Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Traffic Signage and Other California Quirks

The first few years moving from Ohio to California was rather difficult for me to cope with the many quirks of California, particularly the confusing and inconsiderate signage of all traffic systems.

My biggest complains are the split exit lane which could go to both directions.  In Ohio, that lane would be clearly marked and riders need not to shift lane unnecessarily to go to say left or right.   But in California, a panicked drivers shift from that split middle lane to the left or right and only realized later that the need not to change lane at all.   Finally, there are signs telling drivers the split lanes go to both directions but they usually came up way to late, after the lane change have been accomplished.

Another good thing in Ohio is the numbered highway exits.  After having consulted a map, one could just count the numbers of the exit and prepare for his or her own.  Numbers are much easier to ready than letters.  Again, more than 10 years later after I moved to California, finally I saw some exits with numbers.  But those numbered exits won't help much, because those numbered exits are inconsistently marked, discontinuous, and on the warning/lead signs the numbers are no where to find, or vice versa.

San Francisco Chronicle just published a congratulatory article on the signage experiment by BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit, aka commuter trains) in its Ashby station.

I have traveled from Ashby before and after the signage change and I must agree that it has improved quite a bit, though hardly enough.

Look at the picture below:

One can see that one platform pointing at Richmond direction which the other pointing at Fremont and Millbrae.  The problem is that many people, if they are unfamiliar with BART, would not know which direction will lead them to the most common destinations: San Francisco or San Francisco Airport.

Using the destination of the trains as the labels of the lines can work, if those destinations are well known and stay constant.  No.  That's not what BART has. Take Pittsburg/Baypoint train for example.  That train sometimes stops at Concord and the incoming train and the platform sign would say it is a Concord train. Or say a train goes to San Francisco direction can stop at 24th Street Mission in rush hours.

On the front of each rushing income train, some feebly lit small light bulbs would form the destination of the train as well.  But who can read those?

The most sensible way to label those five (5) BART lines are using the existing color coding system with the destination more broadly defined, by calling
San Francisco (SF)-Richmond Train Red East Bay (EB),
Richmond-SF Train Red SF,
SF-Pittsburg/Baypoint Train Yellow EB,
Pittsburg/Baypoint-SF Train Yellow SF, etc.
For the line goes north and south in East Bay alone, they could be called Orange North and Orange South.

When my father, who doesn't speak English, visited me, he referred those lines with those colors used on BART map.  I did tell him to look at P and B, but I had constant angst over the Pittsburg/Baypoint train might stop at Concord and my father would have missed his train.
Another way to to it is labeling those lines with numbers.  Considering we have only five lines, it is eminently doable.  No. 1 EB, No.1 SF, etc. would work much better for many residents and visitors, many of them don't speak English or not too well.

Yet, waiting for real creative and constructive thinking from unionized BART, with its usual glacier pace, is like waiting for Godot.

Perhaps, California was a shining example of American success.  Now it is the laughing stock of the nation and the world.

In my blog article Which End of the Boat Sinks First? - Dueling Between Democrats and Republicans, I described California thus:
Governor Jerry Brown proposed deep services cuts for the poor and middle class, hoping to get support from Republicans to put a temporary tax extension on a special election ballot.  But deadline came and went and he got no support.  The huge imbalance of public workers pensions and benefits are not addressed by the Democrats either.  One would hope these two ruling parties would barter some of these.  No.  If anything same can be done, we are not in California.

The Republicans and Democrats, sitting in two ends of this leaking boat, instead of working together to scoop out water and fix the leakage, are fighting tooth and nail to ensure that the other end of the boat sinks first.

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