The first step to, I'm told, is to admit that you have a problem.
My name is Scott -- ("Hi, Scott!") -- and I'm a traffic sign nerd.
Last night the incomparable Tim Jackson tipped me to this amazing story of a guy who took it upon himself to fix an Interstate Highway sign in Southern California, specifically in Pasadena. The sign lacked what one guy saw as an obvious bit of information, so he decided to do a bit of performance art and fix the sign himself.
I actually knew that sign. My wife's family is in Pasadena, and I've driven under that sign many times, and I remember thinking that it didn't seem like it followed Federal Interstate Highway sign standards. I never said anything, thinking California maybe had its own rules. I also didn't want her family to think I was a total traffic nerd.
Now the truth is out: The sign was non-conforming!!!!
Anyway, even though CalTrans knew about the citizen's modification, they didn't do anything about it because they knew that his fix made the sign better. When they finally fixed the sign themselves, they essentially incorporated his modification.
That guy had guts.
I was able to get one sign changed on the Interstate Highway system back in 2004, but I did it the old-fashioned way: lobbying Colorado's DOT to do the work for me.
At the time, I was operating MyTrafficNews, and a bunch of readers wrote in to tell me that a new and nearly constant traffic jam we were reporting about was not the fault of traffic, it was the fault of a sign. The story was that at the end of one highway a new sign gave people a choice of going north or south, but the sign telling people to exit on the right was to the left of the sign telling people to exit to the left. The result was drivers trying to merge suddenly at the last second when the realized they were in the wrong lane.
CDOT, to their credit, had a crew fix the sign within a week or so of our campaign.
We had lots of fun with signs at MyTrafficNews. When a truck hit one of those Variable Message Signs, leaving it dangling and threatening -- as we wrote at the time -- to turn a Pontiac into a pancake, we jumped to action. First, we did our best to alert people, as the sign that was designed to help traffic instead made traffic horrible for half the city for an entire day. ("Don't these signs take a Hippocratic oath?" we wrote at the time.)
Then, we wondered what the sign would say if it could make its own message on that day. In haiku.
All signs looking down
Gridlock is all around me
I must blame myself
You see, I really am a traffic sign nerd.
So my question is, what's the second step?