Worcester’s new export industry

In the heart of the village of Rochdale is a sign reminiscent of the newer ones in Worcester:

"Sheldon Street"

In case you can’t see it, here’s a closer look:

Sheldon Street

My first thought was — is there a Sheldon Street in Worcester that now lacks a sign?  The answer is no — and there also isn’t a Sheldon Street on the books in Leicester/Rochdale.

My second thought was — could this be a secret retreat/hideaway for one of Worcester’s lovers of  hearts & serifs, like Mike O’Brien or Bob Moylan?  If so, why choose a fictitious street name?

Perhaps this is the abode of a kleptomaniacal DPW Sign Shop worker who really loves what he does to Worcester’s street signs all day?

A peek at the assessor’s data reveal that the owners of that blue house actually have the surname Sheldon.  Is our DPW department now selling street name signs as souvenirs?

Who knows, perhaps this could be the way to plug the fiscal gap created when UMass took a bunch of properties off the tax rolls.


Signage for giraffes

The relatively new stop sign installed at Webster St. and Hope Avenue is nearly invisible to those of us driving smallish sedans — the top of my windshield is about 40 inches off the ground, while this sign is mounted 11 feet (132 inches) off the ground:

Worcester has a notorious aversion to following the MUTCD regulations & guidelines about signage, but for those who are curious, the MUTCD recommends that signs like these be mounted between 5 feet & 7 feet off the ground, depending on whether it’s in a rural area or business/residential.  By those standards, an ideal place to mount that stop sign might have been just below the Hope Avenue street name sign.

That Hope Avenue sign, by the way, is about 7 feet off the ground. A good height, but the way the blade is turned makes it almost invisible to those coming to the intersection from Auburn.

Admiring the dubious charms of Big Beverly

If you’ve driven down Lincoln Street recently, you’ll likely have noticed this sign, printed on a 12-inch tall blank:

OK, that’s an improvement — I could actually read that one from across an intersection.  It’s still ugly as all get-out, but I could read it.

With our mysteriously limitless sign replacement budget, I suppose we could just replace all of our signs with these humongous ones.  Switching to a readable sans-serif font is way too practical & cheap for Worcester.

(As an aside, Big Beverly proves that the sign shop still doesn’t know what to do with descenders — notice how the tail on the “y” touches the bottom border.  The whole thing should have been set a half inch higher on the blank.  Worcester’s now full of descender-related bloopers.)

For those of you interested in typography in general, I recommend reading Just My Type by Simon Garfield.  The most interesting part of the book, though not detailed enough, was a chapter devoted to highway signage, and the competition between MOT Serif and Transport for use on British highways (see this excellent post for examples of both and a good critique of the book, which is not without its faults).

I remain unconvinced that mixed case is the way to go on regular street signage, and my newfound crush on MOT Serif may be to blame, but that’s a discussion for another day.

(And if you can indulge me on linking to another discussion on signage types — read this and the associated links.)

Tittle-Tattle . . . or Spot the Overdot

An observant person might notice that this street name sign lacks a tittle:

(a tittle is the dot we usually see on lowercase “i” and “j”)

A thorough person might walk around to the other side of the sign & notice something else amiss:

There are three possibilities for what happened here:

1.  The same person(s) who continue to steal this street sign decided to be playful with the dots.

2.  The cunning linguists of the DPW sign shop are experimenting with the diacritic known as the overdot — maybe they know something about the pronunciation of Richardson that the rest of us don’t.  But it’s a bit off-centered over the “o”, so maybe it’s one-half of a diaeresis.

3.  The missing tittle from the other side was probably left behind on the release paper [used with vinyl adhesive plotter-cut lettering] & transferred erroneously when the second side was affixed.

But I welcome other suggestions!

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?

What if Worcester did it right?

This handsome street name sign is fully MUTCD compliant:

It features a full City of Worcester seal, correctly sized typography in uppercase/lowercase as required by the latest standards, is correctly positioned both vertically and horizontally on the sign blank, and uses a FHWA-approved typeface which is designed to be readable from greater distances than typical fonts.

As you may have guessed by now, this is one that the DPW’s sign shop did not create.  Worcester prefers to ignore the research & experience of the FHWA by using a serif-style typeface better suited to term papers & recipes.  And I’m sure it’s less bother to spit out a red dingbat heart than actually print Worcester’s beautiful seal.

Mediocrity, thy name is Worcester.

Mallard Quackery

Quasi-Kudos to the DPW for replacing the ’60s-era street sign at Mallard Road.  Frequent readers may recall, back in February I mentioned that the DPW, while fixing a nearby hydrant,  might want to consider replacing this sign:

Thanks to a mysteriously bountiful sign replacement budget, they’ve now put up a new sign:

To the best of my knowledge, this is the first-ever yellow sign replaced under the current “Hearts & Serifs” Blitzkrieg of the past dozen years.  As far as I can tell, every other sign replaced has been of much later vintage, and the priority seems to be to replace the most legible ones first.

Why the “quasi-kudos”?  Besides any distaste I may have for serifs on street signs, notice the different shading on the backer beneath “Rd”.  They seem to have repaired this sign with material that doesn’t match the original.  Perhaps this first left the shop as “Mallard Blvd” or “Mallard Ct” and had to be corrected by the poor installers.

Of greater concern is the angle at which the sign is mounted.  It’s nearly illegible from any great distance — here it is as it appears from Upland Street westbound:

And eastbound isn’t much better:

And perhaps I’m nit-picking, but how hard would it have been to reuse the “Not A Thru Street” that was affixed to the original, since we don’t seem to have left the sign shop supplied with a new one?

So while I’m reservedly grateful on behalf of the Mallard Rd. folks that they’ve finally got a new sign after 50 years, I think we could have done a whole lot better by them.

And we still haven’t fixed the little trench left after the hydrant repair:
You can’t tell from the photo, but despite the cold patch, the middle of that rectangle is several inches below the level of the street.  Enough to knock your dentures out if you hit it while going 25 miles per hour in your Buick.

Can’t get there from here

This pretty sign recently got damaged by a tall truck:

In addition to making a left, if you want to go to Worcester Center Boulevard, you’ll also need a time machine, because that street no longer exists.

At the moment, most of it is still there physically . . . during a flurry of street name changes that occurred a few years ago, though, the portion that circled the mall garages was renamed “Foster St.”, and the rest became Major Taylor Boulevard .  Online maps now reflect the changes:

I wonder how long we’ll have signs with the old name?  Perhaps the clumsy trucker tried to do us a favor & get the sign replacement done sooner rather than later.

If I were going to seek out a street of the past, I might prefer Blackstone Street, which ran parallel to Summer Street.  Unfortunately, it’s now buried under the kudzu-festooned parking garage of “Medical City“.