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SF street signs face capital changes

One day, I’m going to look at my grandkids and say, “I remember the days when I took a 25-cent Muni ride to the downtown Emporium and got off at Fifth and Market, where the street signs were all in caps.”

The Emporium and quarter Muni rides disappeared long ago. And now, San Francisco’s familiar street signs — black uppercase letters on a white background — are slipping into history as a capital change hits San Francisco’s signposts.

In hopes of making the text easier to read, street signs will now feature mixed case street names, with only the first letter capitalized.

For you visual learners, streets like GEARY will now read: Geary. VAN NESS? Van Ness.

The City adopted this change in 2009 to conform with the Federal Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices. Drafted by the Federal Highway Administration, the manual sets the standards for traffic control devices such as signs, signals and pavement markings across the nation.

Which means that in the near future, street signs across America will pretty much look the same. Oh joy.

FHWA administrator Victor Mendez explained this decision to USA Today:

“As drivers get older, we want to make sure they’re able to read the signs. Research shows that older drivers are better able to read signs when they’re written in both capital and small letters. It’s really driven by safety.”

Despite evidence supporting the change, SFBay staff are having a hard time wrapping our heads around this textual shift.

Our consensus? It just looks wonky. Lowercase letters occupy less space, so the letter spacing gets “spread” farther apart to fill space on the sign. From a design perspective, it’s a big no-no. Just ask Frederic Goudy.

Also, one word: tradition. The distinctive look of San Francisco street signs go back farther than just about any of us.

But wait. Here’s the worst part.

Paul Rose, the spokesman for the Municipal Transportation Agency told the Chron’s C.W. Nevius that the new changes will apply only to signs that need to be replaced.

Nothing will ramp your OCD into overdrive faster than half The City’s street signs being capitalized, and the other half not.

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