Randomness (r_ness) wrote,

A rant about street signage.

I've been to a few places in the last year or so. Before that, I spent a lot of time in eastern Massachusetts.

One of the distinguishing features of eastern Massachusetts, and to a lesser degree, of New England in general, is that the road signage is scandalously bad. Possibly it is deliberately bad. One can hardly have signage that bad without trying.

Consider that many of the travelers I met complained about how bad road signage was in South Africa. These travelers tended to be from Europe or Australasia. I understood why they complained, because signage in South Africa was clearly not as good as, say, the UK or the Netherlands.

On the other hand, I found it quite acceptable. South Africa is a country where getting lost can have some dire consequences. I only got lost twice in about 3,000 kilometers: once in Pretoria, where the sign indicating the numbered route was the classic "confirmatory sign" (i.e., after the turn), so I had to make a U-turn to get back to the right road; and once while looking for one of the Boer War battlefields. The battlefield signs took me on a wild goose chase into a township. For all I know, the township had grown up on top of the battlefield. I exited quickly anyway, because there wasn't any battlefield to be found.

Even in Soweto, the signage was just fine. With a greater Johannesburg street atlas open on the passenger seat next to me, I was easily able to navigate without having to stop to figure out where I was. Soweto, btw, looks like any other poor neighborhood with single-story bungalows albeit with the occasional shack. (Well, at least Orlando East and Diepkloof do. I didn't do a long tour of Soweto by car, because I was on my way elsewhere.)

Compared to Phnom Penh, where every corner has clear white on blue signs for the streets that meet there, in both Khmer and English, greater Boston's signage is awful. And while one can claim that Phnom Penh's signage was probably paid for with outside aid, this is something one cannot claim for Brazil's signage.

In every Brazilian city I visited, not just Sao Paulo, Rio, and Brasilia, but places like Belo Horizonte and Goiania, not only were there street signs on nearly all corners, but these standard signs included the street name, the CEP (the Zip+4 equivalent), and the building numbers for that block. Brazil is not known for its high degree of public order, but I even saw these signs in some of the more established favelas. Sometimes, on major road junctions with sidestreets, they dispensed with the signs for the major road itself, but often they had the major road signed also. Navigating with a Sao Paulo street atlas was easy. Again, this is a place where getting lost can have serious consequences.

Even Bangkok has pretty decent street signage, again in Thai and English. There they sometimes fail to put up the sign for the major road, which can be annoying, but understandable when the minor street is a trok or a high-numbered soi, but generally major intersections have both streets signed. The lack of standard transliteration from Thai into English can be challenging, and the lack of any decent Bangkok street atlas is extremely annoying (note: business opportunity!).

Clearly this is a solvable problem, if even Cambodia can solve it. It would be nice if eastern Massachusetts bought a clue.

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