Woog’s World / Westport needs fewer signs, not more
Back in the day, there was an atrocious song called “Signs.” The lyrics went:
“Sign, sign, everywhere a sign
Blockin’ out the scenery, breakin’ my mind
Do this, don’t do that, can’t you read the sign?”
We have (thankfully) forgotten the Five Man Electrical Band. But we have not forgotten the song, or its message. Four decades later, the problem is worse than ever.
The Westport News recently headlined: “Sign project aims to attract more visitors to Westport.” Jarret Liotta reported that — backed by a $50,000 appropriation for design work — the unzippily named Downtown Plan Implementation Committee hopes to implement a “wayfinding project.”
The idea is that “better directional and informational signage — both physical and virtue” will enhance both the downtown and “gateway” areas of Westport. Signs will make the town “more accessible and visitor-friendly.”
I’m not sure. I’d argue that all signs point to the fact that we need fewer — not more — of them.
“Everywhere a sign” is not just a song lyric. Like the frog in the pot of slowly boiling water — he doesn’t notice he’s getting fried until it’s too late — we may not realize we are being strangled by signs. There are so many, and they take up so much space, we don’t really see them.
And why should we? Most of them are nonsense.
The Westport News story included a photo of a green sign greeting drivers on the Post Road, at the Norwalk and Southport borders. “Welcome to Westport,” it says. “Please slow down. We enforce our laws.”
Apparently, that is not very welcoming. I think it’s fine. Who can be against askin, very politely, people to slow down?
But the part about enforcing our laws? Sure, if we catch you. The problem is, anyone who drives more than three yards on the Post Road knows it’s every man for himself (and watch out for those women in SUVs).
The odds of getting caught for speeding are infinitesimal. Ditto for unsafe lane changing, failure to signal, having too much snow on your roof, or plowing through stop signs.
Which you really should not do, because we not only have stop signs, but signs that signal there is a stop sign ahead. I don’t know when this became a thing, or why, but it seems to me if you are not able to comprehend a regular stop sign, you probably should not be behind the wheel of a motor vehicle. Or outside your home at all, for that matter.
Speaking of “being behind,” every Westporter knows what it’s like to trail a school bus these days. There must be a town law mandating them to stop every 5 feet or five seconds, whichever comes first. The only thing more aggravating than trailing a Dattco bus is — well, there’s nothing worse.
Yet right there on Wilton Road, and a few other completely random spots in town, signs announce, “School bus stop ahead.”
Of course there is a school bus stop ahead. There is always a school bus stop ahead. In the history of wasted words, this ranks right next to flight attendants telling everyone on the plane how to fasten a seat belt.
“Everywhere a sign” certainly includes Compo Beach. You’d think the shore with its wide, soothing expanses of sand, water, jetties and whatnot would be a sign-free zone. You would also think kids could walk two minutes to a common bus stop, and in both cases you would be wrong.
Compo has more signs than Dattco has bus stops. There are signs about beach stickers, where to park and where not to park. There are signs about dogs, Frisbees, glass bottles and picnic tables. There are several ginormous signs, listing everything you can and cannot do, one of which is even larger and more ominous than the cannons it is posted near.
What all those signs lack is a uniform look. There are traffic signs, Parks and Rec signs, and signs designed by people who dropped out of Graphic Design 1 on the first day of class.
Perhaps though, that’s what the folks who want more signs downtown are getting at. There is something about common colors, fonts and shapes that makes signs palatable.
Some places do this fairly well — particularly with road signs. Think of Bridgeport, with its classy blue signs, or San Francisco (black on white). New York’s white on green signs manage a uniform look in a city of 8 million.
In fact, there is really only one sign I miss. Years ago, on Easton Road, a sign noted helpfully that it was 9 miles to Upper Stepney. Upper Stepney! Now there’s information all of us could use.
Dan Woog is a Westport writer, and his “Woog’s World” appears each Friday. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. His personal blog is danwoog06880.com.