Sunday, June 30, 2013

Tiny signs

Lately, these street signs have been popping up on and near Commonwealth Avenue:

"Caution: High Bicycle & Pedestrian Activity Zone. 25 M.P.H."

It seems that this is the follow-up to this announcement: Mayor Menino and Boston University Launch Bike-Safety Initiative.
In a continuing five-year effort to improve safety and calm traffic along its 1.5 mile-long main campus straddling Commonwealth Avenue, Boston University today announced with the City of Boston a series of measures to further protect cyclists and pedestrians, encourage bike use, and promote awareness of cyclists and pedestrians among motor-vehicle drivers. They will include new signage, enhanced bike-lane markings, and highway reflectors in the pavement.
Sounds good. I appreciate the consideration. But I have to wonder: does posting these tiny signs really accomplish anything? Personally, I barely notice them when I'm walking past. I can't imagine anyone in a car stopping to squint at a sign like this. Some are a bit more visible, some are not so much.

"Share the Road"

And there's still legacy screw-ups like this:

"Turning Vehicles - Yield to Bike"
The glowing green arrow is at driver's eye-level. The yield sign is up and off to the side. Which do you think will get noticed? Fortunately, this is not a high-volume turn.

Going back to the 25 M.P.H. sign in the first picture: is this setting the legal limit? Or is it just a suggestion? It is an orange sign instead of the MUTCD standard design. I know that Commonwealth Avenue is signed for 30 M.P.H. elsewhere, which is the standard speed limit for these sorts of roads in Massachusetts (*).

It's not really clear how these signs are supposed to help. Judging by the speeds at which motorists fly down Comm Ave, I don't think they're noticing the signs either, or caring. Signs don't substitute for good design. Instead of merely telling motorists that this is a busy pedestrian area, the layout of the street should show it.

(*) Write to your legislators in support of H. 3129 to change the default speed limit to 25 M.P.H. in urbanized areas.


  1. I noticed they started installing the embedded reflectors between the bike lane and outside travel lane. I think every little improvement helps!

  2. At first I thought they put a sign that high for the high bicycles that use the area a lot -- that's what it says after all :)


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