PennDOT: New signs clearly are much better
Sharp-eyed motorists might have noticed a slight change in new highway signs that are going up in the Pittsburgh area and elsewhere.
But the change is intended to benefit those with not-so-sharp eyes.
The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation is erecting signs that use a new, clearer lettering design that was developed over the course of a decade with the help of researchers at Penn State University.
Called Clearview, the font is billed as 10 to 18 percent more legible than the older style, Highway Gothic, which has been in use since the advent of the interstate highway system in the 1950s.
Research into a new font began in the early 1990s, and Clearview was given interim approval by the Federal Highway Administration in 2004. PennDOT began erecting signs with the new font the following year, starting in the State College area.
Mark Alexander, PennDOT manager of sign standards and manufacturing, said signs with the old font are being replaced as they wear out. He estimated that one-third of the highway signs now in place in the state have the new style.
The font uses thinner lines and more open space on the insides of some lowercase letters, and increases their height. The font is said to reduce a phenomenon called halation, which causes blurring when bright headlights strike a highly reflective surface.
A lowercase "e" in the old Highway Gothic font, for example, has a wider stroke and smaller opening in its upper loop. In Clearview, a smaller stroke is employed to broaden the opening.
"It makes that lowercase 'e' more pronounced and easier to distinguish from a lowercase 'o,'" Mr. Alexander said.
"Improved legibility means you can read the information sooner. If you're a motorist on the interstate looking for a particular exit, you have more time to get into the proper lane," he said.
The research was partly intended to benefit older motorists without increasing the size of signs. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the number of drivers 65 and older is expected to double in the U.S. in the next 30 years.
The new font is being adopted by highway departments throughout the U.S. and Canada, with Pennsylvania among the leaders in implementing it. PennDOT specifications call for it on signs that use uppercase and lowercase lettering, Mr. Alexander said. Smaller signs that use uppercase only, like stop and speed limit signs, won't change.
First Published December 29, 2009 12:00 am