Tuesday, September 14, 2004

The Toronto street sign, Part II (More Blood)

I originally didn't think it would get much attention other than from sign designers or enthusiasts, but the redesign of the Toronto street sign has been getting plenty of attention lately in the Toronto blogosphere. Let's recap:

  • Original article in the Star ("The signs are a-changin'"), July 11
  • Andrew Spicer notes the transition and above article, August 5
  • My first post on the issue, also August 5
  • Andrew revisits the issue August 16, with a photo that's better than the example in the Star article
  • A Ms. Johnson cartoon by Brett Lamb appears in his new Toronto weblog, Better Living Centre, September 13 (incidentally, I'm glad to see that his blog has recovered from its bout of Phil Collins — my God, that man is a genius [Mr. Lamb, that is, in case there was any confusion!])
  • Finally, Andrew posts another picture today — like a bad case of Phil Collins, the new sign has spread to East York.

(Actually, I suppose you could compare Phil Collins' version of "You Can't Hurry Love" to the new sign design — a poor substitute for the original — although I suppose it's a matter of taste...)

That white-on-blue East York version is interesting not only in itself, but because it provides a hint of what may be to come when the signs make their way to Forest Hill, which has historically had their own white-on-green version of the standard Toronto design. I bet the new ones don't last long up there...

If you're interested in more about Clearview (the font being used on the new signs), here's a couple other links:

  • Here's the website of the developer and distributor of Clearview, Terminal Design. (Note that the website is inaccurate: Clearview is not being used province-wide in Ontario, although there are some jurisdictions other than Toronto that are starting to use it more often.)
  • Here's a study done by a local ergonomics and traffic safety firm, Human Factors North, into font sizes required for street signs — not the regular ones that are the subject of this post, but the white-on-blue oversized ones that are starting to pop up on traffic signal mast arms in Toronto and elsewhere in Ontario. That one recommended 8-inch (20-cm) high letters, based somewhat conservatively on older (50-plus) drivers that were specifically instructed to approach the intersection in the wrong lane (i.e., if they had to make a right turn, they were instructed to stay in the lane to the left of the curb lane).

I went out tonight armed with a flashlight and a scale ruler, aiming to measure typical letter heights on both the old and new style signs. The old ones I estimate at 8 cm, or roughly 3 inches. I couldn't find an example of the new ones that was low enough to reach; however, you can get an idea of the height by scaling off Andrew Spicer's picture. (I hope he doesn't mind if I borrow it.)

The stop sign is 60 cm in height, so I'd put the letter height of the "C" and "A" at 12.5 to 13 cm (5 inches, compared to the old signs at 3 inches).

I've done some letter height calculations based on the Ontario Traffic Manual (a set of books outlining sign design principles, amongst other things). Basically you calculate the amount of time required to read the sign, the amount of time required to perceive the message and react to it, and the time required to complete a manoeuvre (change lanes if necessary [not an issue in neighbourhoods], and slow down). Then you calculate how far you will travel in that time. Then you apply a height-to-distance ratio to calculate the minimum letter height (basically how big the letters should be in order to be legible at the required distance). Still with me?

Based on the OTM calculations, I've estimated that if you start out at 40 km/h, you're at the 3-inch height of the old signs. At 50 km/h, you get to the 5-inch height of the new signs. However, even that overestimates the height, because the distance calculations are based on a uniform speed, not a constantly reducing speed.

Anyway, sorry to get so technical and what not, but the bottom line is that I'd say the new larger signs are designed to be read at about 57-58 km/h, whereas the old ones were designed for about 42-43 km/h. So, if that new street sign on your local street seems strangely out of scale for your neighbourhood, that's probably because it is.

(Interestingly, that 57-58 km/h matches almost exactly the estimate I made about a month ago: "I first noticed them along Lake Shore Boulevard between Coxwell and the Don Valley, and assumed that they were to be introduced on higher-speed roadways in order to increase legibility at higher speeds;" "These are signs designed to be read by drivers traveling at 60 km/h or more;" etc.)


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