Worcester Whimsy or Sign Shop Sedition?

It never ceases to amaze me how the city can always find the funds to replace street name signs that don’t need replacing, but our potholes go unfilled.

I’m also dazzled by the variety of typefaces the DPW sign shop uses on our signs.  Someone’s quietly working their way through all of the typefaces in their fonts menu.  They’ve gone past “C” already, so some kind soul must have deleted Comic Sans before they got to it.

This sign replaced a legible one within the past couple of months:

In case you haven’t noticed, there’s a “Hearts & Serifs” cabal in this city’s administration.  The above sign certainly has serifs and a heart, but flies in the face of the most frequent excuse I’ve heard for unnecessary sign replacement — that the street name needs to be in uppers & lowers, not all uppercase like the trusty signs of yore.  Hey, at least there’s one lowercase letter on that sign.

Just up the street from there are two signs that were replaced a couple of years ago:

Worcester’s certainly not hung up on consistency. We’ve spiced up our Times New Roman here with a dash of Helvetica Bold in uppercase.  Too bad they didn’t check the bottom one’s spelling against their own street listing — it should be “DiGregorio”. not Digregorio.

Some signs just leave me scratching my head.  Here’s a sign they put up this winter:

The uppercase “AVE” looks like quite the afterthought.  That sign replaced one that looked like this:

The latter may be a bit unexciting, but it was effective.  With marching orders & a bottomless budget from on high, though, there’s no limit to what the DPW can spend on sign replacement, nor are there any standards or guidelines to which they are being held.  There’s a persistent nagging from downtown to get hearts & serifs up for some peculiarly OCD reason, but the folks at the sign shop take every other creative license possible as they festoon our street corners with every imaginable signage variation, while the taxpayer foots the bill.

Is it just latent creativity that’s behind this, or is the sign shop revolting against its taskmasters in some sort of passive-aggressive quest to embarrass the “Hearts & Serifs” gang downtown?

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4 thoughts on “Worcester Whimsy or Sign Shop Sedition?

  1. elmparkblogger says:

    how about an interview with the head street sign person for this blog?

  2. Chris says:

    Excellent sign rant. I also like the AVE after Cleveland sign. Clearly and afterthought, but then that happens. I do have to point out the they are actually following very strict and new regulations from the Manual of Uniform Traffic Devices (MUTCD). The Federal Highway Administration just gave a final ruling over nationwide complaints about the requirement to change street name sign fonts, background colors and from all caps to upper and lower case letters. In the end, they gave DPW’s extra time to conform, but the FHWA is still requiring that over time all street signs be changed to upper and lower case. Research found that older people can read those signs from farther away. The heart is allowed under the regulations and if you have to change the signs anyway…what the heck. There are also a whole other set of rules concerning sign retroreflectivity and if you want to make your head hurt, read those regulations. Most signs in the city will eventually have to be replaced, so they reflect at night. Still, it is all about safety and reducing crashes, which should save us all money. If the city decides to ignore the requirement, they will lose federal and probably state funding for roads.

    I do enjoy your blog. Keep the comments and fun photos coming.

    • Nicole says:

      Chris — I really appreciate the comments.

      Regarding MUTCD and upper/lower — I’m no fan of the upper/lower, but I understand that’s what MUTCD is requiring. But streets like Lawson and Trenton were replaced quite recently and are clearly not MUTCD-compliant. (And the intention of MUTCD is to make signs more legible, which the serif fonts clearly are not.)

      Regarding the heart — I’d prefer nothing. But since nothing doesn’t seem to be an option, I’d prefer the seal (or a modified seal) of the city. The heart of Worcester is a very specific strawberry shape, and the heart shape on the signs has been as inconsistent as font choices.

      I wrote a bit about retroreflectivity at the start of the original Signs of Worcester series a couple years ago (here, here, and here).

      When I’d first started writing, I noted my preference for all-uppers. As far as I know, as long as you’re meeting the retroreflective requirements, you don’t need to change the sign (again) to upper/lower, correct?

  3. jmstewart says:

    y should worcester follow MUTCD

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