What I Learned from Blogs This Week

Administrative Stuff
I’ll be putting up a few items on the Virtual Assignment Desk for next week.

If you don’t have a blog but want to report on something, let me know and I’ll post it here.  Also, please feel free to send in nominations for “What I Learned from Blogs This Week.”  I tend to collect news-ish items during the week, but please let me know if I’ve missed anything of note.

Contests & Other Publicity
Worcester Mag’s Best of Worcester has a category for Best Local Blog.  If you’re going to be voting, please please please consider Wormtown Taxi in that category.  (No, I did not get paid to say that.)

Art in the Park is looking for volunteers.

Anyone want to get Abby Kelley Foster on a stamp?

Ecotarium is conducting an audience research survey.

Alternative Craft Fair tomorrow, February 6

What I Learned This Week

Grace Ross, Democrat for Governor.

The Mayor is having open office hours on Tuesdays before the Council meetings.

508 is back.

Jeff summarized the blog coverage of the City Council Meeting (seriously, wasn’t this great?), broke the CK Smith story. let us know about the WooTube video contest, and made a reference to Albert Southwick.

Tracy discussed the Parent/Guardian Roundtable and liveblogged the School Committee Meeting (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14)

Acorn/Boys’ Club commentary and ice skating.

Black History Month.  (Also, if I may editorialize for a moment, anyone who says we live in a “post-racial society” should be required to read the comments to that T&G article.)

Winners of the MacDaddy Competition, and a recipe!

DPW talks compost, battery recycling, and why plastic bags don’t go in the curbside recycling.

WAM’s Flora in Winter, Belmont Street School Fundraising, nitpicking.

Telegram.comment of the week
In honor of this post, here’s my favorite comment of the week, regarding the skating rink:

I heard a rumor that next year the city will attempt to build a pyramid at Worcester Airport. It will definitely help boost the economy and put at least 10,000 Egyptian stone masons back to work.  —Mr. T

The Week in Tirella
The first law of ICT is that it seems impossible for me not to pick it up a week late.  (The laws of ICT are kind of like the laws of physics, but a touch more unpredictable.)

The second law of ICT is that — no matter which day I pick up ICT — the following conversation will occur when I walk in the door:
Me: “I got a copy of the InCity Times today.”
Husband: “I picked up a copy for you and it’s on the counter.”

Every.  Single.  Issue.

We must have a psychic ICT bond.

Anyway, unrelated to the laws of ICT are the rules of ICT:

The first rule of ICT (for any politician, at least) is:
You do not talk to ICT about anything except the weather.  And puppies.

The second rule of ICT is:
You DO NOT talk to ICT about anything except the weather.  And puppies.

(It’s almost like Fight Club, except you should really keep your shirt and shoes ON.  And I don’t think there’s enough room for fisticuffs in the Council chambers.)

Now, I know Konnie didn’t talk to Rose this time around, and I kind of agree with at least one point in this column: we do need Konnie.  But — here’s the rub — she’s still here.  She doesn’t necessarily need to be mayor, because I think she does a good job of being the opposition voice on the council.  In many ways, not being mayor should give someone a little more freedom to be critical, to be vocal about controversial issues, to be Konnie Lukes.  I think the voters still wanted Konnie around; they just didn’t want Konnie to be mayor.

And they also don’t want Konnie talking to Rose.  Again, the problem with talking with Rose is that she’ll trot out the same story at least twice (like giving gifts to Tim Murray’s daughters) so it makes you look like a whiner when you may have just mentioned something in a completely innocuous way.  Do not complain about JOB to ICT or we will get the same quote three different ways before the next election.

Konnie, if you want to talk with someone, why don’t you come have coffee with me (well, I’ll have a Tab), because everyone knows I throw more softball questions than Charlie Rose when he talks to Hank Paulson.  (Let’s forget that I had a huge crush on Hank Paulson for a while.  I think it was a “Daddy Warbucks”/bald Republican thing.  But I digress…) 

Bottom line: sure, you can be nice to Rose, but make sure to remember the first rule of ICT!

Signs of Worcester: How did we get here?

This is the second of a series of posts about Worcester’s street signs (the first one was here).  I thought it might be worthwhile to take a quick look at the history of street signage before we dive into the pros & cons of Worcester’s current sign replacement program.

We haven’t always had our streets conveniently named and marked with signs.  Larger cities in Europe a few centuries ago (and shortly thereafter in America) found it convenient to name or number their many streets.  Some early street name signs were attached to the sides of buildings near street corners, which was perfectly convenient for pedestrians and slowly travelling equestrians.

Actually, this isn't Worcester -- it's Brattleboro, but doesn't it look great?

When automobiles first became popular in the early 1900s, it became important to be able to see & read street name signs from behind the wheel of a vehicle travelling much faster than the speed of a trotting horse.  Additionally, many drivers now had a roof over their heads, and so were unable to see signs affixed high up on building corners.  Thus, roadside signs were needed, both for traffic control at intersections, and to impart information, such as what street you were on or what road you were passing by.

Harrington Corner, without dueling donut shops

Early roadside signs in America were often erected by automobile clubs to help members find their way — though there was little consistency in their efforts at first.  Some early New England clubs included the Worcester Automobile Club, the Bancroft Automobile Club, the Automobile Club of Rhode Island and the Boston Auto Club. As more and more people found the means to buy an automobile, the potential for accidents increased.  For the sake of public safety, many cities and towns began to take over the task of erecting traffic & street name signs with the motorist in mind, although having street names nearer eye level also benefitted pedestrians.  In 1924, the first steps toward national uniformity in road signs were taken by the Bureau of Public Roads, which set standards for some of the roadside signage.

Franklin Square, now Federal Square, sans Red Baron

Street name signs are now located at most intersections (though rarely at the ones I need them most), and are often posted in perpendicularly oriented pairs identifying each of the crossing streets, mounted on either utility poles or smaller posts installed specifically for the sign.

Early street signs could be quite beautiful.  Here are some done in frosted glass in Baltimore, mounted under street lamps so that they’d be illuminated at night:

Some were crafted in durable cast iron or aluminum, such as these in Brookline:

I am totally drooling over these street signs

I haven’t seen anything quite that beautiful among Worcester’s early street signs.  Until World War II, many street name signs were painted on small pieces of wood, usually black sans-serif lettering on a light background, much like these I found still standing in Paxton:

Seriously -- aren't these adorable?

In the years following the second world war, companies such as 3M began manufacturing an adhesive  sheeting with “retroreflective” qualities, which was quickly put to use on traffic & street signs to aid in night time visibility.  Retroreflective material allows light beams to “bend” and return toward the original light source.  Many of Worcester’s older street signs were redone on thin metal blanks in the 1950s and 1960s using adhesive black letters on a yellow background — some of these signs can still be seen today, but they no longer seem retroreflective.  This older material had what was called an “enclosed lens system”, where the surface of the sheeting was covered with tiny glass beads and then covered with a transparent film, which was a tremendous innovation in its time, though it seems to dull with age.  Here are some examples of the yellow signs:

When Worcester began changing its signs to white lettering on green in the early 1970s, it used a new retroreflective material that employed an “encapsulated lens system”.  The difference was a resin  base and an additional reflector coat behind the glass beads. This material was three to four times as bright as the “enclosed lens” material, and it retained its reflectivity longer.  Here are some examples that are four decades old and still in great shape:

The 1970s-era signs of Worcester have mostly stood up well over time.  The few exceptions I’ve seen are ones that don’t seem to use retroreflective material — here are a couple of examples:

The latest innovation substitutes microscopic prismatic reflectors in place of the embedded glass beads. There are roughly 7,000 microprisms per square inch on this type of sheeting, which returns about three times the brightness of the “encapsulated lens” material.  This has been available for about 20 years, though we’ve really only seen it used on Worcester signs in the past decade or so.  Here’s one of the new brighter signs:

Have you noticed that the newer signs seem brighter during night driving?  Or is the brightness cancelled out by the use of the thinner serifed typefaces on the newer signs? I have my own opinions that I’ll save until the last segment of this series, but I’d enjoy reading yours in the meantime.

In the next installment we’ll talk a bit about typefaces on signage — what works and what doesn’t, and how Worcester measures up.

– – – – – – – – – –

For further reading about retroreflectivity:

Are you a sign geek?  Here’s the first edition (1927) of the “Manual and Specifications for the Manufacture, Display, and Erection of U.S. Standard Road Markers and Signs”:

Compare that to the 2009 edition of the “Manual on Traffic Control Devices”(MUTCD):

Here’s an interesting article about the history of computer-aided sign making:


Looks like Grace Ross has pulled papers to run for governor…as a Democrat.  (I was just going to complain about how this wasn’t mentioned in any Worcester media outlets, but I see it now.)  How could I have missed this announcement from last week?

(Seriously, though, when the first comment about you exploring running for governor meets with a comparison to Bill Coleman, you need to think twice about running.  And I’m a faithful Coleman voter.  Heck, I even voted for Grace when she ran for governor; I recall telling my husband that this was for “all my fellow ugly girls.”)