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The sign

At last! Ok, here’s something I’ve been wanting to do for aaaages. And last Friday, I found myself out with someone (not Leigh) in a car, and I had a video camera with me, so I was able to capture just how annoying this is.

It’s the fact that as far as I’m concerned, Charleston / South Carolina / The whole of the USA for all I care has got REALLY BAD ROAD SIGNAGE.

So many intersections/junctions here have to got NO signs whatsoever telling you what is in a particular direction. I thought it was normal to have this, but maybe living in the UK I’ve been spoiled all these years. How do people know where to go to get around? They must get lost all the time. Leigh seems to know where she’s going because she’s been here so long. To be honest … the junction I’m about to literally show you I’ve now learned to get right having taken the wrong way at least three times in the past.

So let’s compare. It’s like this: In the UK, before any major junction (and lots of minor ones too), several HUNDRED yards back (thus, giving you plenty of time to see it in advance) is a nice big green sign, with the roads of the junction marked and where each one will take you to. They look like this [right]

Shortly after that, you get a ‘localised’ white sign with black roads marked and black writing telling you of more local destinations.

The junction I’m about to drive you through in the video below looks like this on Google Maps:

You’re driving east (left to right across the map) down highway 61 [A], and I want to head across the bridge to downtown Charleston on highway 17 [B].

In the UK, you drive on the left, and any slip roads off are therefore on the left. In the USA therefore, you drive on the right so that if you want to turn off on any slip roads from the main road you’re traveling from are on the right. Right? Wrong!

Here, you have to take the left ‘slip’ twice in a row … and the worst bit is that there are NO road signs in advance telling you this. Only at the LAST moment (see the stills from the video) are there two TINY little apologetic “Ooh, we thought you might like to know right at the last minute, sorry if there’s loads of traffic around you and it’s too late for you to turn” type of signs that tell you – and that’s only if you’re eagle-eyed enough to see them in the first place.

If you stay on the right at the first ‘slip’ you end up traveling south on 61 to point [C] on my map. Or if you’re smart enough to have realised at the last second that you wanted to come off the road you were traveling on on the left, then you still might get stuck in the right hand lane and get taken to point [D] on the map which is highway 17 but going west – not east the way you want to go!

See for yourself in the video here below – summed up nicely by the fact that this was a local driving who didn’t know the junction that well, and if it wasn’t for me saying “left! left!”, we would have ended up on the wrong road.

So: The USA could really do with better road signs. Seriously, because currently it completely sucks and is very infuriating when you’ve been used to driving in a country where everything is nicely signed for you.

(Oh, and a gold star to anyone that remembered it was an Ace of Bass song.)

14 responses to “The sign”

  1. imabug says:

    I agree, Charleston road signage totally sucks. what little there is is usually so small by the time you can make out what the sign says, you’ve already gone past it. You’d think most of the major throughfares would have prominent signs too, but nope.

    The section you describe drives me nuts all the time too, and I’ve been going through it for the past 8 years.

  2. Paul says:

    My god they are gonna crash, they are on the wrong side of the road. No, no wait … Paul, he lives in America. Phew, that was a close one!

  3. geofftech says:

    You’re all meant to be hugely impressed by my YouTube style embedded Flash video in my pages btw… (yawn)

  4. Alan Perks says:

    Wow! Can I tell you how impressed I am by your YouTube style embedded Flash video in your pages? (zzzzzzzzzzz!!!)

  5. David - Irvine, CA says:

    I have to agree. The signs are bloody over here. I have been driving around Southern California for the past week and it’s awful. The signs are either too late or they disappear when you are trying to find your way to the interstate! Argh!

  6. jj says:

    it’s all a trick to make it impossible for non-Americans to find their way home. all those illegal “immigrants” aren’t really immigrants – they’re just lost tourists…

  7. geofftech says:

    Would now be the time to admit then that we bought a new TomTomONE at the weekend (after my last one was stolen), so I will no longer get lost in Charleston again. Yay!

    Oh, and Alan – thanks! (bastard)

  8. Brent says:

    On the whole, the US is not that bad at signage. Basically, so long as you’re not in an East Coast state/city, everything is as it should be…signs at least 1/2 mile before your turn and so on. In some cities (Cleveland being an example) there are signs that say the next intersection and how far ahead it is (i.e. Euclid Ave – 500 ft). Makes it soooo much easier to find where you are going instead of trying to find the road sign as you’re passing and then going “damnit, that’s the one I needed”.

    For some reason things in the US seemed to go as thus:
    – No clue how to survey or map roads…let’s do whatever and end up with 5 road intersections!
    – wait wait…let’s plot everything in 1 mile unit squares. roads go parallel to each other for the most part…brilliant!

    sad thing is, we don’t live in the part of the country where the “brilliant” happened. we live in the before. 🙁

  9. Elaine says:

    Looks crazy! You sometimes wonder at road planners. Here is Glasgow we have an on ramp which goes straight onto the M8 in the outside lane – must be the only one in GB!

  10. Stuart says:

    There’s a nice little feature on this page about UK v US road signs, you’re not the first to realise how bad the signage is:

  11. geofftech says:

    Great link Stewart!!

    Still amazes me that major intersections here in SC just have NO road signs at all. People from England.. think of any major A-road junction at home. There’s always a nice big green sign in advance telling of you what’s ahead. Not here!

    You either just have to KNOW, or be lucky enough that there isn’t a car behind you so that you can slow down at each junction and try and spot the tiny sign telling you if you are at the right road or not. It’s stooooopid.

  12. miles away says:

    isn’t the name of the pop act spelt Ace of Base?

  13. Wayne says:

    I’d nominate Italy as worse. All direction signs are the same size, about 1m by 40cm long, 1 location per sign, no matter how long the word is (so “Milano” might be easy to see, but “Aeroporto de Viareggio” – to use a fictional example in bad italian – cannot be read properly at all). And you’re lucky if the sign (or rather pile of single signs) is before the junction at all, usually it’s just beyond. Grr!

  14. MOBY says:

    I can’t add your post to Digg. How I do this?

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