Worst of Both Worlds

Over at National Review’s Corner blog, Fred Schwartz pointed out the most alarming example of “Federal Government/Copy Editor” collusion yet:

Federal copy editors are demanding the city change its 250,900 street signs — such as these for Perry Avenue in The Bronx — from the all-caps style used for more than a century to ones that capitalize only the first letters.

 Changing BROADWAY to Broadway will save lives, the Federal Highway Administration contends in its updated Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices, citing improved readability.

 At $110 per sign, it will also cost the state $27.6 million, city officials said.

My favorite part has got to be the Highway Administration admitting that New York and other states “opposed the change,” and then gave them 15 years to implement it. Yep, that’s right. Fifteen years.

The Highway Administration acknowledged that New York and other states “opposed the change, and suggested that the use of all upper-case letters remain an option,” noting that “while the mixed-case words might be easier to read, the amount of improvement in legibility did not justify the cost.”


To compensate for those concerns, in 2003, the administration allowed for a 15-year

phase-in period ending in 2018.


How concerned can we be with safety if we’re willing to put it off for 10+ years? Trans fats, we ban immediately. Street signs, we’ll allow to exist for a bit longer. Just as long as they’re done by 2018, and they’re all “Clearview” font when we finish.


Schwartz can’t help but think that the entire “project” is flawed, and yet another example of “The Feds” getting involved in something that can be done more cheaply and more efficiently on a state (or even a city) level.


Yet even if the advantanges of u&lc are clearly established, there are two ways to fix this problem. You can circulate information about the legibility of street signs and let local highway departments fix it at their own pace and within their own budget, or you can go through the whole bureaucratic rigamarole of developing guidelines, soliciting comments, issuing rules, and certifying compliance. Considering that bureaucrats and copy editors both make a living by creating work for themselves, it’s no surprise that the FHA chose the fusspot-a-rama option.


If you have a hammer, everything’s a nail, I suppose…

Joseph Susanka


Joseph Susanka has been doing development work for institutions of Catholic higher education since his graduation from Thomas Aquinas College in 1999. Currently residing in Lander, Wyoming -- "where Stetsons meet Birkenstocks" -- he is a columnist for Crisis Magazine and the Patheos Catholic portal.

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