Tracking our new street signs

Pedestrian safety is a concern for me. Ever since I lost the sight in my right eye, I've been especially observant as I walk or drive about the neighborhood

A year ago, out of nowhere, two pedestrian-crossing warning stanchions appeared at the intersection of Smith Street and 34th Avenue West.

The signs stood at attention, ostensibly to warn drivers that pedestrians frequently walk in the designated zone-so drive carefully. The message was clear to me, and I liked the signs. Their overnight arrival reminded me of a Life magazine photo depicting mushrooms popping through asphalt streets.

Then, just as quickly and mysteriously, the signs disappeared. What the heck, I thought.

A few months passed and, lo and behold, the two stanchions reappeared. I glanced at Rita as we slowly drove past them. "Did you see them?" I asked her. Rita looked up. "Did I see what?"

Exasperated, I elaborated: "Those warning stanchions, the ones that were up once and then disappeared. Remember?"

"Oh yes," she said. "What about it?"

By then I was half way to the tennis courts and I didn't care to continue the conversation. I did, however, tell myself to consider a newspaper column on the matter.

The telephone directory did not have a listing for the specific topic; however, I conjectured that the Seattle Department of Transportation might be a good place to start. I dialed and received a voice message asking for my name, telephone number and a short message. The machine assured me someone would call back within 24 hours to respond to my query.

I was leery, but of course I had to continue. I think the message I recorded was convoluted, and perhaps it would sound immature to the listener. I waited.

And someone did call me. Speaking with the caveat of anonymity, she answered my question saying that "all street signs along Seattle's arterial roads are scheduled for replacement."

I further asked if it was due to citizen initiatives concerned with safety issues. "No, it was in our planning budget." Then I asked about the two crosswalk stanchions. "We experimented with the flop-over warnings, but they kept getting destroyed by traffic so we removed them," she replied.

I asked her if she had ever visited Toronto, Ontario. After her negative reply, I went on to explain. I had lived a year in Toronto two decades ago, and I told her about the excellent street signs the Canadian metroplex used. Three font levels are utilized. Every ordinary street's name is as large as the new Seattle signs. However, Toronto goes the extra expense and posts even larger signs two blocks preceding all major arterial intersections. This feature allows any motorist, especially those drivers lacking familiarity with the neighborhood, to begin preparation for a proposed left or right-hand turn.

And, finally, upon reaching every major intersection a larger sign hangs prominently, giving ample visual information of the arterial. The Seattle department employee had never heard of Toronto's program, and she said had no idea of the timeline for completion of our new signs. "I will pass it along," she said.

A couple days later I received another call from the department; this time it was a male voice. He said he was responding to my query about new street signs in Magnolia. He repeated essentially the same information I had received earlier from the female employee.

He admitted he really did not have anything to add but that he, too, would pass my questions along to the director of communications. He intimated perhaps that person might have additional data about the new street signs.

I thanked the man for his courtesy and hung up the phone.

Last Monday my wife answered the phone. It was another employee from the transportation department asking who I was and why I was calling. Rita informed her that I'd be available about noon.

However, before noon arrived, our telephone rang. The caller informed my wife that, "on second thought, I better have one of the engineers call." So I waited.

Alas, the acting director of traffic management called. The two of us had a nice conversation about Seattle's plan to replace all street signs by the years 2010-12. If fact, he volunteered: "The entire nation is headed in that direction, spurred on by an aging population and safety concerns."

He went on to clarify the matter of flop-over warning stanchions, explaining that they are experimental and, for the present, are paid for by the city. "Perhaps our policy in the future will be to seek payment from agencies requesting them," he said. He welcomed any public input on these matters by calling 624-5097.

I must credit our civil servants for tolerating my inquisitions. They were most cooperative.

And it made me feel better to learn that my safety concerns are being dealt with by our city traffic department.

Bernie Sadowski lives in Magnolia.[[In-content Ad]]