I would think it is a good idea to understand the full extent (and extent of the damage!) of the federal “road sign” grant that many communities in NH signed up for (mostly innocent of what it would imply), and that the state apparently signed up for (perhaps less innocently). The result is that our roads are now littered with these new signs, and the examples of dubious placement, haphazard installation, duplication and sheer folly abound. The pretty little New England church in Chichester now has a huge yellow arrow in its front yard, directly in front of the church. There are myriad “pre-stop” signs where those responsible for the installation could not be bothered to assure that the stop signs themselves are visible. There are school bus stop signs that are placed at random across the countryside, nowhere close to any regular school bus stop. There are now signs in duplicate and triplicate to indicate a pedestrian crossing. And there are “curve in the road” arrow signs where the curve is so slight that one wonders whether the driver lives (quite literally) who could not simply follow the gentle bend in the road.
In my rural area of Wolfeboro—what is left of rural in Wolfeboro—we and our neighbors petitioned the town to remove a dozen absolutely purposeless signs that were scattered along our tranquil designated scenic roads, signs that served no conceivable purpose, and where there never had been the least incident to suggest any need. The town, thankfully, responded and removed the signs.
So: what’s this all about? Is it some grand safety initiative? Not at all! It was part of the emergency spending measures that were voted to restore the economy during the depths of the ’09 financial crisis. The money might as well have been voted for chipmunk houses or to plant petunias in public spaces. The objective was not in fact safety (how could it be that the DOT and all the public works directors around the state had simply failed to install tens of thousands of necessary signs over all the years that they had to do it?), but just the spending of money in order to spend money, as the cosmetic resurfacing of so many miles of road, that we in Northern New England know will soon be broken up by our winter.
Wolfeboro received some two hundred signs, we are told. A bit of rough math suggests that this might translate to some fifty thousand signs across our state, and more than ten million across the nation! What might they cost, installed? Two hundred bucks a pop? Two billion bucks nationally? And for what? Nothing. Nothing at all. But, in fact, it has done something: in a state as New Hampshire, which still struggles on in the belief that it is a scenic state—a pretty state—we have taken one more step in the destruction of our scenery. Our roadsides are now a dog’s dinner of every kind of assorted junk, the joy apparently of public works departments, the bane of the those who were attached to our once lovely state. Drive and look: enjoy!
Yes, something could be done: the legislature could pass a highway sign bill that would require that every single sign be justified; that guidelines be set by a committee formed by a group of citizens who are notdrawn from public works departments, police or fire departments, etcetera, these people having already demonstrated to us their febrile state regarding all matters that touch the aggrandizement of their authority; that the legislature declare that the purpose of the bill is to clean up our roadsides while maintaining such indications as are clearly required for safety; that the objective is a reduction of at least 30% in the total number of signs; that signs that are judged necessary should be properly and cleanly installed; that signs that can be consolidated shall be, etcetera. The key is the 30% reduction. Again: drive, look, and you will see. It won’t be hard to pull 30% of our road signs, while greatly improving the attractiveness and safety of our roads. I say “and safety” because there is a whole body of traffic engineering study that shows that too many signs do not increase safety, but diminish it. If drivers need to be told everything that is on all these new signs, we have a problem … and those drivers shouldn’t be driving at all!
Of course, this carpet bombing of our state with signs wasn’t about safety at all. It was about a federal grant and money. We should have saved ourselves the money. And saved our pretty state.