Here’s Your Sign City streets are littered by orders

May 1, 2006 by  
Filed under Blogs, Hot Button / Lynn Ashby

City streets are littered by orders

THE STREET CORNER – “No U-turn.” “Left Lane Closed.’ “So is Right Lane.” “Do Not Pass Go.” “Go Directly to Jail.” These traffic signs tell us the speed limit, when to turn, where to park, why there is a God. This is most confusing. Houston has too many street signs.

Not only are the signs hard enough to read while zipping through a school zone at 50 miles per hour, talking on the cell phone and eating a James Coney Island hot dog, the situation is made more confusing because each sign requires its own pole. There is one pole for the stop sign, another for a no parking warning, yet another pole in the concrete for the speed limit sign. And, of course, Metro has to have its own signs all over town telling us which day the bus will arrive. At busy intersections with traffic lights up above, there are even more signs dangling from them. The whole display looks like an eye chart for nomads.

Not all street signs are equal. Some commercial areas, such as the Westchase District, have their own boutique street signs. Very spiffy. Or drive from Houston to Bellaire or Piney Point, and you will find different colored street signs. And there are various colored signs for different operations. Gold and maroon signs tell us about toll roads. Signs warning of road construction are orange (and show one guy leaning on a shovel and three others standing around watching).

Metro signs are red, white and blue, as are those pointing toward our interstate highways. Incidentally, the big I-H signs are the same in all 50 states and were designed by Richard Oliver, a traffic engineer with the Texas Highway Department. The feds made one change: Oliver’s version was black and white. In some places around Houston, we also have state highway signs. Don’t forget that part of Westheimer from west of the West Loop to Fulshear is a state farm-to-market road. That’s why we see so many John Deere tractors parked at the Galleria.

A growing trend among traffic signs is to show pictures instead of words. This probably has something to do with our growing population of newcomers whose English vocabulary is limited and whose French is fractured. So we have a big H to show there is a hospital (or hog farm) nearby. An airplane denotes that an airport is up ahead. There are lots of arrows. Here, on Westheimer, is the picture of a bicycle indicating that the far right side of the road is reserved for bikes. Anyone who is dumb enough to ride a bicycle along this street should keep an eye out for the nearest H. And we have the pictures with slashes through them prohibiting parking, pillaging or smoking. My own neighborhood is so Republican that its entrance sports a slash mark through a donkey.

The worst overkill of street signs that I can find is at the corner of Richmond and Barrington Road, which turns into Lampasas Street at this point, so there are signs telling us about the name change. These warnings tell us of school zones, speed limits, when and where to turn. They are on light poles, telephone poles and power poles. Some signs are all alone. One sign, one pole. On this single intersection I count 21 poles and 22 signs (not all the poles have signs and some have two or three).

A motorist could get whiplash just trying to read these traffic instructions, and there is no way any passing driver could read all the instructions.

“Didn’t you see that sign, Mister?”
“No, officer. Which sign?”
“That one right there. ‘No High-Speed Chases,’ right between the arrows pointing in all four directions and the ‘Armadillo Crossing’ warning.”

Here is a most interesting sign at a cut-through on a median of a boulevard: “No U-turn. Sat.-Sun. 2 a.m.-6 a.m.” We must ponder this for a moment. It’s OK to U-turn during rush hours Monday through Friday, but you can get a ticket if you turn around in the middle of the night on weekends. Did we really pay for such a loony sign? Why?

This brings us to the cost. No matter which government entity put up all these words and pictures, you and I paid for them. So, I have a plan to save us money. We limit each corner of each intersection to one pole, and every government from the feds to Metro uses that pole to nail up its orders to the passing motorists, who can just scroll down the list. We could save even more tax dollars by putting a single pole right in the middle of the intersection, but that sucker wouldn’t last an hour before it was flattened.

Downtown Houston does it up right. Here on the corner of Walker and Smith, for example, the city has one pole on each corner, sort of a decorator-designed pole with a street light on top, traffic light about half way up, a walk-don’t-walk sign, and the street sign reading “Walker” attached on the same pole. One corner, one pole.

Adding to the eye-sores at many Houston intersections are the so-called “pirate signs” stuck on sticks or nailed to telephone poles. They are advertising computer repairing, pest control and lawn sprinkler installation. Then, there are the filthy, bearded guys holding signs reading, “Former Enron Exec. Will testify for money.” After each election, the candidates leave their campaign signs all over the place.

We know who’s responsible for these cardboard eyesores, the names of the company or candidates are right there. Couldn’t we have the staff from the mayor pro tem’s office, which seems to have extra time on its hands, call up the miscreants and tell them to take down these blights? I would make one exception: signs about lost pets.

Yes, there are more important matters to discuss today than the proliferation of street signs – weighty questions such as the Astros’ bullpen, which housewife is the most desperate and whatever happened to Bud Adams. I just feel we really do need to rein in our forest of warning shots. If not, in return for my big campaign contribution to the winning candidates, forget that appointment as a UT regent or, even better, the TSU presidency. I want the traffic sign concession.

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