The Fussy Eye: A Sign of Failure

Cross? Don't cross? WTF?

Street signs generally cause problems only when they're missing. Outright mistakes and misspellings are rare, and Seattle lacks the sort of mind-twisting freeway directionals seen in L.A. or roundabout-crazed Europe. And yet this new design from the Seattle Department of Transportation is a head-scratcher. The signs began appearing at various downtown intersections this summer, and the iconography is rather baffling. Man walking in center, we get. But what are those sharp arrows hemming him in? It's as though he's under attack, subject to lightning bolts or Taser bursts from four surrounding legions of . . . what? The poor pedestrian is surrounded by superior forces of strictly regimented piano keys, double-barreled shotguns, chopsticks, or railroad ties? The longer you stare at it, the more ambiguous it becomes. (In your car, the analogues are the squiggly vent open/closed icons—once you realize they look like bacon, all you can think is: "Open for bacon, close for no bacon.") That the SDOT sign is a failure is evidenced by its text (cropped out of the photo above): "All way walk." The graphics are so unclear they have to be explained. SDOT's intent, if you notice the painted diagonal lanes criss-crossing the pavement, is for walkers to flood the box, like the famous Shibuya intersection in Tokyo. In other words (or other signs), "Everyone go at once!" It's a pedestrian free-for-all! Signals flashing green/yellow/red and icons indicating walking or not walking—those we understand. But by the time you figure this sign out, the light has changed, and it's too late to cross the street. 

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