Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Germany's Road Sign Deforestation

Germans tend to feel more comfortable when they are given precise, unambiguous rules. To that end, their roads are absolutely covered in road signs - to the tune of over 20 million signs. There is an average of one road sign every 28 meters, or 36 signs per kilometer. Many German drivers now feel that their country's road sign proliferation is so bad that that the sheer quantity of them has become a safety hazard. In fact, 75% of all German drivers in a recent survey conducted by Germany's ADAC automobile club believed their country had too many road signs.

Now, the country is doing something about it. With the encouragement of the German Transport Ministry, local authorities in some towns have been cruising around while having frank discussions about the necessity of some signs, such as a "pedestrians only" sign on a walkway too narrow for even a bicycle, or a "toad crossing" sign at another location. The goal of the sign-reduction project is to get rid of as many as half of Germany's road sign population.

When a sign is identified as potentially unnecessary, it is covered by a plastic yellow hood that advises of the sign's condemnation. If nobody complains after a few weeks of the sign being covered, it is removed permanently. Some of the removed signs are sold for scrap, while others are kept in storage "in case they're needed later."

The small Dutch town of Drachten also suffered from an excess of road signs and traffic lights, so its leadership took the radical step of removing ALL signs and signals, and installing a children's playground in the middle of a road to encourage drivers to slow down. The result was that traffic moved more "safely," but no longer flowed as smoothly. The German town of Bohmte would like to attempt a similar experiment.

Though I would love to have the pleasure of driving a performance car on an unrestricted stretch of open Autobahn, driving through cities and towns in Germany would probably be less enjoyable. I'm all for reducing roadside clutter and driver distractions (in this case, external distractions), but without a navigation system, I'd imagine that it's very difficult to find one's way through a town with no signs.

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