Bad public signage continues to plague Seattle

NE Campus Parkway at the University Bridge, Seattle (via Google Maps)

NE Campus Parkway at the University Bridge, Seattle (via Google Maps)

One of the first things I noticed after becoming New To Seattle in 2011 was the terribly bad public signage around town. Everything from street signs so weathered they couldn’t be read, to missing signs, to inaccurate signs. It’s a topic I revisited a year later, and again last year when I managed, for $5, to buy my my own name–W. Barrett Street–in the form of a discarded street marker at the City of Seattle’s surplus warehouse in the SoDo district.

Things are still iffy on the sign front.

For instance, driving west on NE Campus Parkway away from the University of Washington, as I did last week, I came to a fork in the road just after going under the University Bridge. An unmarked, blind and rather counter-intuitive fork in the road. You can see it in the picture above, courtesy of Google Maps. The left fork goes up to the southbound lanes of the bridge. That’s great if one wants to cross the Lake Washington Ship Canal heading to Capitol Hill or downtown. Not so great for a motorist trying to stay north of the canal en route to Wallingford, Fremont, Ballard or even Interstate 5.

A driver has maybe three seconds to figure this out, and if necessary ignore the solid white do-not-cross line on the street. A well-positioned sign sure would help. 

In a recent post on the news blog Public Cola, Josh Feit wrote about getting lost on foot trying to get from Safeco Field to the Stadium light rail station and back–a distance of about two blocks each way. Part of the problem, it seems pretty clear from his account, was a lack of simple directional signage.

Traffic sign, Seattle (via Jalopik and Flickr)

Traffic sign, Seattle (via Jalopnik and Flickr)

Indeed, the signage hereabouts is so deficient that two Seattle street signs just made a list of “America’s 10 Most Confusing Traffic Signs“–the only city so honored. This included the coveted No. 1 position, for a sign telling heavy trucks not to turn. Thanks to Jalopnik and Flickr, you can see it to the right. The image looks more like the instructions for the last computer I bought.

The standard response I hear after pointing out the bad signage is that most folks know where they’re going. That may be true, although I have found Seattle to be a surprisingly insular place where residents don’t routinely move among neighborhoods. But in any event, that’s no answer to the more than 10 million visitors that the Seattle area gets each year.

Thanks to a $365 million bond issue passed in 2007, Seattle has made progress on replacing faded street signs. But I’d say the city still hasn’t found its way.

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