Look at these two signs in Berlin (right outside the American embassy). They’re universal across the European Union – and probably in adjacent non-EU countries. The upper one means “yield” and the lower one with the white arrow means ”compulsory right turn”. In the United States, there are several signs that mean the same thing. The simplest one we have comes in two forms: symbol and text. That makes two different signs, but there’s a third one. It’s also a text sign but has extra words!
American symbol sign (actually a symbol with text): The sign has an arrow pointing in an upward curve toward the right and the word “only”. Photo by Joseph Dennis.
Yet there is no need to mix a symbol and a word, as both parts of the message (“right turn” and “only maneuver you can make here”) can be communicated with symbols. In the EU, the right turn sign has two states, both depicted by symbols: off and on. Off meaning you cannot turn right there and is depicted with an arrow pointing right, on a white background, circumscribed with a red circle. The “on” version means you must turn right there and is depicted with an arrow pointing right, on a blue background. (It would be pointless to have a sign saying you can turn right somewhere.)
The next sign is the text-only version of the “right turn only” sign.
American text sign: The sign says “right turn only”. Photo by Michael Jantzen.
And then there’s the most ridiculous one, “right lane must turn right”. In many places, Chicago included, bikes and buses are excepted.
A group of people protest the stupidity of this sign design. I mean, a bunch of Tea Partiers protest our socialist road system. Or something. Photo by Susan Adams.
All of the signs depicted above mean the same thing! Why have we developed four unique ways to communicate a single meaning?
While I’m on the subject of right turns, here’re two signs in San Francisco, on Market Street at Octavia Boulevard. Octavia is the end of the Central Freeway, so people driving here are in the mindset of fast highway driving. Cars cannot be turned right here and bicyclists are warned to look out for people making illegal right turns. In other words, ”Beware car drivers who break the law”.
Photo of “right turn prohibited” symbol sign and “[bikes] watch for prohibited right turns” text sign by Adam Fritzler.
About Steven Can Plan
I started this blog in 2007 as the writing assignment for an introductory urban planning class at UIC. It's about cities (mainly Chicago), GIS oftentimes, and transportation (mainly bicycling). Learn more about me, Steven Vance. I also write for Streetsblog Chicago.
Steven Can Plan is hosted on Dreamhost.
Chicago Bike Map App
The Chicago Bike Map app is a bike and street map stored entirely in your iOS device – no data connection required. The map is designed to look much like the City of Chicago's official printed and online bike map. The app works on iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad.
Highly Recommended Bike Products
I've used this pannier to carry groceries, books, my laptop, clothing, anything. I like it because it's stylish (but also "normal" looking at the same time), stands up on its own, is extremely durable, and has the most universal attachment system: two hooks.
These folding locks are lighter weight and more versatile than an equally strong u-lock.
So far my longest trip was 40 miles on this saddle. It molds to your butt like Birkenstock sandals mold to your feet. The springs make the bike ride a little more comfortable and more fun (weird, because you bounce up and down on them). It also looks gorgeous. Comes in 3 colors - I got black.
Instant City: Life and Death in Karachi by Steve Inskeep
I reviewed this book that the publisher sent to me.
Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do (and What It Says About Us) by Tom Vanderbilt
As someone who doesn't like driving, but believes that cars can be efficient in moving groups of people and goods, this is my favorite book.