Southern Brooklyn

The Commute: New Parking Signs Are Not Making Regulations Understandable; More About Vision Zero

All images courtesy of Allan Rosen
All images courtesy of Allan Rosen

THE COMMUTE: It was with much fanfare, just over a year ago, that the city unveiled its new parking regulatory signs. However, at least in this area, they have barely made an impact thus far because the older signs are only being replaced as they wear out or fall off. The new signs, in their utilization of more white space, are supposed to give the impression of less clutter. In order to accomplish this, the font size has been reduced, making the signs less visible from a distance.

I like the idea of more white space, but not the smaller fonts, the elongated arrows, the spelling out of the days of the week, or the elimination of the indent in the “No Standing” sign. I also do not like the change to lower case for AM and PM and the lack of a space after the number. I think “7 AM” in caps is clearer than “7am.”

So, combined with having to walk a half block or more to and from the Muni Meter, motorists are certainly getting more exercise having to walk right up to the new signage to read it. That is good for some and an inconvenience to others, especially in bad weather.

The images above show the old signage on the left, a combination of old and new signage in the center and my proposed signage on the right. Were motorists actually confused with abbreviating the days of the week? I don’t think so. Why now spell them out? What is confusing, however, is the overlapping time restrictions. Nothing was done about that, at least not on this sign on Brighton Beach Avenue. Let us hope that the Department of Transportation (DOT) eventually changes the language when the conversion is complete, whenever that happens, or will they leave it just as confusing? Only time will tell.

Replacing only one sign without changing the language, and mixing the two types of signage, does nothing to aid clarity. I believe my proposed signage eliminating the overlapping time restrictions and keeping AM and PM in upper case is clearer, and my fee would have been less than what the consultants were paid.

Having seen the new format for “Taxi Stand,” I am wondering if omitting the crucial information, “No Standing,” in the name of simplicity, will actually make the signage even more confusing. You were previously allowed to stop in a Taxi Zone to expeditiously drop someone off. Now you do not know if that is still allowed.

Will “No Standing” also be eliminated from bus stop signs as well? And if so, what about bus stop signs that are only in effect part time? The DOT already announced that the new signage would no longer point you to where the Muni Meters are, which will make it more difficult to locate Muni Meters.

Click to enlarge
Click to enlarge

The before and after pictures looked great in the press release. One year later, seeing how DOT is implementing the signage in southern Brooklyn, I am less than impressed.

More About Vision Zero

Several weeks ago, the New York City Council passed 11 bills to further the Vision Zero effort. From the NY Daily News:

“The bills make it a crime to hit a pedestrian or bicyclist who has the right of way, and allow the city to immediately suspend the license of a cab driver who injures or kills someone while committing a traffic violation.”

Difficult to believe this has not been the law until now. Also:

“The legislation will require the city to create seven ‘slow zones’ with 20 mile per hour speed limits each this year and next. It will ban stunts like wheelies and donuts by drivers, and require the city to fix or replace broken traffic signals within 24 hours after they’re reported.”

I never realized that it took the city longer than that to replace broken signals.

In addition to the bill to yank the license of a cabbie who injures or kills someone, the Council also passed six resolutions pushing the state to increase penalties for reckless driving, driving on the sidewalk, and leaving the scene of an accident, and to let the City Control its own speed and red light camera programs.

I have already expressed my opinions regarding speed and red light cameras in my discussion of Vision Zero.

The Commute is a weekly feature highlighting news and information about the city’s mass transit system and transportation infrastructure. It is written by Allan Rosen, a Manhattan Beach resident and former Director of MTA/NYC Transit Bus Planning (1981).

Disclaimer: The above is an opinion column and may not represent the thoughts or position of Sheepshead Bites. Based upon their expertise in their respective fields, our columnists are responsible for fact-checking their own work, and their submissions are edited only for length, grammar and clarity. If you would like to submit an opinion piece or become a regularly featured contributor, please e-mail nberke [at] sheepsheadbites [dot] com.

Comment policy


  1. Not only are the new signs NOT an improvement but the font or print size of the letters and numbers is smaller thus harder to read at a distance. As NYC population and baby bombers age, why did DOT opt into smaller typeface?

  2. The older version is easier to read and doesn’t look like a waste of space on the metal. They should just add upper/lower case and change the font style to something in a serif typeface like Times Roman to make the things easy to read.

  3. Of course the city will make it smaller!! Hello ?
    The harder it is to read the more people will get penalized.
    More revenue for the city!!

  4. I believe studies have shown that sans-serif style fonts are easier to read on signage. Serif fonts are only easier to read as smaller fonts on paper like smaller than 12 point.

  5. Due to a recent change in federal guidelines for signage, all street name signs must use a combination of upper and lower-case letters. According to the FHWA website, “mixed-case lettering provides for longer recognition distances than all upper-case lettering when searching for a known word.” Although there is no such requirement for parking signs, I wonder if the city decided to follow this approach for consistency and clarity. I definitely agree that smaller fonts are not desirable!

  6. One change I’m noticing is that the old sign (in the photo at the top of this article) says:


    The new sign says:


    The latter is clearer and more explicit, and therefore probably better IMO, but the additional text may require a somewhat smaller font, which I agree is a negative change.

  7. I know that the Feds have decided that Upper Case and Lower Case is better, but that is not my complaint. The city could have used mixed case letters but BIGGER.

  8. Even the new street signs are horrible. They are using a condensed font now and putting in extra spaces. That is utterly ridiculous, and difficult to read. The entire purpose of condensed font is to fit in a longer word in a larger font. If the word is short in length and a regular font can be used, there is no reason to use a condensed font.

  9. I don’t see anything confusing in not repeating the AM or PM if it doesn’t change. What looks dumb is “am” instead of AM.

  10. If the “AM”/”PM” is going to be the same height as the numbers, there needs to be a space; otherwise it all runs together. Using “am”/”pm” avoids that effect without requiring an additional space. Using a small uppercase version would work as well.

    As for not repeating “am” or “pm,” I see your point, but I think it’s generally best to be completely explicit to avoid potential confusion.

    Of course, here are two examples of the only really good way to do this:


    For my money, “am” and “pm” can just disappear altogether and we can use the 24-hour clock.

  11. I don’t know about those studies or who carried them out, but I suspect it was done by lawyers or such. I don’t trust it. I worked in that area for over 40 years and I found that serif fonts and upper/lower case is always easier to read. Dropout type should also be avoided.

  12. People here are just not used to a 24 hour clock, like we never got used to the metric system. The new numbers are the same height as the letters and without a space. Repeating am pm is no big deal, but spelling out the days is when your goal is to increase white space not decrease it. They probably just wanted to be consistent because “except sun” would be confusing, so I can see “Except Sundays”, but that doesn’t mean they all have to be spelled out because you need a smaller font to do that.

    However, the biggest problem as I stated are the overlapping hours in the various regulations and knowing that No Standing supersedes No Parking. That is what is most confusing to people. If signs will not e changed until they wear out or fall off, we will have a combination of various signage types in the same place for ten years or more. I can see phasing everything in, but if one sign needs to be replaced at one location, they should just change them all.

  13. When I moved to Sweden, it took me about a month to get used to the 24-hour clock. It has so, so, so many advantages. Americans could handle it if they had the will.

    I agree with you about the failure to solve the problem of overlapping restrictions, and about the need to replace signs as quickly as possible.

  14. The problem is not with the signs (old or new). The problem is with PEOPLE – THEY DON’T READ!

    Not just signs, but ANYTHING! This is a huge problem today with society in general. Some of it is illiteracy, language barriers, but most of all pure LAZINESS!!!

    When sending e-mails I have to put everything important in the subject line because nobody reads the actual text in the message.

    This country is going down the toilet fast.

  15. He should have used a larger font. They look nice on his wall when you are three feet from them, but it looks like he never tested them from a distance or got any opinions or used focus groups because the problems would have been readily apparent.

    What about the switch from normal font to condensed font on the street signs? Did DOT do that on their own accord. Condensed font with spaces between the letters not only looks dumb but is difficult to read as well, especially when the names are short.

  16. Wasn’t this one of the Bush administration guidelines that was repelled by the Obama administration?

  17. Not everyone is familiar with “army time”. The 24 hour clock will not work well. It is just better to continue use of the 12 hour AM/PM format to avoid unnecessary confusion.

  18. If it ain’t broke don’t fix it. There was nothing wrong with the all uppercase format. I personally hate the new upper-lower signage. Aside from being more difficult to read, they are not aesthetically pleasing and just don’t have that New York umph.

  19. Confusion?

    If it’s 12:00, what time is it?
    If it’s 0:00, what time is it?

    If it’s 1:00, what time is it?
    If it’s 13:00, what time is it?

    The 24-hour clock removes all ambiguity.

  20. I’m not sure of the standards involved, but I find them ugly, especially when they’re rendered the way you described. The worst example is Lexington Av on the Upper East Side – the sign had Lexington in a large type, and Avenue in minuscule font at the bottom edge, all left justified.

    The newer ones look a little tighter and remove the borders which looks a little better.

    I’ve seen some new signs that are in all caps, so some of the old design seems to be sneaking through.

  21. Pentagram is usually competent, they worked on the WalkNYC project and that was really good.

    I think the DOT might have forced them into a corner with this one.

  22. I don’t even beleve lowercase is necessarily easier to read. I saw a Washington Avenue sign in all caps today, that was very easy to read.

  23. The requirement for mixed-case street name signs? It was proposed in January 2008, adopted in December 2009, and became effective in January 2010, so it spans both administrations. It has not been repelled (or repealed, for that matter), and the President isn’t involved in the rulemaking; it’s 287 committee members appointed by these 20 organizations:

    You might be thinking of the deadlines to replace signs that don’t meet the new 2007 retroreflectivity requirements; those were repealed in 2012.

  24. The rules apply nationally, where most street signs have to be read by traffic going by at 40+ miles an hour. Your belief contradicts years of study by professionals who are involved in the rulemaking.

  25. Aesthetically pleasing is an opinion. I find mixed case more aesthetically pleasing (although I prefer the standard FHWA alphabets to Clearview).

    As far as “New York umph,” the old signs are just vinyl letters on extruded blades, just like the found in most populated areas.

  26. I wasn’t talking about speeds greater than 40 mph. I was referring to a local street sign for city speeds. Caps, if the font is large enough is quite sufficient. Much more readable than condensed font with extra spaces tey are starting to use now. I’m not debating what’s easier to read on highways.

    There are many variables involved when you consider readibility. I’ve noticed that on the large street signs in upper and lower case all the i’s look like Ls because the dot over the I is very close to the letter. Also, with upper and lower sans serif font you have the problem of words like “Illinois” appear to have three Ls.

  27. I know what you were talking about, but the objective is standardization. And you are correct that caps are more legible if they are larger, which is why mixed case is allowed to be two inches *smaller* on streets with speeds of 25 mph or less.

    I’ve never noticed an i to look like an l on a sign (unless the dot was missing altogether – In the FHWA alphabets, the lowercase l is shorter than the uppercase I and is angled on top. With serifs, ls and 1s would look the same.

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