Signs of Worcester: Graphic elements and street-type designations

In a previous installment of this series, we looked at the myriad typographic styles of Worcester’s street name signage.  We saw a great deal of inconsistency in type styles introduced in the past decade.

Today we’ll examine the graphic elements of the new signs, as well as how “street type” designations are treated on our street name signs.

Graphic Elements

Since before the turn of this century, there has been a trend nationwide to add a graphic element to street name signs whenever a community finds itself switching over to larger signage blanks — after all, there’s a lot more space available, and it’s an opportunity to create a “look” that’s unique to one’s town or city.  It lets visitors know visually when they’ve arrived in town.  Sometimes the graphic element is combined with a non-standard color scheme on the signage as well.  Here are a few graphic elements from communities near Worcester:

A round “seal” of some sort seems to be the favored graphic element.  Here’s Worcester’s seal:

The signage introduced for a Shrewsbury Street improvement project during the last decade introduced an element borrowed from our seal — the heart — as a graphic element:

Subsequent sign replacements sometimes include a heart.  In the month or so that my family and I have been driving around examining street name signs, we noticed that only about two-thirds of the newer signs have hearts added.

Like Worcester’s typefaces, the heart used on Worcester’s signs can be inconsistent as well.  Here are some examples of the variation:

In addition, the street name signs may or may not feature a white border, may or may not have rounded corners, and may or may not have a reinforcing strip along the top & bottom edges.  Here are a few examples to demonstrate the variations:

Not even the color of the signs is consistent, as the DPW has chosen to leave in place quite a few of the older 1950s-era yellow signs, choosing instead to replace legible green signs from the 1970s.  Here are some examples of yellow signs still in place as of last month:

Street-Type Designations

The street name signs of Worcester include a designation such as “avenue”, “road”, “boulevard”, etc., usually in an abbreviated form.  Worcester’s inconsistencies extend to these designations as well.  Variations include:

1. Location
The abbreviated street-type designation can be found at the top, bottom or middle of the end of the sign, and near or far from the street name.  The city of Worcester apparently has no standard for this part of the layout.

2. Abbreviation style
Notice the inconsistent abbreviations and the various use (or not) of a period.

3. Size
There doesn’t seem to be any standard being kept for the size of the street-type designations in Worcester, although the FHWA’s “Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Signals” (MUTCD) does offer rules on this (more about this in a later installment).

You might be asking yourself, as I did, whether there is any sort of “plan” at all regarding the replacement of Worcester’s older street signs.  As I mentioned in the first installment, my husband spoke with a DPW engineer about the street name signs recently.  He was told that the signs are being replaced whenever there is a nearby road project.  Many of the signs which are taken down are not damaged in any way (and in fact, were still quite legible), but they’re taken back to the sign shop, where they are stripped of their lettering and the green backing to prepare for re-use.  This is why some of the “new” signs are still on smaller blanks.

According to our DPW source, when a new street name sign is installed to replace an existing one, whenever possible the DPW’s sign shop uses a “recycled” blank, typesetting the street name to fit, and often adding a heart.  Here’s an example of a recycled “new” sign:

If no suitable blanks are available for re-use, the new sign is created on the larger 9-inch blank:

These larger blanks are sometimes quite thin, and usually have no reinforcement of any kind, and can be easily damaged:

Heavier-gauge blanks are available, but are expensive.

The new blanks are at least 9 inches tall (some are 12 inches), to accommodate 6-inch uppercase letters mandated by the FHWA. Larger street name signs are being required these days whenever they’re being replaced as part of a road project funded by state or federal government.

Now your head is as crammed as mine is with images of all of the inconsistencies of Worcester’s street name signage.  If you’re a resident of Worcester, does it embarrass you that our signage lacks any sort of consistency?

Sometimes “new” isn’t an improvement — though it could be, if planned & executed well.  Next time we’ll take a look at the sign replacements happening in nearby towns and see what lessons Worcester could learn from them.  We’ll also take a peek at some of Worcester’s signage “bloopers” — street name signs that the DPW probably wishes had never seen the light of day, much less a prominent place on a street corner.

Cleaning Up

I read this letter to the editor the other day, and it reminded me of when I was in seventh grade and wrote a letter to the editor about the importance of a Prop 2 1/2 override so that I could continue my music education in the public schools.  Mad props, Erin Ligouri!  (You know you’re old when all your idioms are from more than a decade ago.  I can’t wait until my children are in high school so that I can hear the following question: “Mother, I do not know this player of whom you speak.  Why should we hate the game he plays rather than the player himself?”)

As Tracy knows, I am involved in certain cleanup activities, so for Erin’s benefit, as well as that of the Worcester blogosphere, I’d like to discuss my thoughts on cleaning up Worcester.

1. You are Somebody.
There’s a wonderful quote attributed to Lily Tomlin:

I said “Somebody should do something about that.”
Then I realized I am somebody.

Don’t expect the Telegram to write an editorial, and don’t expect that someone else is going to take the initiative to start cleaning things up.  I don’t mean that in a negative way, though.  There are plenty of people who are willing to help or support your cleanup efforts.  Ultimately, if you want to see a change, you are the perfect person to start the ball rolling.

2.  The city government is committed to keeping the city clean.
(Please, no eye-rolling.)

I don’t always agree with the city manager, but I am a huge fan of the Keep Worcester Clean program.  (Commissioner Moylan is also one of my favorite people of the year, but I’ll discuss that in a couple of months.)

If there is large-scale dumping in your neighborhood, you should file a complaint.  As Sean found, DPW responds to these complaints pretty quickly.  (DPW also promises to address graffiti with a 72-hour turnaround.)

3.  Consider coordinating an Earth Day cleanup. 
When I wanted to address some of the large-scale dumping on city-owned/managed land in my neighborhood, I called the City Manager’s Office.  They suggested I contact the Regional Environmental Council so that I could be the site coordinator at an Earth Day cleanup.

For the past two years, I’ve been the site coordinator for the Swan Avenue/God’s Acre site, which has been considered one of the two “worst” Earth Day Cleanup sites in the city.   (“Worst” here means “a ton of really heavy stuff spread out over a large area.”)  For our first year, we were fortunate to have volunteers from Waste Management who brought a garbage truck.  They loaded refrigerators, TVs, couches, and other large items into the truck; without them, my neighbors and I would have been completely overwhelmed.  Last year, our neighbors, along with volunteers from Shaw’s in Webster Square, filled a 30-foot container with more trash.

I wish I could say that it doesn’t break my heart when I see more trash in an area I just cleaned a month or two before.  I wish I could say that I don’t get insanely angry when I see motor oil dumped in conservation land.  But I will say that our cleanups have improved the level of trash about 95%, and that it’s always rewarding to set aside a Saturday morning and have a huge pile of trash moved away at the end.

So, if there’s dumping on city-owned land in your area (parks, etc.), consider coordinating an Earth Day Cleanup.

4.  Start small.
I started my cleanup efforts by putting bottles and cans in the bottom basket of the stroller.  I’d fill it up as my children and I took our evening constitutional.  While it does make the stroller smell like the floor of a fraternity on a Saturday morning, it also helps keep the area look a bit neater.  I find that people are more likely to toss trash out their window if an area already looks like a dump.  Taking care of the small-ticket items (candy wrappers, bottles and cans, etc.) can go a big way in making your street look better.

5. Don’t go it alone.
This is a corollary to “You are Somebody.”  Your neighbors are Somebody, too, and the chances are pretty high that they feel the same way you do.  If you start cleaning up, they will notice.

One thing I found in my cleanup efforts is how much my neighbors started to wave to me and stop and offer my kids a yogurt or a drink when they saw the impact I was making in the neighborhood.  I am a very shy person, so it’s tough for me to knock on doors and ask people to pick up tires for a few hours.  But when people saw me collecting flattened cans on the side of the road, they started coming up to me to discuss the latest trash they’d noticed, or asked me how they could help.

It’s very easy to start to feel like it’s you against the world, or (at the very least) you against the illegal dumpers.  Most people don’t want to live in squalor.  Give them the opportunity to help you, and you may be pleasantly surprised at how many people want to help.

6.  Start a blog.
If all else fails, start taking pictures and share your experiences with other people.  Who knows?  Maybe the right person will be reading your work!