There are a lot of things we take for granted in this world but “stop signs” have got to be near the top of the list. And these marvelous inventions have kept a lot of us out of accidents! Trivia: Did you know that in Hawaii some of the stop signs are blue? Well, they are. Read on my friend. And never stop learning. : )
On one of my runs the other day, I noticed a rather familiar sign up ahead – the STOP Sign. Simple in design, easy to read, and clear of its intent. As I approached the intersection, I found myself “following directions” (something my lovely wife Jackie says I don’t consistently do – but that’s for another story). When I got to the office, I of course started searching for info on the design, and of course, was quite impressed with the thought, time and effort put into “managing” our road systems – talk about a PIA (Pain in the @%$) Job! Today we have something like 160,000 miles of highway roads and about four million miles of public roads – just in the US. Here’s some great information on STOP signs, road signs and road sign directional management I think you’ll enjoy – I for sure learned way more than I expected – and kudos to the designers, engineers and just “smart” folks who helped figure all this out. What’s cool is, we’re at a point in automobile management where the visual control systems we’re so accustomed to are gradually being replaced with “smart cars”, and “self-driving cars” – wonder if they read the signs like we do. Special thanks to 99% invisible, Wikipedia and Dornbos Sign & Safety Company for the info and YouTube for the Mix. Enjoy!
Put the Top Down, Crank It Up and just Drive Mix
- Signs telling drivers to STOP are easy to identify in the United States — aside from the big block letters, their red backgrounds and octagonal shapes give them away (at least until you spot a blue one – Hawaii). But to understand why most are red, one needs to go back a bit further, to a time when stop signs were a wild new idea.
- Road signs have been used since the time of the Roman Empire. Roads can be traced back to the Bronze Age, but the Romans were the ones who took the idea and ran with it. The system of roads they’ve built, including bridges and tunnels from Portugal to Constantinople, enabled them to move armies faster. This also allowed them to bring in more people and goods. This means that with a strong road system, Rome was able to become successful.
- The very first road in Rome was the Via Appia, or also known as the Appian Way. This road was built in 312 B.C. At regular road intervals, milestones were placed, and these often stated who was in charge of the maintenance of that road portion and as well as the completed repairs. Aside from that, the Romans also built mile markers at intersections to specify the distance to travel to Rome.
- During the Middle Ages different sign types were placed at crossroads to point or direct people toward different towns. However, after the fall of Rome, roads were no longer maintained, which made transportation more challenging.
- Many inventions and progress in industry and transportation were seen in the 19th century. During this time, many travelers no longer need to ride horses to get across different towns. New modes of transportations enabled them to travel further and faster. These include bicycles 1418-1817 and automobiles about 1885.
- One of the earliest organized signing systems was developed by the Italian Touring Club. By the early 1900s, the Congress of International Touring Organizations in Paris started considering standards for road signage. Nine European governments in 1909 chose four pictorial symbol signs to be used as a standard in those areas.
- Born in 1848 in New York City, William Phelps Eno grew up in a world without stop signs. He saw firsthand the chaos of city intersections packed first with horse-drawn carriages and later with cars. As an adult, he wrote a key article on traffic issues in 1900 advocating for signage and other safety measures, then went to work on traffic plans for New York as well as Long Island and Paris. Eno is broadly credited with a number of traffic control innovations, including rotary junctions, pedestrian sidewalks and stop signs.
- Early stop signs still were not the red-and-white affairs we are most familiar with nor were they all octagonal. Instead, they varied — one of the first recorded signs to go up in Detroit, for instance, had black lettering on a white background, presumably to maximize contrast.
- Then, in 1923, the Mississippi Valley Association of State Highway Departments formalized the octagonal shape we associate with these signs to this day. The distinctiveness of the octagon was useful, but there was more to the decision than that — the designers making the call wanted to create and reinforce associations between geometry and safety.
- Traffic shape designs were based on a simple, albeit not exactly intuitive, idea: the more sides a sign has, the higher the danger level it invokes. By the engineers’ reckoning, the circle, which has an infinite number of sides, screamed danger and was recommended for railroad crossings. The octagon, with its eight sides, was used to denote the second-highest level. The diamond shape was for warning signs. And the rectangle and square shapes were used for informational signs. (how cool is that!)
- According to the Department of Transportation, each street sign must have an individual and varying shape. The DOT’s Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices actually defines the symbology of shapes. For example, the octagon is a cross-breed between a square and circle, which suggests power and complexity (so cool – now it all begins to make sense).
- Still, even with the shape decided, it would be years before an official background color was designated. And when the time came, the first color chosen was not red but yellow. While red was often associated with stop and thus a logical choice, material science of the 1930s had not yet caught up — reflectivity was deemed more important than color, so yellow was chosen as it would work at night. Red took its place only when retroreflective reds became available.
- Finally, in 1954, a red background with white letters became the new standard, which in turn brings us back to another color. Blue is much rarer, but there are some blue stop signs out there for one simple reason: they aren’t really stop signs, at least not officially.
- In some places, laws or ordinances prevent the use of public signage on private property, so in parking lots or other privately owned paved spaces, blue is used as a differentiating tactic. The solution is simple, clever and effective — whatever color the sign may have, the distinctive lettering and shape will always send a clear message to stop.
- Researchers found different shapes have different effects on our brains. People perceive the depth and forms of shapes in strange ways, as each shape conveys a different feeling and gives off a different message. By recognizing different patterns of various shapes, people are able to become more aware of how to interact with their surroundings and gain a better understanding of traffic flow on the road.
- Early on, signs were dipped into paint, and the letterings, symbols, and borders were painted black. This made it possible for the signs to be created in larger quantities. The machinery used to make these signs, however, could only create signs up to 24 inches. Therefore, this became the standard size for road signs. (now that’s great trivia!)
- In 1948, after the 2nd World War, the round letter alphabet was used on road signs, and sign legends were simplified by eliminating unnecessary words. In 1954, the use of secondary messages on stop signs was prohibited, and the yield sign was introduced. It’s a sign that features a yellow triangle with the black wording “Yield Right of Way.”
- In 1971, the use of symbols on signs expanded and has increased international uniformity. The color red was allowed to be used for additional regulatory signs. For guide signs, the colors white on green were made standard. The color orange was used for construction signs and work zone devices. School areas were also addressed, and the school sign with the pentagon shape was introduced.
- The manual for road signs is always being revised to improve the safety and efficiency of travel. Today, you can see many different colors and shapes of road signs everywhere you go. And these differ in every place or country you visit. In the United States, here are some of the present-day road sign colors that you might encounter – see if you can guess the background colors:
White – for regulatory signs
Red – for stop, yield, and prohibition signs
Blue – for road service, evacuation routes, and tourist information
Green – for directional guidance and permitted traffic movement
Yellow – for general warning messages
Fluorescent yellow or green – for pedestrian and school crossing
Brown – for guides to recreational or cultural interest areas
Orange – for warnings and guides in construction zones
- It’s amazing to know that road signs have been used for thousands of years, even before automobiles were invented. With the standardization of road signs, the roads and highways we have today are organized and safer to drive on. Thanks Mr. Eno!
DO YOU LIKE CONTESTS?
As you may know the Kowalski Heat Treating logo finds its way
into the visuals of my Friday posts.
I. Love. My. Logo.
One week there could be three logos.
The next week there could be 15 logos.
And sometimes the logo is very small or just a partial logo showing.
But there are always logos in some of the pictures.
So, I challenge you, my beloved readers, to count them and send me a
quick email with the total number of logos in the Friday post.
On the following Tuesday I’ll pick a winner from the correct answers
and send that lucky person some great KHT swag.
So, start counting and good luck!
Oh, and the logos at the very top header don’t count.
Got it? Good. :-))))