline on a mandate that would have required municipalities nationwide to replace all existing street signs. New signs would need to meet more stringent font and refl ectivity standards. For many towns, the unfunded mandate would have been "devastating"-replacing all street signs is already no small task, and the new materials would have represented a staggering expenditure in already beleaguered towns. One New Jersey township estimated the cost at $82,481 for the simplest signage option.

Towns and counties across the country issued a collective sigh of relief when the FHWA eliminated the Bush administration deadline. The underlying reason for the mandate, however, still looms large: By 2030, there will be an estimated 72.1 million persons 65 and older in the U.S.-two times the number of older persons in 2000. There are already signs of this dramatic population shift: according to 2003 FHWA data, there are 26 states where older drivers represent over 15 percent of the total drivers. With an aging Baby Boomer population, making street signs bright, large, and readable will go a long way toward making the streets that bisect our nation's towns-and municipal parks-safer for drivers, pedestrians, and cyclists.

As a driver ages, changes in vision-and night vision in particular- greatly affect the distance at which drivers can take note of signs. This distance is especially critical given the attendant decline in reaction time with age.

Gene Amparo and David Morena of the FHWA therefore recommend "far-side traffi c signals centered over each through lane, backplates with refl ectorized yellow borders on the traffi c signals, painted curb on the median island, and the overhead internally lit street name sign with 30-centimeter (12-inch) letter height."

For public parks located within municipality boundaries, the issue is further compounded: should a park prioritize such conspicuous signage to promote the safety of the many pedestrians and cyclists crossing park roads? Alternatively, would it be a better option to feature signage aimed at preserving the natural beauty of the park? Internally lit street signs, for instance, would be a visual disruption (that is, after all, the point), but would maximize safety for all park users.

Without a deadline for the mandate, parks have greater fl exibility to choose the timing and the manner best suited for meeting the FHWA standards. High-density prismatic signs appear to be a decent compromise-visible, with high retrorefl ectivity, without being overly obtrusive. Either way, parks should consider updating signs by increasing font size and refl ectivity. By improving signage, parks can meet regulation standards while simultaneously promoting senior accessibility and safety.

Author affiliation:

haLEy adams is a freelance writer living in Washington, DC.

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