Tuesday, December 30, 2008

How it's made: Road signs

The Discovery Channel's "How it's Made" featured a segment on how road signs are manufactured, following a French company as it produces a stop sign. The introduction to the segment touches on the history of directional signage, including the government regulation of sign design, before exploring the silk screening of the fabric and cutting and curing of the steel.


Tuesday, August 26, 2008

I'm surprised it took this long

The Federal Highway Administration is in the final stages of the review process for the next update to the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices, due out in 2009. (The last update on the traffic control "bible" was 2003, and amendments have been made over the course of last few years.)

A couple of common signs will be removed from the manual (including the legend-based "Stop Ahead" and "Yield Alead" signs, in favor of those that are symbol-based) and several new signs will be making their way to America's highways. One addition is the "No Through Traffic" sign... I am pretty sure this is not the official name for it, and I've always wondered why we never had a sign like this a long time ago. It pretty much looks like a "No Straight" sign - a sibling to the No Left Turn, No Right Turn and No U-Turn sign.

A great example of use for this sign: You come to a 4-way intersection and the street directly in front of you is one-way traffic that flows in the opposite direction you are traveling, which today would be marked with Do Not Enter or One Way/Do Not Enter signs.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Teach your children well

As seen in the Post-Tribune (Northwest Indiana) this summer: a 37-year-old mom was stopped by Portage, Indiana, police and was found with two large traffic barricades in her van. To make matters worse, she had her juvenile daughter and the girl's friend in the van with her, all at about 3:30 in the morning. Said the mom: "I took the barricades as a joke, I guess it was pretty stupid." She said she was going to put them back, just before she was arrested for theft and her vehicle impounded.

Mom and daughter reside in LaCrosse, a small sleepy town south of Portage. If she was going to steal something, she should have gone for the embossed Chicago Motor Club "Play Ground" sign that is still posted there. Durr.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

To hell with traffic signs

This CNN story from back in September 2007 tells of a German community testing a new concept: one where cyclists, vehicles and pedestrian traffic share the same space. The sidewalks have been reduced in height to street-level, and traffic signs have been removed to ease congestion. The problem, they say, is that there are too many road signs. The solution: take them all down.


Thursday, May 08, 2008

Relic Hunting in Joliet, Illinois

Here's a photo a friend of mine shot of me while I was taking a picture of an old stop sign we found in Joliet. After we put the final touches on Roadside Relic on a Friday in February, we spent all day Saturday shooting relics in the area. We got a lot of good stuff that weekend, and I'll soon be posting a lot of new photos at roadsiderelic.com.

The letters in "STOP" and borders were embossed, and the sign even had the horizontal lines above and below "STOP." That makes me think that this was, at one time, a yellow stop sign. It's non-reflective and is tucked underneath a train bridge near downtown.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

A Yellow Stop Sign Find

I was cruising around Fort Wayne on Sunday taking pictures for Roadside Relic when this yellow stop sign caught my eye. If it wasn't for the embossed letters on the back of the sign, I would have totally missed it. So I did a U-turn on Coliseum Blvd. S. and pulled into the parking lot of the old International Harvester complex. The sign is rusty, bent up and needs some care, but it is a really cool relic. This "Stop - Thru Highway" sign at one time guarded traffic from the streetcars that ran down the middle of Coliseum (known back then by another street name). Hopefully, this sign will be around for many more years, and I am surprised that it has made it this long.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Nothing funny about quirky stop sign campaign

The Illinois Department of Transportation wasn't amused by the city of Oak Lawn's humorous attempt to cut down on speeding. Back in September, the city posted satirical STOP signs with messages like "WHOAAA" underneath the federally-approved, traditional stop signs. Several months and $1,700 later, the DOT has ordered the signs removed.

IDOT stated in a letter that the signs violate the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices, the instructional bible for all things transportation safety-related. There are several areas in which the supplemental signs can be considered in violation, including:

* Authority for Placement of Traffic Control Devices states that traffic control devices should be "placed only as authorized by a public authority or the official having jurisdiction..." Not sure if the mayor qualifies or not, as the city's department of public works usually handles putting up and taking down signs. (This is the reason that many of us sign collectors run into so much governmental red tape when we try to legally obtain discarded signs and signals from the street department. The DOT does not want ordinary citizens erecting discarded signs all over the city. I'd love to put up a NO PARKING sign in front of my house so that neighbors don't block the view from my front window.)

* Placement and Operation of Traffic Control Devices states that "unnecessary traffic control devices should be removed." The approved STOP sign alone should do the trick (although it apparently isn't working on its own, which is why Oak Lawn is in this debacle to begin with). But the MUTCD also states that too much of a good thing - in this case, multiple STOP signs - can be highly ineffective.

* Uniformity of Traffic Control Devices states that all signs should conform to the guidelines outlined in the Standard Highway Signs manual - a thick book of blueprints of traffic signs. This is extra sensitive when it deals with the wording on a STOP sign, which has a unique shape and color to make it one of the most recognizable symbol in the world.

I can see both sides of the argument: The mayor attempted to come up with a unique and eye-catching way of slowing speeders... I'm in marketing and understand the effectiveness of a brilliant campaign. At the same time, IDOT must uphold the regulations outlined in the MUTCD and slap the hands of those who don't.

This really demonstrates the DOT's low tolerance for humor when it comes to STOP signs, and strict policies overall. This dry personality problem is not exclusive to just this government body (When was the last time you had a good, fun chat with someone who works at your local license branch? Really, that long ago??).

But, they are just doing their jobs, and I am sure that they are a fun bunch of drunken party people once they're outside of the office.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Bride and Groom Crossing

A year has passed since my co-workers threw a bridal shower for my wife and I. A graphic designer colleague of mine designed the invitation that was passed around the office announcing the party, and knowing my affinity for street signs, he whipped up bride and groom figures on a warning sign. Thanks, Cory, if you're reading this. I thought it was so cool that the invitation still hangs in my home office.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

A new photo sharing community for signs and things

For more than a year, a developer friend and I have been working on a photo sharing site where users can post photos of "roadside relics," or those cool old things you see along the highway - gas stations, drive-inns, diners, railroads, brick streets, traffic signs and signals, factories, water towers, bridges... the list goes on. The older, rustier and vintage, the better.

Appropriately titled "Roadside Relic" (www.roadsiderelic.com), the site launched March 1 with about 500 photos in the collection. Although I uploaded all of these images under my account (user name "mycrazyhobby"), I am hoping that anyone who has an interest in vintage roadside Americana will shoot photos of their favorite relics and share them on the site.

The site allows users to upload and organize photos, tag them with keywords and a description, and rate and comment on other users' photos. I'm hoping that the site will not only appeal to the individual enthusiast, but maybe also to small towns with no budget that have an interesting story to tell through their landscape. Upload photos to the site -- old and new -- and share your town with all of us.

Roadside Relic will help to preserve these rustic pieces of the American highway before they're gone... forever. Unlike my sign collection, which is an inventory that I can manage with relative ease, it is much harder to fit an old gas station, for example, in the garage.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Stop sign from Ohio

A co-worker and her husband moved into a house here in Fort Wayne (Indiana), and the previous owners left behind a stop sign in the attic. She knew about my sign collection, so she graciously offered to give the sign to me.

Turns out the Stop sign is an odd one. It looks pretty similar to stop signs of today, but this one uses a different typeface for the word STOP -- the letters are stretched longer from top to bottom than today's standards (compare to today's stop sign).

I remember a sign similar to this while traveling through East Chicago, Indiana, as a kid to visit my grandmother. Not all stop signs in East Chicago looked like this; this one in particular was on Walsh Avenue where it Ts into 148th Street. But I always noticed how the letters were different than all the other stop signs. I consider this my first lesson in typography, at 5 years old.

The photo above is a page from the 1956 Ohio Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices, which shows the same kind of stop sign that my co-worker gave to me. There are no other specifications outlined for the typeface except that the letters should be "at least one-third the height of the sign." The typeface, though, is clearly different than all of the other signs in the manual.

Since it's pictured in the Manual, I believe stop signs with this typeface have been used regularly, but are rare now; at least, I have never seen any posted except for the one in East Chicago years ago. I'm glad to have added one to the collection, and by pure luck no less.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Signs of Craziness

Dennis Fisher, a correspondent for the Boston Globe, featured mycrazyhobby.com in the Online Finds column in the Home/Lifestyle section.

Read it here »

Friday, February 08, 2008

What do the Beatles have to do with collecting signs?

Back in December, I got an email from a chap called Alex over in the UK. Alex is the producer of a radio program and wanted to know if I'd be interested in doing an interview for the show. We set up a date and they called on a Sunday afternoon (I knew it was them thanks to the crazy, un-American-like phone number on my caller ID), and I chatted with Nick, the show's host, for a good 15 minutes.

We rapped about the usual -- how the collection got started; how many signs I have in the collection; which is my favorite, etc...

But I was just as excited when the conversation turned to the Beatles. Over in the UK, the "Penny Lane" street sign is one of the most sought after by sign thieves, according to Nick. (For those who are not Beatles fans, Penny Lane is a steet where Paul McCartney and John Lennon would meet to catch the bus to the city; they wrote a song "Penny Lane" that was released on the 1967 Sgt. Pepper album.) He wanted to know if there are any signs here in the U.S. that have the same appeal. What is the most coveted sign in the States, he asked.

People over here usually want street signs with their names on it, I explained, or signs that can have a double, mind-in-the-gutter meaning (like High Street or the I-69 shield). But I did bring up that I had read about the Abbey Road sign as being stolen many, many times... so many times that the blokes who run the street department in Westminster finally posted the sign high enough out of reach in order to deter the thieves. (Another Beatles connection, as the group's 1969 album was named for the street/studio.)

Talking about signs and the Beatles on a Sunday afternoon. It doesn't get much better than that.

See the Wikipedia entry about Penny Lane »

Sunday, February 03, 2008

Learning to drive in Jersey, 1950

I bought a New Jersey Driver's Manual that appears to be from the 1950s (there's no date on it anywhere, but I can tell from the design). I purchased it online, which is sometimes a gamble since you can't flip through the book before you buy it, but I'm rarely disappointed.

This one has two pages of signs and some 1950s-style illustrations throughout. The drawings of the cars, gas station attendants, and even the top coat and hat of the male figures throughout reflect a simpler time.

It's fun for me to see how traffic control has changed since this manual was published. Case in point: "(The stop sign) is eight-sided, or octagonal, in shape and contains the word 'stop' in black letters on a yellow background." There's no mention of white letters on a red background, which means that this manual was published well before 1954, when the design changed from yellow to red.

Visit the Stop & Yield section at mycrazyhobby.com »

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Lights, Camera, Action

Lots of cool stuff on YouTube, if you can get past all the garbage. Sometimes you have to dig deep. I'll be posting some cool street sign and traffic signal-related movies in the new Video section at mycrazyhobby.com.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Has it been that long??

OK, so 2007 was a busy year... Probably the fastest year of my life.

I was in San Francisco for the MacWorld Conference in January, where us Mac folk drooled as Steve Jobs gave us a live demonstration of the iPhone, and then John Mayer gave us a live performance of "Waiting on the World to Change."

Then I was in New York in February and stood outside the Today show with a co-worker in sub-zero temperatures. It was so cold that day that Matt Lauer made "an executive decision" and invited all of about 15 of us to crowd into the studio to watch American Idol's Randy Jackson be interviewed. (Ironically, Journey is playing on my iTunes at this moment, and I just got done watching American Idol on this Tuesday night.)

I was in Denver in March (not much excitement there); bought a house in April; married in June; honeymoon to Antigua in November; and closed the year with the worst cold of my life.

So what about all the signs, you ask? Like all of the traffic signals in Muncie, Indiana, my collection has been severly neglected. After all of the expenses that come with buying a home and being married, purchasing new pieces for the collection has been put on hold. And after the whirlwind of 2007, updaying mycrazyhobby.com was put on hold, too.

Visit the "News & Updates" section... Last updated in September 2006??? You're kidding! I had no idea that it has been that long. I feel like such a slacker.

Well, something lit a fire under my ars and I'm back in front of my iMac making edits to the site. (Hey, I'm even taking time to update the almost-forgotten Blog.) I ditched the JavaScript pop-up windows in favor of a sleaker popup module known as Lightbox. I still need to update the site with some new signs and things, while also going through the photo archives and publish each sign's "large view." I also have long-term plans for a new section that will house a collection of signs have found across the web (don't get excited... it will take me a while.)

So thanks for actually coming back to the site, and thanks for reading this Blog. Stay tuned for more updates.