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Welcome to the Land of No

No bike riding!

The Lincoln Park Zoo has a Nature Boardwalk at the South Pound near 2000 N Cannon Drive. Each venue has their own signs listing the rules for their respective properties.

Each sign employs a different symbol to communicate the same thing – bicycles cannot be ridden in the parks – but their designs take two approaches.

One says no and the other says yes.

  • The Zoo’s symbol uses the color red, a line slashed over a bicycle, and “Please do not:” text to prohibit the activity of riding a bike.
  • The Pond’s symbol uses the color blue and suggests walking your bike, accompanied by the text, “Please walk your bike”.

Please walk with your bicycle. 

Bicyclists – and drivers for that matter – are constantly being told no. Might there be a friendlier, more positive way to communicate rules?


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Wayfinding signs at Van Buren Street Metra station are incomplete

New RTA interagency transfer signage near Van Buren Street Metra Electric station

“B” marks a new bus boarding area near the Van Buren Street Metra Electric station.

The Regional Transportation Authority has spent $2 million to improve wayfinding between CTA, Metra, and Pace train stations and bus stops in a needed effort to connect newbies and long-time residents to their next transfer.

Some of the signs need to show better information, though. The RTA installed signs at the Van Buren Street Metra Electric station at Michigan Avenue that create “bus loading groups,” similar to bus bays at suburban park & rides.

It works like this: you come across the nearest bus stop – I happened upon boarding area B – hoping to find the route you need. Instead, though, that route stops at boarding area A. The sign at boarding area B points you in the direction of A and from where you stand you can see a sign that identifies A.

RTA’s signs have two issues. First, they don’t tell you that boarding area C is across the street – unless you inspect the small map – and instead point you in the direction of A (from B). If you walk in the direction of the arrow from boarding area B you will not run into boarding area C or a sign that tells you where to cross the street in order to access C.

The first issue creates the second problem: by reading and relying upon the sign’s text you can’t know at which boarding area, A or C, you should board a bus route that stops at both boarding areas. (Those who also study the maps on another side of the sign will have better luck.) That’s because the same route operates in both directions and if you’re not familiar with the route, you won’t know which direction takes you towards your destination.

New RTA interagency transfer signage near Van Buren Street Metra Electric station

Both boarding areas A and C will get you on the 3, 4, J14, and 26, but only the map on the other side tells you which direction they go. Also, while the arrow points in the direction of boarding areas A and C, only the map tells you that A is across the street.

The fix seems an easy one. First, point the arrows on A and B across the street instead of north or south towards B or A, and add an intermediary sign along the walking path that communicates that “boarding area C is across the street.” Then, update the signs to indicate which direction the bus routes are going so that travelers are assured they need to visit C across the street for King Drive buses going towards Bronzeville or A for King Drive buses going toward Streeterville.

The RTA has installed other signage in this program at 95th and Western (CTA & Pace), Joliet Union Station (Metra & Pace), and Davis Station in Evanston (CTA, Metra, & Pace).

The United States uses way too much text for regulatory traffic signs

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. 

Witness appeal

In London and Greater London (but not the City of London), when the Metropolitan Police want the public’s help in their investigations of incidents and crimes, including traffic collisions, they erect “Witness Appeal Signs” near the scene.

“We are appealing for witnesses.” Singapore also uses these signs.

It seems in 2009, though, the Metropolitan Police banned the use of the signs except for traffic collisions. Some research indicated that the public perceived that, due to the presence of the signs, crime in the neighborhood was increasing. The Daily Mail article quoted one officer to say:

“They were placed where the crimes actually happened, so were very much targeted at people who might have seen something. Now that source of information has been cut off…”

The signs are placed and designed in such a way to be seen by people walking, biking, and driving near the scene of the incident.

How effective is this small sign posted on a pole compared to a bright Witness Appeal Sign in London?

I suggest that American police departments, Chicago’s included, look into installing similar signs for the most severe traffic collisions, starting with a bilingual “witness appeal sign” for the hit & run crash in Pilsen that killed Martha Gonzalez.

© 2019 Steven Can Plan

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