A mixed case for street signs

delaware marshall street signs

Also, don't go that way on Marshall.

After D mentioned the new mixed-case street signs on the reconstructed section of Delaware Ave in Albany, B went out a took a photo (you can see the old-style all caps signs in the background of the large version).

Both D and Summer commented that the new mixed-case signs are hard to read. Wrote Summer: "It makes no sense to me, because all you see is a big "D" and the rest is tiny."

As CapHwys noted, mixed-case lettering on street signs is now a standard in the latest edition of the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices, the bible for road signs. There's research from as far back as 1950 that using mixed-case, as opposed to ALL CAPS, is easier to read. (Although, the gains from lower case letters apparently drop off when people aren't sure of the word they're looking for.)

Earlier on AOA:
+ Next exit: the correct lettering?
+ Next exit: illegibility

photo: B


The problem with these signs is not the mixed case but rather the fact that the height of the lower-case letters is too low. The lower-case "l" should be as tall as the upper-case "D." (This is the same problem as with the Exit 6 signs. Maybe it's the same "consultant"?)

Yeah, obviously the signs are easy to read in B's fabulous photo, but at a distance (say- Emack & Bolio's patio) the lowercase letters are barely legible.

That reflection making the Marshall St sign almost look semi-transparent was a happy accident.

Anyway, the reason this text is being used for readability is the same as that old email that went around a few years ago that had every word misspelled, but you could still read it because the first and last letters were intact. We don't read words letter-by-letter. These signs could say "Deawrlae" and "Msalrhal" and they'd still be useful for navigation. An exception is when, as mentioned, the word is unfamiliar.

The thing is, you don't want people reading the entire word on the sign. You want them driving, and looking at the road. It actually takes more brainpower to look at "DELAWARE" and "MARSHALL" (because we don't normally read in ALL CAPS, which is why it's used for emphasis, and which is why it's also annoying when mom forwards that ALL CAPS email about using Raid on muggers) and parse that into intersection of Delaware and Marshall than it does to look at the "Delaware" and "Marshall", recognize the D and M, and parse that. If you're looking for that intersection, you recognize it and all is well, if you're not, your brain can discard the information without having to think about the rest of the letters on the signs.

It may seem ridiculous that we're spending money not only to replace signs but also to research these things when you're actually talking about fractions of a second of attention being spent. But if you've ever been in an accident, you know what that fraction of a second means, and then look at how many signs are at this intersection alone. Keeping people from being distracted by the flood of information pouring into our little monkey brains while we drive is not easy, at all. And a good reason to take the bus.

I'm not as bothered by the mixed-case signs as everyone else. This is because of two things:
1. I have an excellent optometrist who ensures my eyesight (with glasses) is up to X-ray vision levels.

Seriously, if they wanted to make signs easier to read, they should just put them in serif fonts.

As an old typographer, I applaud the use of mixed-case signs. However, mixed-case is one thing, and setting an appropriate x-height is another -- the lower case letters should be taller in order to be legible from a distance and while moving.

B- It doesn't take away from your point, but that email that went around has been proven to be false. Studies show reading the messed up words actually takes longer.

Thanks, I actually hate that email. I do think it's a little ridiculous to care too much about this at all; a better solution would probably have been to phase in the new signs as the old ones needed to be replaced for whatever other reasons.

If we really want to talk signs, let's talk about why the completely unreadable ones closer to downtown are still around (the white ones).

It seems the City of Albany cannot follow the standards and guidelines of the Federal MUTCD. Excerpts numbered from the December 2009 edition:

(1) Standard: "If a pictograph is used, the height and width of the pictograph shall not exceed the upper-case letter height of the principal legend of the sign."

The City of Albany logo is clearly larger than the capital D and M for Delaware and Marshall.

(2) Guidance: Lettering on post-mounted Street Name signs should be composed of initial upper-case letters at least 6 inches in height and lower-case letters at least 4.5 inches in height.

I doubt those letters are at least 4.5 inches high.

(3) The DO NOT ENTER sign, if used, should be placed directly in view of a road user at the point where a road user could wrongly enter a divided highway, one-way roadway, or ramp. The sign should be mounted on the right-hand side of the roadway, facing traffic that might enter the roadway or ramp in the wrong direction.

Not a violation, but they should move the second sign to the opposite side of the street to increase viability.

They named a street for Kevin Marshall? He's EVERYWHERE!

One block over, on one end of the street the sign says: "Jeanette Street," on the other end it says, "Jeannette Street." Which is correct? I even tried calling DGS. They said, "Whichever one you like."

Looking at the picture, it appears that Albany DGS is using a smaller size for the lower case lettering.
You'll notice that the "l" in Delaware and Marshall are not as tall as the D or M in the respective street names.

In short, they did what the contractor on the Exit 6 signs did, they made a mistake.

Anyway, just wait till New York finally changes to mile based exit numbering.
That's another new standard int he MUTCD, and New York has 10 years to get into compliance.

"Looking at the picture, it appears that Albany DGS is using a smaller size for the lower case lettering.
You'll notice that the "l" in Delaware and Marshall are not as tall as the D or M in the respective street names."

That's exactly it. Most of the other signs on Delaware that have been switched to mixed case don't have this problem, not sure why this one has an issue. And why there are still two sets of signs there. So weird.

"That's exactly it. Most of the other signs on Delaware that have been switched to mixed case don't have this problem, not sure why this one has an issue. And why there are still two sets of signs there. So weird."

Perhaps this was Albany DGS' first attempt at using the new MUTCD standards.
They probably decided to just use the sign, knowing there was an error, due to costs.
Is it ugly, yes, but you can still read it.

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