Stay Right, Don’t Turn Left, Stay Right, Don’t Turn Left


[Providence Hwy and Washington St., Dedham – August 2011]

I am pretty sure that these two sets of signs were not put up simultaneously. For one thing, they don’t exactly match, suggesting they are from different vintages. And it is hard to imagine a DPW bureaucrat deciding to send a crew out to install two sets.

But that means that there was a point in time when at least one state worker, more likely several, showed up to install a pair of signs that were already here. In other places there are government workers who would have taken this as a free pass and spent a few hours at the nearest watering hole. But not in Boston. We take our signs seriously.

25 Signs in Newton


[Hammond Street and Commonwealth Avenue, Newton – July 2011]

I think this must be what it feels like to discover a lost city while hacking through a jungle. You are motoring down narrow and leafy Hammond Street in Newton when all of a sudden there is a clearing with a short novella’s worth of signs.

To be fair, of the 25 signs in this photo, only 17 are facing the viewer/driver. And although this is a pretty quiet suburban intersection, it should be noted that for one day every year it is as busy as any spot downtown in rush hour. But on that day no cars are allowed. For this is the crest of Heartbreak Hill. Get over it and you have a good shot at finishing the Boston Marathon.

Let’s review the 17 facing us.

5 Signs for bicycles: There’s the nice big one in the foreground imploring cyclists to use the carriageway to go west on 30. There are two more just on the other side of the carriageway itself saying the same thing in a less wordy way. You are, apparently, on your own if you want to pedal in any other direction. And there are two identical signs, one in the foreground center-left and one almost hidden just below and beyond the one way sign in the center, that tell us “To request green wait on [symbol resembling cyclist on a stick].” I have no idea what the symbol means. Nor have I ever seen a cyclist wait for a green light.

3 Signs about Route 30: What I think is the oldest of the three tells us Newton and Framingham are to the right. 15 miles to Framingham makes sense. But you’re in Newton now and two miles down the road is just as Newtonish. The new signs list more helpful towns, but without distances. And I prefer the rakish arrow through the route number design of the old one.

2 Signs about turning left: Do it from the left lane.

2 No Turn on Red signs: One on the signal light post, and one all the way across the intersection, just to the right and below the closer of the requesting green signs. Why right on red is not allowed here, of all places, is a mystery. Perhaps they want you to spend more time admiring the signs.

2 Street signs: Across the street, center right, just above the (non-functional) red emergency call box are a pair of green signs that say Commonwealth Ave and Wachusett Road. Now, I know what you are saying. “Those aren’t visible signs, they are greenish smudges.” My point exactly. Yes, there is a pair of street signs on this side of the intersection too, but our view of them is completely obscured by one of the super-important and useful signs about bicycles using the carriageway.

It seems to me that a driver arriving at this intersection is likely to want to know two things. 1) What is this big street that I am about to cross and 2) which of the two streets over there is Hammond, the one that bears left or the one that bears right? Neither of those questions are adequately answered by these signs. Sure, the driver can work out that the big street is Route 30, but that is likely to be more confusing than helpful. Route 30 is not exactly a major artery. It runs from Packard’s Corner in Brighton to Grafton, and for the first ten miles or so it is universally known as Comm Ave. (This is in contrast to Route 20, which although known locally by an assortment of names does at least run from Kenmore Square to Newport, Oregon.)

A speed limit sign, a yield sign, and a one way sign: The speed limit on Route 30 (that is, Comm Ave.) is, appropriately, 30. Most yield signs in Massachusetts are pointless, and this one is particularly so. And provided that you understand that the one way sign refers to the carriageway, it makes perfect sense.

Bike Lane Ends


[Lake Street at Lake Shore Rd., Brighton]

Eventually. This bicycle lane, like all things and all of us, will come to an end eventually. Good to be reminded of that from time to time. Helps us cherish every precious moment of our lives.

Of course, you can see the bike lane happily continuing in the background of the photo, completely oblivious to its mortal state. It goes up that hill, down the other side and then up another before ending at Washington Street. (And by end I mean that it joins with Washington Street’s bike lane.)

Blank Sign


[Soldiers Field Rd at Parsons St., Brighton – July 2011]

This sign is one of the best exemplars of the first commandment of Boston signage: Thou shalt never take a sign down. Never. Ever.

And why would anybody want to mess with this one? It’s a gem. Look at that workmanship. Poured concrete pole, iron cross beam with diagonal supports. They don’t make them like this anymore. This one will still be here long after all of us are gone.

No idea what it said when it was new. If you squint you can make out “STON” in the lower middle. No matter. I doubt that whatever it said was helpful.

Exit To Street


[Charles Circle, Under the T Station – July 2011]

Ask the average person to name their favorite Aerosmith song and they might say “Walk This Way.” Ask an Aerosmith fan, and they will say “Train Kept a Rollin’” or something similar. So it is with the Charles Circle signs. Boston’s Favorite gets all the attention from the tourists, but for my money a vastly superior Boston sign is just a few paces away.

Containing only three words, “EXIT TO STREET” and an arrow, I believe that on a word-for-word basis this may be the most inexplicable sign in the entire metropolitan area. Permit me to engage in a close textual analysis.

“EXIT”: From where? Why? Is this a direction, as in “please exit now” or helpful information as in “the exit you are looking for is over here?” And just in case you are thinking that perhaps it faces a door or some area from which a person might need coaching on exiting, here is a photo taken from in front of the sign facing the other way.


I suppose that a person might find himself inside the enclosure for T station’s AC unit, but it is hard to see how the sign could provide much help or encouragement in that situation. Moreover, I think that such a person would likely harm himself if he escaped and would be better off waiting for the authorities to take him someplace safe. (Also, it is a little hard to see at this resolution, but those are No Parking Anytime signs both on the AC enclosure and under Exit To Street. This is evidence that at some point somebody thought that driving up over the curb and parking here was a good idea, and then argued about the ticket they got, which is impressive even by Boston standards.)

“STREET”: As opposed to what? I think sidewalk is likely a preferable option. Are there other choices that an unfortunate would-be exiter might choose? Climbing up the pillar? Burrowing underground? The air duct from the AC unit perhaps?

And then there is the arrow. Yes, there is, indeed, a street to the right. There is also one to the left and a few of them straight ahead. You are in Charles Circle. In what way one of those streets might be preferable to another confounds me. There are more interesting pedestrian options to the right, but you have to cross  more lanes of traffic that way than you do to the left. I guess it depends on how badly you need to exit, from where, and why.