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Several transportation engineers (Thanks, Tiffany of Minnesota!) and consultants have pointed me to this document which serves as the guide for traffic signage in the United States. In 1935, v1 of the MUTCD was published. Here is the latest one published in 2009.

FHWA is short for Federal Highway Administration
MUTCD (pronounced mutt) is short for Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices

I’ll be posting interesting sections from the document every now and then, but first let’s start at the very beginning.

The arrival of the automobile early in this century started a revolution in travel - and traffic control devices have developed to keep 20th century travelers moving ever more safely to their destinations. Road signs were the first traffic control devices to direct travelers on their journeys. The evolution of these road signs provides a fascinating insight not only into the evolution of traffic control devices, but also to the pace of economic and social development in our Nation.

While automobile clubs were busy developing early road signs, other entities were developing devices to control the flow of traffic. For example:

•  1911, a centerline is painted on a Michigan road.
•  1914, the first electric traffic signal is installed in Cleveland.
•  1915, the first STOP sign appears in Detroit.
•  1916, the Federal-Aid Act requires that a State have a highway department before it can get Federal money.
•  1918, Wisconsin is the first state to erect official route signs as part of its maintenance functions.
•  1920, the first 3-color traffic signal is installed in Detroit.

An email from a former police officer

Today’s post is brought to you by an email from a former police officer who requested to remain anonymous. “This is how signs should’ve been designed in the first place” is one of the greatest compliments in the world to me especially coming from someone who used to give out parking tickets. You can read the entire email below.

I read the article about your project on

I was a police officer years ago, so I’ve given far more parking tickets than I wanted to. Your signs are absolutely brilliant. You have the only design that makes any sense. The simplicity and instant readability made me smile and go, “Wow!”. This is how the signs should have been designed in the first place! Having never seen your design it took mere seconds to understand exactly what the parking schedule is. Then it took minutes of staring in amazement and wondering why, since we have been using a similar format on calendars and in schedule books for many decades, it took so long to figure this out. No more driving around the block after the guy behind you honked to get you to move along as you tried to decipher the undecipherable stacked signs!

I saw the comment on your website suggesting a tow warning, which sounds good since that’s such an expensive potential. As for the dollar sign, I guess it wouldn’t hurt if you can fit it in without clutter. I’m thinking, though, that the “FREE” indication does indicate that the converse is true at other times. If someone can’t deduce that simple fact they shouldn’t be driving a car. Or bicycle. Or walking in heavy traffic.

Good work and good luck!

The one comment I get the most is that cities don’t want to fix the problem of confusing parking signs because it is an income generator. I am never too sure how I should feel about this. Do they mean to say Great job, but don’t get your hopes up? Great idea but it will never happen so you should probably stop trying? The more I think about it, the more I realize that I’m not all that concerned about it. Call it naiveté but as long as everyday folk and casual drivers think it makes sense, I think I’m on the right track. I am also slowly learning that this may be true for some cities but not for others (ie. cities such as Santa Monica and Baltimore have expressed interest). Whether it’s adoptable or not is part of the big experiment isn’t it?

The excerpt above is from Michael Brouillet of the ParkSafeLA app as he recounts his experience meeting with the traffic engineers of the City of Santa Monica. He also did a write up of the parking sign redesign here on his project blog here. I’m hoping to speak with him soon to compare notes.