The Bureau of Adequate Signage

February 20, 2004

Bureau Report

From the Bureau of Adequate Signage:

6. The bus stop at Madison and Wells does not list that Bus 60 comes by there, nor the route of Bus 60. Which would have allowed me to avoid my odyssey in public transport yesternight.

Previous reports.

Posted by Chris on 02/20/04

February 5, 2004

The Bureau of Adequate Signage

One of my pet peeves (and I have a whole managerie of these peeves by now) is INADEQUATE SIGNAGE WHEN I'M TRYING TO GET AROUND. No one ever wants to be lost. No one likes having to pull over and look at the tiny print on the map at night by the light of an iPod display. No one likes having to double back because that last street wasn't marked. (Although sometimes I'd LOVE to be able to double back - make a wrong turn in one of Chicago's neighborhoods and the chances are you'll be stuck in a labyrinth of One-Ways.)

Whether it's on the road or on the train or in an airport or in a shopping center, GIVE ME A SIGN, O LORD!

Unfortunately our city is rife with Inadequate Signage. And it could be easily fixed - in most cases by moving an existing, poorly-placed sign rather than adding a new one.

Accordingly, it is time for my newly formed organization, The Bureau of Adequate Signage, to present our rankings to the City of Chicago.

And unfortunately I have to report that Chicago is the 2nd worst city in the world for Adequate Signage. (Granted - my sample right now includes only Chicago, Atlanta*, and London.). My standard for Adequate Signage is that a reasonably intelligent person should be able to find their way across our city using any mode of transportation without having to flag someone down to help them. Below are just a few of the problems I've encountered with Chicago signage.

1. Street Not Marked in Any Way.

Every intersection needs to be marked. It's that simple. And it would take just one sign on any corner. If there are overhead lines or traffic lights, then the sign should ideally be posted there in the center. The intersection of Pulaski and Ainslie is NOT marked, for instance, which led to me driving around longer than I had to, and delaying a lovely brunch I was going to when I was starving.

There are hundreds of such intersections, and I plan to report them all.

2. One Way Signs on Wrong Side of Street And Not High Enough.

Hypothetical: You are about to turn right onto a street. You are therefore looking mainly TO THE RIGHT, with an occasional glance left to make sure no one is coming. What you have not realized, though, is that HOLY CRAP YOU ARE ABOUT TO TURN THE WRONG WAY ON A ONE-WAY.

So where is the ONE WAY sign posted? Not on the right. Not up high in the center. It's posted DOWN LOW TO THE LEFT, where you are not going to see if it if you haven't already thought about looking. At least this is the case at Wells and Madison, where if a person is in a hurry they can add to the chaos of weekend loop traffic by ALMOST TURNING DOWN THE WRONG WAY BUT THANK GOD YOU JERKED THE WHEEL AROUND AT THE LAST MINUTE.

Ladies and gentlemen of the Traffic Court, of COURSE we should check whether a road is a One Way before we turn onto it - but would it not help if the sign was posted somehere that it might do a forgetful person the most good?

3. El Stops / Trains Not Marked.

Is it funny that you could not know where you are at all times on the El? It's not so large a system, after all!

Except that sometimes people fall asleep on the El, and sometimes - believe it or not this is the case - the train is so crowded that you only have a tiny sliver of a view out of the window. And sometimes visitors unfamiliar with our fair city are trying to get by on the El.

Many times I have noted that if I did not know exactly where I was on the Blue Line going home, a simple glance out the window as we come to a halt in a station would NOT help. The station name is sporadically printed along the support beams - nothing else. There is no color-coding, no unique design to identify the station, nothing.

There is often no system map in view, at least until you get on the train, and then it is posted - maybe - only right above the door.

For an entire stretch of a train stop, with trains arriving from both directions on both sides, there is often only ONE sign pointing out which train is on which side.

Meanwhile, in the London Underground, each platform is unmistakably labeled, and the map specific to that route is emblazoned on the wall. And maps of the entire system are PLENTIFUL. When I was using their subway system, I was struck by the fact that when you were down there you COULD NOT MISS a map, no matter where your eyes rested.

(Their system also notably does NOT smell like elephants or look like a place where Morlocks might live, but that is for another bureau, I suppose.)

4. Inconsistent "No Parking Sign" / Overzealous No-Parking Enforcement.

Schubert Avenue - just north of AMC City North Theatre, just west of the BBQ joint. There is a phantom stretch of street with no parking signs at all, but they will ticket your car for parking here. If you carry a digital camera so that you can snap a quick image, you can successfully contest the ticket.

Or the city could Adequately Sign this 30-foot stretch.

5. Street Numbers Missing.

Where to start? This is not so much the City's fault as individual businesses and residences. It would be nice, when trying to zero in on a location by its actual street number address, to be able to see those street numbers from the car. A well-marked intersection would feature not just the street name but the N-S or E-W number it marks.

*Atlanta is higher because of their interstate system. Never have so many gone so fast on so many roads so inadequately signed. I've had to pass THRICE through the city of Atlanta on occasion to find my exit. Does everyone have to find their way around that city the Hard Way the first time around? The signs, like most computer error documentation, seem to be there not to direct you but to remind you of that time that you didn't know where you were going.

Posted by Chris on 02/ 5/04