Sign Language

Linda L.S. Schulte

October 12, 1990|By Linda L.S. Schulte

I DON'T KNOW what all the flap is about the governor's nifty road signs along Route 50 and the Capital Beltway -- like ''Prepare for Sudden Aggravation'' -- which try to elevate the level of humor on the roads from nothing to something. Gallows humor or not, most signs still convey messages of some importance.

What concerns me is the growing number of signs which add nothing to highway travel except maybe consternation and confusion.

Take, for instance, this sign located on a ramp leading onto I-95: ''No Standing On I-95.''

It doesn't take a brain surgeon to appreciate the danger in a vehicle's ''standing'' along the side of an eight-lane mega-highway where speeds daily average 65-70 miles per hour. Whose idea was it to place this sign at this particular on-ramp? Did some highway expert, while touring the state for trouble areas, say to himself ''You know, this looks like a tempting place to park. Let's put a sign here.'' Surely, there must be other exciting options for amusement in one's spare time.

Perhaps the problem with the sign is its lack of specificity. Perhaps it should read ''No Standing in the Middle of I-95.'' After all, anyone who really enjoys standing along the side of I-95 has to be really tempted to push that thrill level to its limit.

Another sign appears on the Virginia side of I-95: ''Exit By Designated Ramps Only.'' Now, there's a thought. Tired of standing still in those rush-hour back-ups? Take a shortcut through the trees on your way home. If someone were of a mind (now there's an oxymoron for you) to leave the road by a non-designated area, would this sign really stop him?

The most popular signs these days, however, are those electronic-looking ones that have blossomed along our interstates. These computerized message boards were designed, I suspect, for keeping a person updated on traffic emergencies. To date, all of them continue to bear this message: ''Traffic Notice, Tune in to Radio 530.''

Now, doesn't it seem strange to have sign programmed to simply remind you to listen to the radio? Why not simply place radio speakers along the highway announcing sudden changes instead? (I'd really like to meet the salesperson for this account.)

Other useless signs include (but are certainly not limited to): ''Emergency Parking Only'' (If we could only plan our emergencies in such a fashion as to end up near one of these signs) . . . and ''Speed Limit 55 m.p.h.'' (Whom are we kidding here?).

My all-time favorite sits along I-95 heading north from the Capital Beltway. It's a small green and white sign which bears two words: ''Stay Alive.''

* Linda Schulte hangs out her shingle in Laurel.

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