Wednesday, December 20, 2006


Folks: Don't mean to go all Lenny-Bruce-Cranky, but I do have a (small, but loyal) local readership, and this thing has really pissed me off. Local folks: Both of you should write similar letters -- or, hell, just copy-and-paste this one. You've probably either gotten a ticket or been killed by now anyway.

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

Dear Sir;

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:
  1. 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.
  2. Two large arrows that point left and right should be painted on the pavement of West Broad Street in light-reflecting paint.
  3. The arrows should be reinforced with appropriate text on the road.
  4. 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.
Your prompt attention to this matter is greatly appreciated.


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
Editors, Leesburg2Day

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?


Anonymous said...

Mr Prosser said: 'You were quite entitled to make any suggestions or protests at the appropriate time you know.'

'Appropriate time?' hooted Arthur. 'Appropriate time? The first I knew about it was when a workman arrived at my home yesterday. I asked him if he'd come to clean the windows and he said no he'd come to demolish the house. He didn't tell me straight away of course. Oh no. First he wiped a couple of windows and charged me a fiver. Then he told me.'

'But Mr Dent, the plans have been available in the local planning office for the last nine months.'

'Oh yes, well as soon as I heard I went straight round to see them, yesterday afternoon. You hadn't exactly gone out of your way to call attention to them had you? I mean like actually telling anybody or anything.'

'But the plans were on display ...'

'On display? I eventually had to go down to the cellar to find them.'

'That's the display department.'

'With a torch.'

'Ah, well the lights had probably gone.'

'So had the stairs.'

'But look, you found the notice didn't you?'

'Yes,' said Arthur, 'yes I did. It was on display in the bottom of a locked filing cabinet stuck in a disused lavatory with a sign on the door saying Beware of the Leopard.'

Douglas Adams The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. I imagine it was to look something like this.

H. Rumbold, Master Barber

Roger D. Parish, Lovettsville said...

I could not believe how totally screwed up VDoT has made this intersection!

When I went through there this afternoon, in order to go east on Broadway, I had to make a right turn, then two left turns, and stop at THREE stop signs!

I believe that, in the Marine Corps, this is called a cluster-fuck! (That's a technical term.)

Roger D. Parish, Lovettsville said...

Oh, and I forgot to mention the mandatory lane changes, necessitated by all the turn-only lanes they have put in.

This sucks, it just totally sucks!

Matt said...

You know, I could see a children's book series coming out of this post -- A Series of Unfortunate Events meets Bob the Builder meets Edward Tufte meets Don Quixote.

In the first book, our doomed hero travels around the country, finding exasperation (and tickets) everywhere he goes. His long and detailed missives to various and sundry local officials go unnoticed (and, generally, straight into the trash-bin) until, one day, a letter of his reaches a young but frustrated dreamer who works in the Department of Under-Oversized Motor Vehicles. Stunned by the insights in this letter, the young man contacts its author; they quickly join forces and set out to right traffic-sign wrongs all across the nation.

Ensuing books will detail their run-ins with characters such as Michael Michaels, Chief U.S. Signage Designer, whose obfuscatory sentences leave both Nedwidge and his young charge bewildered, even as his minions tag Nedwidge's car with yet another parking ticket.

It could work, I tell ya -- it could work!

roxtar said...

A couple of points:

In the bottom picture, it appears that the oncoming lane (formerly the through lane) has been marked for a left turn only by oncoming traffic. So they apparently did a little planning. Unfortunately, their planning did not include placing an NHSTA standard orange and white barricade across that lane for a period of time in order to make it impossible for folks to go straight through the intersection.

If I had a client who was killed or injured at that intersection as a result of this piss-poor job of intersection design, the State could just hand me its checkbook. And don't be surprised to hear that the strict enforcement is related to questions of potential liability. If they let people "get away with it", that could be used as an admission that the changes to the intersection created an unreasonably dangerous situation.

I have just a few more words, which do not constitute legal advice as we have not formed a lawyer-client relationship, and I am not licensed to practice law in Virginia. In fact, I could be a janitor for all you know.

Those words are: Lawyer. Trial. Discovery! (including e-mails) Oh, and did I mention discovery?

blue girl said...

Good for you, Jeddie for writing that letter. Hopefully, they'll pay attention to it. And I hope they do it soon.

We have new signs here that are of the opposite nature...

Every two feet on all of the highways, there are signs that say something like ...

If you are in an accident, please pull to the side of the road.

Um. Really?

You mean, we shouldn't just park in the passing lane while everyone buzzes around us at 80 miles per hour?

Anyway, it's good that you have this documented. I just hope you're not going to have to "point it out to someone soon."

You should send your letter and/or contact your newspaper too.

Kevin Wolf said...

Being in a service position and receiving letters from various "clients," I'd venture to say that your letter will get attention simply for being well-written and clear. Here's hoping they also act on it.

The little orange flags on top of the signs are a nice touch. Enabling someone to flag down an ambulance later, I wonder?

roxtar said...

Your Virginia revised Statutes at work:

§ 46.2-830. Uniform marking and signing of highways; drivers to obey signs; enforcement of section.

No provision of this section relating to the prohibition of disobeying signs or violating local traffic signals, markings, and lights shall be enforced against an alleged violator if, at the time and place of the alleged violation, any such sign, signal, marking, or light is not in proper position and sufficiently legible to be seen by an ordinarily observant person.

You are ordinarily observant, aren't you?

§ 46.2-833.1. Evasion of traffic control devices.

It shall be unlawful for the driver of any motor vehicle to drive off the roadway and onto or across any public or private property in order to evade any stop sign, yield sign, traffic light, or other traffic control device.

You didn't do any of these things, did you? Were you charged under this statute? Hmmmm....

Shakespeare's Sister said...

Excellent letter, Nedward. And your photo evidence truly seals the deal.

Neddie said...

Roger: Did you see what they'd put up this morning? A hay-UGE lighted sign -- one of those orange things on wheels, saying "Do Not Enter." O' course, it's temporary, and the human capacity for error permanent.

I should have taken a picture this morning, but spaced it. I will tomorrow.

Yeah, I went around the thing to get to the 7-11 for some coffee -- a distance that used to be some 20 yards. Now it's 300, easy -- with all the lane changes and stop signs.

And then I realized I'd forgotten to stop at the Post Office to mail my Angry Missives. Aaaaall the way back around.

Matt: I have the outline of the first installment plotted out in my CAD program.

Roxtar: You interest me strangely... Are you up for a chinwag? Would you be so good as to drop me your phone number to neddiejingo at aol dot com? I'd send you mine, but I'm not sure I can find your email addie...

JD said...

Excellent work, Mr. Jingo, excellent. Inspired, I have just posted a screed to the local traffic authority protesting a proposed traffic circle. It begins, "This is the Midwest, sir. We do not do traffic circles!"

roxtar said...

In New Jersey, they have something called a "jug handle."

As in, "You better get in the right hand lane and make the next left."

Res Publica said...

Totally off topic, but you and Blue Girl have absolutely killed me with your gorgeous version of my favorite Christmas song EVER...great work!

Anonymous said...

Familiarity is a dangerous thing to a driver. It can cause you to stop seeing what's right in front of you. I can't see inside your head, but trying to put myself in your shoes, here's what I think, for what it's worth: Because you most likely had been through that intersection many times before, you don't really see the signs or markings anymore. It would take a really major change, like a brand new lane or a barricade, to make you take note. It's this tendency to see only what we expect to see that makes this intersection dangerous. I've seen people sail right through red lights and almost done it myself when a new traffic light appears at an intersection I've been through a million times before. I almost don't see the light because it's never been there before and I don't expect to have to stop. What's dangerous in that situation is me, not the intersection.

I understand your embarassment and frustration, I really do, but I really don't think you have much of a case. A standard sized, clearly visible Do Not Enter sign on each side of the road, adorned with those cute orange "something new here" flags, as well as markings on the road you should never see in your lane from that direction, clearly indicate that you better not proceed straight across the intersection. "Vanishingly small"?? Really? Is the stop sign too small too?
The only problem I see here is that there should be arrows painted in the lane your car is in to indicate that the only permissible directions to go after stopping are left and right.

Neddie said...

Nonny, hun-bun:

I haven't posted the photograph I took later of the ENORMOUS lighted "DO NOT ENTER" sign VDOT felt constrained to place next to those goddamned invisible signs within an hour of my transgression. I'll save those for the hearing. I'll also point you to Roxtar's quoting of the actual Virginia Statute, a few places above yours: "No provision of this section relating to the prohibition of disobeying signs or violating local traffic signals, markings, and lights shall be enforced against an alleged violator if, at the time and place of the alleged violation, any such sign, signal, marking, or light is not in proper position and sufficiently legible to be seen by an ordinarily observant person."

And I vehemently stand by my point, as a designer of computer interfaces: If several people make the same mistake as I did within a few minutes, the fault is with the design and not with the user. And the policeman handing out tickets should have been directing people around a terribly designed intersection, not waiting until they made an error and punishing them for misinterpreting ambiguous signage.

He himself admitted that when I asked him. He knew what his prders were.

Neddie said...

Oh, and...

The stop sign is five feet away. The "Do Not Enter" sign is ONE HUNDRED feet away. Where it never was before. With the sun behind it.

Objectively, they are the same size. Subjectively, the former is TWENTY TIMES LARGER than the latter. I'd call that "vanishingly small." Especially with the sun behind it, on THE FIRST morning that the sign had ever been posted.

See you in court.

Dean Settle said...

t Neddie,

You were'nt issues a ticket for talking on a cell phone were you?
I sat at the intersection watching all the fools come thru and blow what I successfully navigated moments before them. What a hoot.

But watching the idiot so engrossed in his cell phone dialogue that he didn't see a sign, and totally ignored an officer waving him down in the middle of the road. They got him good when they finally stopped him. LOL

Neddie said...

Dean: You local? Pop in and say hi!

Nah, they popped me for just not seeing the sign with the sun behind it. I hate cell phones. A lot.

Anonymous said...

ONE HUNDRED feet away.

Subjectively, the former is TWENTY TIMES LARGER

I notice you have a habit of exaggerating to make your point on this site. Not to mention you are quite liberal with the insults and profanity. Doesn't do much for your credibility.

-- "Nonny hun bun"

Neddie said...

My blog. My turf. My subjectivity. Nobody forced you to come in here. You don't like it, go start your own. Let me know when you do, OK?

Also, I think you'll find I'm quite a lot politer to people who supply a name. When they don't it feels like getting poked at by complete strangers. You try it. It's not pleasant.

Anonymous said...

My blog. My turf. My subjectivity. Nobody forced you to come in here.

Absolutely right. Everyone is entitled to their own opinions, and expressing them is one of the advantages of having a blog. However, no-one is entitled to their own facts, and it's my subjective opinion that you tend to bend the facts in your favor here on your turf, which weakens your arguments.

Again, just my opinion. I'm normally a just a lurker here and keep my mouth shut because I have nothing useful to add. It frustrates me, though, when I agree with the arguments you make and feel that they could be much stronger if you would not exaggerate.

Concerning my name, in real life I would have introduced myself first. It's not quite as natural on Blogger, especially if you don't have an account, and even those who do rarely if ever reveal their actual name. We're all pretty much anonymous, unfortunately. Still, I don't think making your first word back to me an insult is a good way to encourage a dialogue.

-- Mark C.

Neddie said...


I've let a day pass before answering you, so as to let my feelings mature a bit.

A couple of hundred years ago, when people knew something about etiquette, a gentleman approached by someone he didn't know but who evinced excessive informality, would stiffen slightly, become very formal and intone, perhaps with a raised eyebrow, "You have the advantage of me, sir."

It's a pity we've lost this phrase, because it's very useful. It simply means, You seem to know me, but I don't know you from Shinola. It's a useful expression because it's absolutely true: When you know me but I don't know you, you have the advantage of me. I don't know if you're a friend, an enemy, a neighbor or just some guy. I have no idea how to interact with you, whereas you, having apparently read quite a bit of what I've put up in this blog, feel you know me well enough to disagree with something I've said.

Unfortunately, you chose to disagree at a moment when I was feeling particularly hot under the collar about something that had made me quite angry. (I must point out, by the way, that in my letter to the Virginia Dept. of Transportation, I said nothing about contesting the ticket I received. Only in Comments did my lawyer friend from West Virginia plant the idea about contesting the ticket. Actually, after consideration, I intend to pay the fine and get on with my life.)

I'm surprised, honestly, after reading the exchange again, that you were dismayed that I reacted to your -- you must admit it -- quite patronizing original comment with some vehemence. I'm not some Entertainment Machine, here for your amusement. I'm a human being, with the full set of emotions supplied to us at birth. When I'm angry about something, I am susceptible to exactly the same irrationalities as anyone else.

This is why I was heated in my reply to you. You have the advantage of me, sir. I've never met you. I have no idea what your motivations are. I don't know if you're a VDOT employee Googling local traffic controversies, a judge who's going to sit on my case, the cop who issued me the ticket, or a neighbor.

(Think that's irrational? Look at the comments from Roger Parrish and from Dean Settle: Those are neighbors of mine.)

I choose to expose my life-as-lived in public. You don't. I'm the vulnerable one here. Not you.

Now, as to the question of exaggeration and insults.

I now know empirically (through server logs) that you're not a neighbor of mine. You've never driven through that intersection, and you never saw the before-and-after states of the construction that caused that bizarre configuration of roads to suddenly come into being. You're relying on me to report them. You can believe me or not -- it's immaterial to me whether you do -- but don't invalidate my reality by telling me I'm wrong when you've never seen the goddamned intersection. That's the original insult.

On the question of exaggeration: You appear to have been incredulous about my assertion that a sign that's five feet away is subjectively twenty times larger that a sign the same size one hundred feet away. All I can do is invite you to do the math: 100/5=20. Where's the exaggeration there?

But it's your assertion that my "arguments" are injured by subjectivity that is particularly galling. I can only ask, What "arguments" are you fucking talking about? I'm presenting my life-as-lived, here. Sorry, but my life contains "insults and profanity." I'm not the fucking Time Magazine at your goddamned dentist's office; you don't like it, go snuffle around at BoingBoing or something. I don't do entertainment, I'm putting myself on the Internet. I'm not a service, with a Complaints Department that will kow-tow to your petty goddamned perceived insults.

Deal with it.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for responding. My comments aren't meant to be patronizing and I'm sorry if they seem to be. I also never intended to attack you, personally. I tend to write a bit too concisely and I think meaning and tone sometimes gets lost. But yes, I am surprised at the venom of your responses.

I do have the advantage of you - this type of forum makes for a very one-sided vulnerability. If your posts truly represent your view on things, I would guess we would actually agree on many things. Whether we would like each other or not, I don't know.

I'm not sure why you think that because I don't live in Virginia that there's no possible reason I might be familiar with Lovettsville, but no matter. Please let's not part on a sour note. I see no reason to take our disagreement further.

-- Mark C.

Dean Settle said...

Damn. Fist fights in the square, fist fights on the blog. What the flip is wrong with everybody?

Ned, I'm more ways than a few.
I hit the 7-11 most mornings out there.
You ABSOLUTELY CANNOT miss my ride.
It's big, and yellow, and I have the only one.

Neddie said...


I believe we spoke a few days ago at the 7-11. You commented on my "Catoctin County Now!" sticker, and asked if I was the guy who walked with a cane.

Stick around, man! I think we have some interests in common. My place is out west of town, out on the mountain. I'm on the Board of the Historical Society and Museum, and I'd love to get your take on what's happening to our home.

What time do you usually hit the 7-11? Let's have a chinwag, Chuck-o!

Neddie said...

Mark C.:

Peace, friend. Unfortunate circumstances made me irrational. I'm sorry.

Let's let that dreadful business fade into the rear-view mirror, and let bygones be what they are, eh?

And don't be a stranger! (Hint: Click the "other" radio button when replying, and supply an identity.) Or, for that matter, get a Blogger identity, and be identified as who you are automatically...!)

Mark C. said...

Whew! I'm glad that's over.

Part of the reason I'm shy about commenting is that I've seen these things get out of hand before. I should have known better and crafted my original note more carefully.

FWIW, I traced my own IP address out of curiousity. It seems to indicate that I'm in New Jersey, or at least the machine I'm connecting through is there. I'm not sure if that's what your server records show, but it's news to me. In reality I'm in the neighborhood of Frederick. My last ISP showed me in Pennsylvania. I guess that's what happens when you switch from a local dial-up to a big corporate service.

Dean Settle said...

The guy with the cell phone was about two cars behind you that morning.
I know which person you were, now.

We definitely should chat. I'm pretty involved in the elections coming in November. I've met with two of the candidates for our district, and felt no need to touch base with another, because I attempted to get his perspective 4 years ago, with no success. He flopped around like a fish out of water, so I stopped even trying.

I vary in time, because I'm self-employed, but I'll look out for your rig.