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Traffic signs, while often considered peripheral design elements, play a critical role in communicating a variety of information to users of the transportation system. Signs are used to guide, warn, regulate, and convey information to vehicular and pedestrian traffic along the roadway.

The Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Device (MUTCD) provides guidance on the design and placement of signs, including the size of the sign and text, placement along the roadway, and standard information to be conveyed. Most states, including Missouri, use the MUTCD as the primary guide for developing roadway signage. Some states, such as Illinois, provide supplemental guidance that builds upon the information in the MUTCD. Engineers and contractors also use standard drawings, similar to those provided by the Missouri DOT, to ensure that signs are designed and constructed appropriately.

Traffic signs are often one of many traffic control devices that users must process while navigating thoroughfares. Therefore, it is important to design and position signs in a manner which ensures that users have enough information to safely and efficiently navigate the street network without becoming distracted or overwhelmed.

Credit: CH2M HILL
Signing Example 1

The MUTCD specifications help ensure a minimum level of uniformity among traffic signs nationwide. Uniformity is a critical component of effective traffic sign communication, as users are better able to recognize and respond to familiar signs. Although some jurisdictions may wish to modify the standard sign types to be more attractive, the majority of traffic signs are required to conform to the MUTCD specifications. One exception is street name signs, which may be customized and used to help create a theme or identity for a place. Many agencies are developing artistic street signs, such as the Washington Avenue sign in downtown St. Louis shown at right, to add character to the streetscape.

The ITE Traffic Handbook indicates that traffic control devices, including traffic signs, should:

  • Meet a need
  • Command attention
  • Convey a clear and simple meaning
  • Command respect of the road users
  • Give adequate time for proper response/reaction

Signing Along Downtown Main Streets:

The following is a list of characteristics that influence signing along downtown main streets:

  • Significant pedestrian presence
  • Multi-modal transportation
  • Numerous parking configurations and regulations
  • Higher levels of vehicular congestion
  • Slower travel speeds
Credit: CH2M HILL
Signing Example 2

Bring attention to pedestrians, bicycles and transit. Pedestrian presence requires effective communication with vehicular traffic.

For downtown and mixed use streets to be great, pedestrians must feel safe and respected by adjacent vehicular traffic - traffic signs are one way to help achieve this objective.

Appropriate signage in advance of intersections and mid-block crosswalks is useful to prepare drivers for pedestrian crossing locations.

Credit: CH2M HILL
Signing Example 3

Enforcement is also important, both to ensure that motorists abide by posted signs and to discourage jay-walking and other potentially dangerous behavior by pedestrians.

Signing should also be used to clearly communicate the presence of multi-modal uses and services along the thoroughfare. If bicycles are common along the corridor, appropriate “Share the Road” signs should be strategically placed along the thoroughfare as a reminder to drivers. Transit stops should include clear and visible signs that guide pedestrians between transfers and modes.

Include signage for parking. Parking is often in high demand along downtown streets. Downtown parking strategies must include clear signage at strategic locations to direct people to appropriate parking facilities.

Credit: CH2M HILL
Signing Example 4

Give advance warning. Although the slower travel speeds in downtown areas can make it easier for drivers to process information provided by traffic signs, these place types are often more congested.

Drivers must process information on traffic signs amid a multitude of distractions such as cars parking, lane changes for turns, and advertisements.

Signing should be placed far enough in advance to give drivers time to respond to information and make the necessary decisions and maneuvers.

Credit: CH2M HILL
Signing Example 5

Use street signs to create identity. The large sign and text shown in the photo at right improve cross-street visibility for users of all travel modes. The sign support is also used to hold up signal heads, parking directional signs, and other types of signs.

Reduce speeds early. Thoroughfares running through downtown areas often require speed reduction strategies. Appropriate signing alerting traffic of the impending speed reduction should be placed prior to entering the downtown area, to ensure that vehicular traffic can safely reduce its speed before entering the area.

Table 2C-4 in the MUTCD specifies the required distances for proper deceleration in speed reduction areas. The desired speed reduction must be accomplished well in advance of the downtown area to acclimatize drivers before they encounter pedestrians, storefronts, transit stops, and other potential distractions.