Greater Greater Washington


DDOT teasing blogs with five-year-old signs

DDOT's public information office sent out a tweet linking to this picture of a mysterious sign reading "Notice: District Department of Transportation Research Program Demonstration Project on Signage." DCist asked readers about it. What is this? A strange experiment in posting very verbose, meaningless signs?

Not quite. This sign appears on New Hampshire Avenue between T and U. It's right above another sign, one which tries to combine the multiple, often confusing column of parking regulation signs into a single one.

Left: DDOT experimental sign for parking rules. Right: Current signs across the street.

Simplifying these signs is a noble goal. This sign clarifies that permit holders don't get an exemption from street cleaning, but do from the time limit. DC residents know that, but it's not completely obvious from the current signs. And some streets have even more confusing signs, like one whose signs say "No Parking Except Sundays 9:00 am-1:00 pm" and then, immediately below, there's another sign that says, "Except 7am-7pm Monday." No parking except Sundays except Monday?

However, this single sign seems to be just about as confusing as the two signs. Moreover, it's hard to quickly find the days and times by glancing at the sign. If a driver is looking for parking, he or she needs to be able to quickly determine whether a particular block is a legal place to park or not. At least with the current signs, it's easy to get used to looking at the red sign to find the street cleaning day, or the green sign to find the zone number. The black-and-white sign doesn't make that easier.

Perhaps that's why DDOT hasn't expanded these signs citywide. These were part of a 2004 pilot program. A few DDOT employees I asked didn't know if there were any news about the program, though I haven't tried very hard to make inquiries.

An alternate sign could work very well, however. A good sign would make the times and days of the restriction very easy to spot for a passing driver, possibly by making them big or set off in boxes. At the same time, clearer and more concise directions could help visitors to DC decide the parking rules without having to figure out how multiple signs interact.

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David Alpert is the founder of Greater Greater Washington and its board president. He worked as a Product Manager for Google for six years and has lived in the Boston, San Francisco, and New York metro areas in addition to Washington, DC. He now lives with his wife and daughter in Dupont Circle. 


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How about a square sign, titled PARKING RULES, and with four boxes: YES (general traffic), NO (general traffic), YES (permit holders), NO (permit holders). For example, for the sign on the left, the four boxes would read as follows:

YES (general traffic): up to 2 hours on Weekdays, 7am-8:30pm. Unlimited nights & weekends.
NO (general traffic): THU 9:30am-11:30am due to street cleaning
YES (permit holders): Zone 1 or 2 permit
NO (permit holders): THU 9:30am-11:30am due to street cleaning

by tom veil on Aug 24, 2009 5:17 pm • linkreport

What about the general layout of the sign, with the various type sizes and weights, making it difficult for the eye follow? For the past few years the DDOT sign shop on Capitol Hill has been churning out the most amateurish looking road signs I've ever seen. Aside from not using the standard FHWA series fonts, signs with multiple lines of text frequently mix font sizes, widths, heights, and character spacing for no apparent reason. Check out the sign at the intersection of MacArthur Blvd. and Arizona Ave. pointing to the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency and Chain Bridge for one example; or the nearly illegible blue signs posted in the vicinity of DCUSA pointing to nearby parking garages. For several years there was a large sign near Sibley Hospital that read HOSPITAL ENTRNCE, though it has been replaced. The no parking signs outside the Embassy of Argentina at New Hampshire Ave. and Q St. NW read EMBASSY OF ARGENTINE. The list goes on. DDOT needs a remedial course on professional roadway sign design.

by fish on Aug 24, 2009 5:40 pm • linkreport

clearly there is an easier way.

first the main point: 2 hour parking! this should take half the sign.

then in one corner a colored Zone number like 1 & 2 in this case

then put a 'NO PARKING 9:30-11:30 THU'

if the signs had a standardized easy2read format, everyone would get used to them and they could be simpler

by Allan on Aug 24, 2009 5:46 pm • linkreport

How about something like this? It doesn't blow away the convention they know and love, but it's far more interpretable . . .

(click to make larger)

Of course, they could use the FHWA or ClearType typefaces as necessary. This is a lot of color for one sign, though, and I'm not sure what the limitations of the sign-making departments are. These could, perhaps, be split into separate signs, just placed in the right order.

by Joey on Aug 24, 2009 5:50 pm • linkreport

(I realized I left off the time for the street cleaning and the M-F in the green section, but you get the idea.)

by Joey on Aug 24, 2009 5:51 pm • linkreport

On the issue of signs in the city...

I saw one of those bike signs that give the distance to random places on Mass Ave near the Naval Observatory.

It gave the distance and direction to:

DuPont Cirle; and
Mt. Ranier, MD

I wonder, in a given year, how many cyclists pass that intersection who are eventually going to Mt. Ranier. 1? 2? 5? It can't be in the double digits.

One more, I got into an arugment (which I won!) with a parking enforcement officer over the "No Parking During Nationals Stadium Events" sign near the Five Guys in SE. This was at about 7pm on a Sunday night, long after that afternoon's Nationals Game was over. The question was, exactly when does an "Nationals Stadium Event" begin and end? First pitch to final out? 1 hour before and after the game? The parking enforcement people apparently aren't given any guidance. Thankfully, she agreed with me that the game was over and I could park there.

by metronic on Aug 24, 2009 5:53 pm • linkreport

Here's my stab at it:

(click to enlarge)

by Chris S on Aug 24, 2009 6:19 pm • linkreport

umm, isn't the point of the confusing signs is that out of staters get confused and ticketed? Or is it all a scheme by the man to ticket dumb DC residents? In any case, I've always thought the confusing signs were a feature, not a bug, to protect $75 million in parking fine revenue.

by charlie on Aug 24, 2009 8:38 pm • linkreport

Cramming verbosity into a single sign doesn't reduce the problem of confusing traffic and parking rules, it makes it worse. Already most signs in this city are far to wordy for a person to read safely while in a moving vehicle. Ever try to read the 'use 2 lanes during AM rush; use 3 lanes during PM rush' signs while operating a moving vehicle? And slowing down to try to understand them causes a traffic hazard too. Not to mention the problem that sometimes the number of lanes include parking lane, sometimes not.

Instead of trying to cram so many different rules onto a single sign to simplify the number of signs needed, DC should try to simplify the number of rules. Take a look at other major cities--Chicago, LA, NYC do not have this problem. They aren't free of signage, but their signage is much clearer.

by ogden on Aug 24, 2009 9:16 pm • linkreport

I like Chris S' attempt best. It's really easy to follow. Having two signs isn't a problem. It's knowing how to divide them up, and he has it right (diving between permit holders/general public, rather than between street cleaning and two-hour parking).

by Andrew on Aug 24, 2009 9:32 pm • linkreport

If you think you are allowed to park by quickly looking at it and not reading it all while driving. Then you will probably park. Then when you get out just make sure you read it over, then go park somewhere else if you realize you can't.

by drale on Aug 25, 2009 12:22 am • linkreport

I'm all for clarity, but I don't think DDOT's test signs do the trick. I think Joey's above is very clear.

Anyway, the Federal Highway Administration publishes regulations on all signs to maintain uniformity. Called the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices, it even includes a section on parking. Here's what it says: (Starts on page 36)

Section 2B.40: Design of Parking, Standing, and Stopping Signs
The legend on parking signs shall state applicable regulations. Parking signs *shall* conform to the standards of shape, color, and location.

Where parking is prohibited at all times or at specific times, the basic design of parking signs shall have a red legend (text) and border on a white background (Parking Prohibition Signs).

Where only limited-time parking or parking in a particular manner are permitted, the signs shall have a green legend (text) and border on a white background.

Parking signs should display the following information from top to bottom of the sign, in the order listed:
A. The restriction or prohibition
B. The times of day that it is applicable, if not at all hours; and
C. The days of the wee that it is applicable, if not every day.

If the parking restriction applies to a limited area or zone, the limits of the restriction should be shown by arrows or supplemental plaques....

Where parking is prohibited during certain hours and time-limited parking or parking in a particular manner is permitted during certain other time periods, the red Parking Prohibition and green Permissive Parking signs may be designed as follows:
A. Two 18" x 12" parking signs may be used with the red Parking Prohibition sign installed above or to the left of the green Parking Permissive sign.
B. The red Parking Prohibition sign and the green Parking Permissive sign may be combined to form an R7-200 sign on a single 24" x 18" sign, or on a single 12" x 30" sign.

by Matt Johnson on Aug 25, 2009 8:51 am • linkreport

For the non-permit holders it would help to note somewhere in the signage that the 2 hr limit is 'per day for the zone' ... People usually make the assumption that if they move their car after 2 hrs to another spot, they're okay. They're not ... as I found out one day many years ago when I received not one but two parking tickets in the same day! (I had parked near the 2100 block of P Street and exceeded the 2 hr limit. I then drove to 17th Street and parked there ... and came out 30 minutes later to find a second ticket on my car! That's how I learned that the 2 hour limit is for the day and for the ward ... And apparently the enforcement folks have the software to keep track of who's parking where ...)

by Lance on Aug 25, 2009 8:54 am • linkreport

I turn my support over to Chris S. Vote Chris S for DDOT Assistant Director!

by tom veil on Aug 25, 2009 9:16 am • linkreport

Chris S. gets my vote, too.

by Tom T. on Aug 25, 2009 9:40 am • linkreport

The signs were Lars Etzkorn's "brilliant" idea when his Public Space Administration controlled the DDOT sign shop. Let's see... he became acting Deputy Director of DDOT at the end of the Williams admin then VERY briefly lead the Office of Property Management under Fenty.

Contact Bill Carr at DDOT...

There have been other fitful efforts on sign consolidation such as M Street in Georgetown and parts of Penn Ave SE.

by Contrarian on Aug 25, 2009 10:17 am • linkreport

I appreciate the color coding, and hate tiny text that you only need to read once in your lifetime. For example, street cleaning - red sign with a day and time in large font, able to be read from a distance. The "no parking, street cleaning, tow away zone" and other text that is the same on every sign should be diminished. My reasoning is that once you've been parking in the city for a few months, you know the rules and will be able to recognize a street cleaning sign. You won't need all that other information, you just want to see the day and times you can't park (and it helps to be able to read it from half a block away).

As it is now, and in some of the alternatives proposed, the real information that people need is lost amid all the superfluous text.

by BenZ on Aug 25, 2009 11:07 am • linkreport

Joey captures the color coding and prominent display of important variables such as time which BenZ correctly points out is what makes it easier over the longterm to make good use of the signs, but Chris' idea of breaking out the signs between 'Permit Holders' and 'Non-Permit Holders' is brillant. Perhaps someone can put together a mockup of a combination of the two ideas? I.e., Keep the color coding and prominent display of hours (and other variable info ... such as the Zone number), BUT do it with two signs ... One for the residents who live in the zone and have a zone sticker, and one for 'the rest of us' ...

by Lance on Aug 25, 2009 11:39 am • linkreport

Thanks for posting this. At the time the project started, DDOT left postcards at businesses along the street asking for comments. I suggested that they make the street cleaning date bigger and/or print it in a bigger color. I like some of the alternative suggestions here. I wish the city would move forward with some alternative.

by JohnD on Aug 25, 2009 12:00 pm • linkreport

Okay, here's a hybrid. It still feels complicated, though.

(click to enlarge)

The grey permit-parking legend varies from MUTCD, but there aren't really any teeth to the book. I'd trade it for clarity. The general public are the ones that need to be alerted to weird rules. Permit parkers know to look for signs and can find the answers they need.

Problem with having two signs, though: if the general-parking sign falls, the story doesn't make sense. Perhaps they could be one sheet of metal gridded into two virtual "signs".

by Joey on Aug 25, 2009 6:55 pm • linkreport

Thanks for the mockup Joey. One note, I'd have kept the "Permit Holders" / "Non-Permit Holders" nomenclature you had on the first set of signs, AND kept the font/look of this nomenclature the same on each sign AND set off with something like an underline (like Chris did in both cases in his example ... he just didn't have the coloring in there) ... i.e., you want to indicate that either one or the other sign applies to you .... I think that would solve the complicated feel that you point out. Also, they should be separate signs ... one over the other.

by Lance on Aug 26, 2009 8:50 am • linkreport

I guess I'm not seeing what was so confusing about the original signs on the right.

Joey's signs look great, but they communicate too many things, some of which are unnecessary.

"Other times - free parking, no time limit" - unnecessary. If parking is not prohibited, it is allowed. No need to put it on a sign.

It should be unnecessary to specifically tell permit holders that street sweeping parking prohibition applies to them too. Put it in their annual mailing with their new permits.

I would do what Arlington does and what's in the original signs.

Sign 1: "Two hour limit throughout zone 2 (7:00 AM to 8:30 PM), permit holders excepted"

Sign 2: "NO PARKING: Street cleaning Wednesdays 9:30AM to 11:30 AM, no exceptions. Tow away enforced."

Don't bother with mentioning holidays, since Wednesday holidays are rare. Just don't enforce it on Holidays.

by Michael Perkins on Aug 26, 2009 9:56 am • linkreport

DC'S signs Blowing minds!Chris, you win top honors for the most Sense Solution to Sign Confusion.

by Maggie on Aug 26, 2009 1:36 pm • linkreport

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