Sent this off this afternoon. I think it speaks for itself.
20 December 2006
The Hon. Pierce Homer
Secretary of Transportation, Commonwealth of Virginia
202 North Ninth St. - 5th Floor
Richmond, VA 23219
This morning at approximately 10 AM I was issued a citation by an officer of the Virginia State Police. The citation was for “failure to observe a highway sign,” specifically a “Do Not Enter” sign that had been posted the day previous at the corner of Broad Street and Route 287 in Lovettsville in Loudoun County.
This would be unremarkable but for the fact that while the officer was issuing my ticket I noticed that three other motorists were being cited for the same offense, and a fourth committed the same error a few seconds after I did.
In my professional life I am a designer of computer interfaces. This discipline has taught me the humility to know a simple truth: If five well-intentioned people commit the same error within the space of ten minutes, the fault is not with the people but with the design.
Sir, I put it to you that the design of the traffic triangle in Lovettsville, which opened yesterday, is bizarre, hopelessly unintuitive and – please mark my words well – potentially lethal.
Your department has taken a simple four-way road crossing and for reasons I cannot fathom turned it into a difficult and dangerous mess. The new “Do Not Enter” signs that five people in the space of ten minutes failed to obey this morning are vanishingly small — extremely difficult to see from the other side of the highway. I also point out that this morning was clear and sunny; West Broad Street looks directly into the morning sun, making the signs not merely difficult but actually impossible to read from an hour after dawn until mid-morning on a sunny day. (Please see the enclosed photographs, which I took a short time after I was ticketed.)
The “Do Not Enter” signs are meant to prevent motorists coming from a two-way road from entering what has newly been declared a one-way road — in essence a T-junction that did not exist before yesterday. I must protest in the strongest possible terms: These signs are woefully — not to say criminally — insufficient warning to prevent a potentially lethal error by an inattentive driver who is not intimately familiar with the traffic patterns.
Another home truth I have learned in my life as a designer is this: If you design a saucer that looks like a cup, people will use it as a cup, and not as a saucer. It is useless to put a sign on your saucer. People don’t read signs. To transfer this truth to the matter at hand, the junction of West Broad Way and Route 287 is still visually indistinguishable from a four-way junction when approached from the west. That is why I, and four other motorists in ten minutes, erroneously used it as such this morning. The potential tragedy in this case, of course, is that misuse of a saucer is a trivial mistake. Plowing into a one-way street against traffic is anything but trivial.
While I was remonstrating with the officer this morning, he pointed out that warnings of a new traffic pattern had been posted for some time. I suggest to you and to whoever designs VDOT’s warning signage that there is a world of difference between the hopelessly vague “New Traffic Pattern Ahead” that was posted and the less concise but infinitely more informative “Warning: On Dec. 19 This Street Will Become a One-Way Street.”
To prevent others from making the innocent but possibly life-threatening error that I and at least four other motorists made this morning, and to rescue others from the personal embarrassment, expense and inconvenience of a traffic citation engendered not by malfeasance but by the dreadfully poorly executed reconfiguration of that intersection, I submit the following proposed changes:
- An orange, diamond-shaped sign (see Photo 1) with a hopelessly vague warning on it (“New Traffic Pattern Ahead”) is absolutely unacceptable as the sole warning of an oncoming T-junction that continues to look exactly like a four-way junction. I suggest a reworded sign – much larger, with blinking lights and whatever other attention-grabbing devices can be appended to it: “Warning: Broad Street Ahead Is No Longer a Two-Way Street. Be Prepared to Turn Either Left or Right, But Do Not Proceed Straight.” This sign should be permanent.
- Two large arrows that point left and right should be painted on the pavement of West Broad Street in light-reflecting paint.
- The arrows should be reinforced with appropriate text on the road.
- The “Do Not Enter” signs on the east side of Route 287 (shown in Photo 2) must be made much larger, must be illuminated, and must be reinforced with blinking lights. If a sign can be suspended over the road rather than posted by its side, so as to resemble a barrier, so much the better. I repeat in the most urgent terms I can muster: The near-invisibility of these signs will get someone killed.
Nedward L. Jingo
Cc: Elaine Walker, Lovettsville Mayor
Scott York, Chairman, Loudoun Country Board of Supervisors
Sally R. Kurtz, Catoctin District Representative, Loudoun BOS
Editors, Loudoun Times-Mirror
Supporting photos (click to enlarge):
Photo 1: Does this sign even hint that you're about to come to an extremely dangerous T-junction that only yesterday was a four-way junction? I think not, sir!
Photo 2: Can you read those "Do No Enter" signs? Can you even see them?