We’re escaping a recession. Unemployment in New York state was recorded at 8.4 percent, according to Google Public Data statistics (1) as of July and those numbers have only gone up. People are hurting, Mike Bloomberg is still keeping things light and bright, and the City That Never Sleeps is paying millions of dollars for new street signs. According to reports from WBGH in Binghamton, NY (2), these new street signs are all a part of the city striving for compliance.
How much does compliance cost? “$27.5 million.” This money will be used to replace 250,000 street signs by the year 2018. Folks from New York City whose unemployment benefits may have run out or others who are hurting will probably be pretty upset to hear that this is the way the city’s tax dollars are being spent. Get mad but don’t blame City Hall; don’t even rail out against Albany. There are new “federal regulations that require signs to better reflect light.” Okay, that sounds reasonable right? So why not just send out a crew to spray down the existing street signs?
Because of capital letters. New York City’s street signs are all capital letters. That is just the way they have always been. It’s the second part of this compliance law that sends the city street sign argument into overdrive. All street signs need to “be written in a combination of upper and lowercase letters to make them easier for drivers to read.”
So this is what the federal government says cities like New York, who don’t have their signs in this fashion, need to do. Is this ruling just the Federal Highway Administration’s call for attention? That’s unclear right now. What is clear is that they have determined that a mixed-case sign is easier for a driver to read.
“Signs that use both upper and lowercase letters are easier to recognize, particularly when a driver is farther away, according to research conducted before this requirement was included,” says Cathy St. Denis, who is a spokesperson for the Federal Highway Administration. While this may be what their internal research has concluded, the masses on the streets aren’t so sure.
“Wow!” says Katie P., a longtime New York City resident and occasional driver. “That money would be so much better spent actually teaching people to read rather than making sure people who can already read can tell the difference between capital and lowercase.” Katie faulted the research and called the Federal Highway Administration’s tactics into question.
When asked her opinion of the FHWA research, she was brief. “They probably just said whatever,” she concluded.