Baby boomers are mostly to blame. Or thank. As they age, “They’re having trouble seeing,” says Michael Sawyer, traffic engineer with the city of Richmond.
The new signs are the same green color with the same white lettering. But the height of each sign has doubled from 9 inches to 18 inches. Historically, the city has had “pedestal-mounted” poles that stand at corners and hold lights and signage, Sawyer says. But they could easily be obscured by things like tree branches or flying pigeons, difficult to spot and tough to read while driving.
The new signs will cross overhead and appear above driving lanes. The first ones installed were near the convention center. But there’s been a glitch.
Because of “an oversight,” Sawyer says, the signs are missing directional indicators, i.e. N., S., E. and W. As a result, some — maybe a handful — appear to say, for example, that Broad Street is Broad Street wherever you are. The directionless signs will stay up, Sawyer says, because “It wouldn’t be prudent to take them down just because of that.” Signs that have gone up since the omission was discovered and all signs that go up in the future will have the proper prefixes.
To date about 25 downtown intersections, or 50 street signs, have been upgraded with new traffic lights and signs. Money for improvements has come from state and federal grants, says Sawyer, who did not know how much the upgrades had cost so far. The 35 or so employees with the traffic engineering division of the Department of Public Works make sure the new standard of signage is correctly administered and installed.
In the end, the 18-inch “blades,” as Sawyer calls the new signs, could save lives. After all, the main focus of the project is to make intersections more visible and roads safer. Bigger, better-placed signage could make a tremendous difference at those downtown intersections considered the most dangerous, like the one at Third and Leigh streets, Sawyer points out. That the new signs help in “identifying where you are,” he says, is secondary. — Brandon Walters
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