Have a look at this street sign at Waverly and 19th. I know. It's seen better days. But still it gives me the thought that we lost something when we handed the signage over to the car guys.
The big green signs we see everywhere come from the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices, or MUTCD. I think I have a problem with MUTCD, or at least with the way it's applied in Philadelphia.
I don't mean to be unkind, really. The green signs are supposed to be visible, and dear God they are that. And I gather they're reasonably inexpensive.
But they're also an invasive species. In much of Philadelphia, they have nothing to do with their surroundings. Don't get me wrong. I think these signs do great out on the Interstates, which is their native habitat. But in the older parts of Philly, let's just say they aren't great respecters of context.
Up in New York City, in the historical districts, they at least make the street name signs a pleasant rust brown, which goes well with all the brownstone buildings they have up there.
My thought for Philly is that maybe we don't need so many of these big green signs.
There are other ways of doing street signs. There's that slender little pole on Waverly, with its equally non-aggressive sign. Philly still does street signs like this. Here's one just off of Rittenhouse Square.
The skinny signs have the merit of not getting in the way of the view, the way the big ones do. This is nice when you're admiring architecture, and it's also nice when you're looking for a restaurant.
I still think I would prefer rust brown to the green.
And it's also true that the skinny little street signs are not going to solve all our problems. Here we are at Waverly and 17th.
The utility wires are a definite buzz kill. You'll notice they're buried up around Rittenhouse Square. But I digress. There are a fair number of these skinny signs in the Rittenhouse area, but in my opinion there could be more.
A Second Idea
Here's a second idea. Say you've had the thought that a lot of sidewalks seem overly cluttered with street furniture - traffic signs, parking signs, parking meters, utility poles and wires, fire hydrants. Hold on. Let's keep the fire hydrants. And the bus shelters. But it does seem true that stuff keeps getting added, and hardly anything seems to go away.
Well, you could put the sign with the street name on a nearby building. Here's a nice one on Ringgold Place, which replaces Waverly at 19th. The building you're looking at was built around 1862. Note the period after the word place.
Below is a much less ambitious sign. It says S. 19th St. This is at Waverly, quite close to the pole sign at the beginning of this story. I really like the blue with the white lettering. Gets the point across without being annoying. Works well with red brick.
And here is some rather elegant signage at 17th and Addison. An old Bell Telephone building.
Here we are at the Curtis Institute, back up on Rittenhouse Square.
People are still doing this. Below is a corner of the new Schwartz-Siegel building at The Philadelphia School, Naudain and 25th.
My thought is, if there's existing signage, maybe we don't need to put up the green signs.
Think about it. The motorists who turn down these streets generally know where they're going, and frankly these are very low traffic streets. I often enjoy walking up the middle of them for blocks at a time, without encountering a single moving car.
So maybe we should treat them as the byways that they are - and should be. More discreet signage, on a more human scale and more respectful of context, would still be able to to guide pedestrians and confused motorists, who as an added benefit would probably have to slow down to read these signs.
Think for a minute about the visitor from Kansas or New Jersey as he's tromping up 18th Street somewhat in excess of the speed limit, late for a meeting and looking for Pine Street. Better to discourage him from turning on Addison or Waverly by not marking these streets as if they were part of the Interstate Highway System.
And then our streets could be just a little bit more about art, and finesse, and a little bit less about the roar of 18-wheelers.
Imagine. A hierarchy of signs for a hierarchy of streets.
Just a thought.
See also Alleys, A Tale of Three Alleys, My New Favorite Alley, This Isn't Just Any Alley.