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.

5 thoughts on “Signs of Worcester: Graphic elements and street-type designations

  1. t-traveler says:

    there is a street sign at the corner of Park Av and Salisbury st that also contains street numbers or city block numbers?

    • Nicole says:

      There are at least a handful that I know of, and none handled the way the MUTCD specifies. One such sign at Mower St. will be featured in the next post.

  2. Nifty stuff, Nicole. Thanks for this good research.
    Apropos of almost none of that, here’s a test of our knowledge of iconic signs – Guess That Highway Sign!

  3. Dan Osterman says:

    what’s with all the hearts – everyday is valentine’s day?

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