British officials demand reduction in street sign clutter

British officials have found that excessive street signage impedes driver safety, in addition to cluttering up a picturesque view. As a result, national-level British officials are writing to city council leaders across England demanding road signage be decreased. From a Reuters article about the uncluttering:

When busy Kensington High Street in central London was stripped of excess road furniture, for example, it helped reduce accidents by 47 percent.

Reducing the signage clutter also reduces the cost of making new signs and replacing old ones for a local government. Again from the article:

“Our streets are losing their English character,” [Communities Secretary Eric] Pickles said. “We are being overrun by scruffy signs, bossy bollards, patchwork paving and railed-off roads — wasting taxpayers’ money that could be better spent on fixing potholes or keeping council (local) tax down.”

Is your city or neighborhood cluttered with too many signs? My specific suburb isn’t, but downtown Washington, D.C., is a much different situation. It will be interesting to see if the signage uncluttering in Britain becomes a trend across the globe, and helps reduce accidents caused by signage clutter.

Thanks to reader Carol for this news tip.

18 Comments for “British officials demand reduction in street sign clutter”

  1. posted by Availle on

    The idea behind that is that if you are less certain of what’s happening on the road (and who’s right and wrong), you’ll be more careful – for example if you are not entirely sure who has the right of way in a roundabout, you’ll drive more slowly and take the other vehicles/bicycles/pedestrians more into account.

    It’s part of a movement called “shared space”: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shared_space

    “Conventional road priority management systems and devices such as kerbs, lines, signs and signals are replaced with an integrated, people-oriented understanding of public space, such that walking, cycling, shopping and driving cars become integrated activities.”

  2. Profile photo of

    posted by s on

    In my experience, many signs are too complicated; trying to protect “idiots” from themselves; and no one really reads signs. Many traffic control signs are essential for order, but many info signs just create clutter.

    I think the same thing happens on web sites that try to do too much in one space (not Unclutterer, which is awesome!).

  3. posted by Anita on

    … @A beat me to it.

    I never found signage to be “cluttery” or excessive in my area, even int he downtown core, so either my city’s uncluttered or I’ve become too used to the signs?

    I have a much bigger problem with things like banners and ads popping up everywhere. Road signage serves a purpose, whereas ads are pure clutter, in my opinion.

  4. posted by Dawn F on

    I hate the huge electronic billboards that roll through different advertisements every few seconds – talk about distracting!

    Now if people will just put DOWN their phones… THAT would certainly reduce accidents!

  5. posted by ecuadoriana on

    Oh, yeah, and heaven forbid one actually slows down to be able to read and comprehend all those signs! The guy behind you will ram up your back end!!!

    And I agree with Dawn F on both points- the electronic billboards are HORRIBLE and should be illegal.

    Also, with all the distractions we have to deal with while driving anyway- from signs, other cars, pedestrians, animals- why would anybody be so stupid and rude and dangerous (to themselves and others) as to drive while on a cellphone? I’ve said this for years and I will keep preaching it: Imagine you are yabbering away on a cellphone while driving and you get into an accident. Do you really want the person on the other end to have the sounds of your screaming and crashing to be the last thing they remember about you? Think about that before you pick up your cellphone to yell at your kids to get their home work done, or tell your spouse to not forget to pick up milk and the dry cleaning, or remind your co worker to not forget to put the new covers on that TPS report… or whatever other inane cluttery junk you blab about on the cellphone. If what you have to say is THAT important then pull over, stop, and concentrate on what you’re talking about.

    OK. I’m done. Now, hang up your cellphone and enjoy the scenery!

  6. posted by JuliaRose on

    Funny how the topic shifts from sign clutter to cell phones.
    Anyway, I’m a civil engineer-in-training and I know the idea of minimizing sign clutter has been recognized in the US for a long time. That’s why many towns have strict permitting rules about signs.
    @Availle – I’ve always been taught that confusing the driver causes more accidents, not less. Roundabouts, for example, have many more accidents than signals. However, the accidents are at much lower speeds so there are far, far less injuries.
    We do add obstructions (like splitter islands or mini Roundabouts) to make people feel like they have to slow down. The curves in a roundabout do this trick. But we work very hard to make the rules and expectations clear. Accidents happen when people break the rules, even if they break them at low speeds.

  7. posted by JuliaRose on

    Also, the shared space space concept you mention sounds like something we’re stuck with, not something we do on purpose. I’ve designed some bike paths – which are intended to separate bikes from cars – and they can be very expensive. And to fully separate bikes/pedestrians from cars we would have to build overpasses at every intersection – even more expensive. Add to that the fact that most people simply won’t use the alternate route if it’s less convenient than dealing with cars and we’re stuck.

  8. posted by CroydonOmnibus on

    Here in the UK there’s another part to this sensible policy – the rising price of aluminium, copper, etc. Many street signs in rural areas have been stolen, copper wire stripped from buildings under construction and even the plaques taken from war memorials… Our intrusive health and safety culture is as bonkers as ever, but any policy that saves money will definitely be taken up!

  9. posted by Laetitia in Australia on

    @JuliaRose – are you going to join us in the traffic engineering ranks when you graduate?

    I’m a traffic engineer (civil engineering speciality for the uninitiated) working for local government. The principle of reducing visual clutter to ensure drivers can see the important signs (regulatory, warning) in time for them to take appropriate action has been well understood here (and in our signage manuals) for years.

  10. posted by Julie on

    I was glad to see this topic. Street signs themselves are not too bad where I am, but I can see where more signs means less time to understand them and more confusion. (Add to this the many new drivers who come from other countries and don’t understand basic signs and customs of driving & it’s much worse.)
    My pet peeve is in growing cities (such as Raleigh or Durham, etc.) where each corner is plagued with a dozen or more signs pointing this way or that way to such-and-such subdivision and ‘homes starting in the low $400,000s.’ And I can only imagine the months leading up to today and the political signs! That’s very distracting to someone who has eyes always looking for yard sale signs. (LOL, yeah, I’m a recovering yard sale junkie.)
    Anyway, I am very thankful that the county I live in has laws against the roadside signs. Yes, they show up sometimes, but only one at a time and never for long.
    On a funny note, a title loan place once had a sign in front of the local DMV. That was gone the next day.

  11. posted by Volker on

    In Europe more and more citys and villages try to declutter the signs. It’s not just about safty, it can save a city really much money. One sign costs around 120-150 Eur… now sum all the unneeded signs up.

    Same happens with traffic lights. There are much successfull removal of traffic lights, which has also multiple benefits. :)

  12. posted by Alaskan Signage on

    Up here in Anchorage (one of the biggest Alaskan cities) there are not enough signs! We do not have billboards (luckily), but speed limit signs are so scarce up here. Take for instance on my way to work there is not one speed limit sign from my house till 3 miles away! (except for at corners where you are to slow down). So I always thought it was 45 until an officer kindly corrected me. :-|
    Then out on the highways you would be lucky to see a speed limit sign! Yet again another kind officer corrected me that for the last 5 miles it was no longer a 30 mph zone, but a 50…. Ugh!
    I actually draw the road signs for my job, so for new road projects they have been actually adding more adequate signage. But for older roads, forget it. And then when it snows you’d be lucky to be able to read any road sign…I wonder when they will come up with heated signs…now THAT would be a concept! :-P

  13. posted by Fry on

    In my twisty-turny neighborhood (I’m in a suburb of Minneapolis, Minnesota), they decided to add extra turn signs with speed limits and stop signs. This came about through shovel-ready stimulus money. To put this in perspective, the neighborhood was designed to be curvy so it doesn’t have straight high-speed throughways, and these curves if you try to drive more than 20 in winter you’ll be on someone’s lawn. Two separate signs were installed on my property alone. It’s definitely a waste and ruins the aesthetic of the neighborhood. I’d rather drivers look out for the swarms of kids on bikes than those signs.

  14. posted by Kara on

    My husband has complained about this for years, ever since they started putting up a much brigher yellow school crossing sign and then eventually striped the metal post with yellow reflective tape. His argument is that there is so much clutter that we tune it out and the city needs to keep amping up the signs to make sure they are noticed.

    A peronal pet peeve of mine is when there is a sign warning about something but 2 blocks earlier or later is the same situation and no sign. If we don’t need it in one spot, we probably don’t need it in the other.

    Goodness, we sound like a crabby family!

  15. posted by Anonymous on

    We have the opposite problem in New Orleans. In the neighborhoods badly flooded by the LEVEE STRUCTURAL FAILURE during Katrina, some street signs have still not been replaced. You’ll see handmade signs that residents put up so that adjusters, etc. could find their houses. The city has been replacing the street signs, but still has a way to go-5 years later.

  16. posted by Zac on

    I don’t want to sound like a curmudgeon, but I think the signage in the Bay Area in general, and San Francisco in particular, is excessive, ugly and distracting. Talk about visual clutter. Every ten feet there are redundant parking hour signs, street sweeping signs, commercial parking, turn signs, bus stop signs…etc. ad nauseum! Even the windy country roads outside of the city are a mess with signs. Its a distraction to the natural beauty of the surroundings, and totally unnecessary.

  17. posted by JuliaRose on

    @Laetitia,
    No, traffic engineering is too specialized. All the traffic engineers I know personally are really struggling right now. I am in a lot of transportation projects – just more in the design and construction phases, not so much in planning. My biggest project was an urban corridor improvement that included designing 3 Roundabouts, so I understand pretty well how those operate :-)

  18. posted by Anne Elizabeth on

    I remember reading a few years ago a travel book by an American who found himself on a roundabout in England and couldn’t find his exit. He drove round and round several times, frantically reading signs, before he found it. Fun.

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