+ Aesthetics of a city is tied to its signage
Our community’s beauty and sense of place is being compromised by a raging infestation. Regrettably, government authorities do not seem to be concerned. In fact, they are actively abetting it.
Shortly after moving here last July, I began to notice what appeared to be swarms of new county and state road signs being erected throughout Sarasota. Curious whether or not this proliferation was actually occurring, I contacted the Sarasota County Traffic Engineering and Operations office (which is responsible for both city and county signage).
I was not mistaken. Indeed, the few last years have witnessed an astonishing increase in new signs being placed on county and city streets. In 2005 and 2006, 214 and 186 new signs were installed. But those figures jumped to 604 in 2007 and 422 in 2008. One can only imagine the whopping total in store for 2009 because the sign frenzy seems to have ramped up even more in recent months.
Many of these signs are unnecessary. To cite just one example, many signs are often deployed in close proximity to one another to indicate a right-turn-only lane. This is in addition to having this notice painted several times in the right-turn-only lane itself.
When asked who decides how many signs are required, a county official told me it depends on the discretion of the traffic engineering firm to which the county has outsourced the work. After inquiring if a state code regarding right-turn-only signage existed, he hauled out a large manual and looked it up.
While I usually count three to four right-turn-only signs placed successively, the state standard calls for one sign. Of course, it is not only right-turn-only signs that are needlessly warping the sight lines of our streets but all sorts of other ones, as well.
Because Tamiami Trail, Bee Ridge, Clarke, Washington, Fruitville, Ringling Boulevard and Gulf of Mexico Drive are designated state highways, their signage is governed by the Florida Department of Transportation. Observing that these roads appear to have been similarly plastered with new signs, I called FDOT about them. Disturbingly, the FDOT representative with whom I spoke said the agency doesn’t keep track of the number of new signs it installs. Also, FDOT, I learned, outsources its sign work to 20 private traffic engineering firms. When I complained about the abundance of signs in certain places, the FDOT official indicated that I was probably right but that it was up to the discretion of the engineering firm.
I also expressed disapproval regarding the increasingly prevalent Adopt-A-Highway markers that reward businesses and organizations for picking up litter four times a year with large signs featuring their names. I was told that these signs are fairly easy to acquire and have become more popular lately. That shouldn’t be surprising, I responded, because they constitute free, government-sanctioned advertising during difficult economic times. I also said that many streets with these signs don’t have much litter on them to speak of and that cleaning them should be a function of our taxes.
Why can’t signs be attached to light posts or other existing poles instead of installing a sterile cluster of new signposts in the same location? If there is so much concern about the speed of cars coming off the John Ringling Bridge heading into St. Armand’s Circle, why not use speed bumps instead of caking this exquisite stretch with a gauntlet of banal speed limit and other signs?
The overwrought signage that now diminishes the picturesque views along Ringling and Gulf of Mexico Drive is especially disheartening. At a recent town of Longboat Key Planning and Zoning Board hearing, board member Walter Hackett pointed out that in one half-mile section of Gulf of Mexico Drive there was one sign every 24 feet. Nevertheless, the FDOT officials who were present defended the need for every one of them.
Not only are all these new signs excessive, they are absent aesthetic sensibility. There is no regard for how signs comport with the character of the roads on which they are placed. Bureaucratic utility and power seem to be the only considerations.
Great cities have a certain flavor about them. They possess a pronounced concern for appearance. An opera, symphony and museums are not the only index of a city’s cultural attainment. When I return from work each day I actually look forward to the signage found in my subdivision. Tastefully conceived, it enhances both the presentation and worth of the homes.
The disregard that led to the demise of so much value on Wall Street is mirrored in the lowered standards that have cheapened the value of our main streets. Already scarred by billboards and arid, harum-scarum development, the redundant and incongruous government signage saturating our streetscapes makes a mockery of a road such as Tamiani Trail that claims to be a “scenic highway.”
Rabbi Jonathan Katz
Rabbi of Temple Beth Israel
and Sarasota resident
+ Officials should ask taxpayers their view
It has been recently reported that the county commissioners would be sending a letter to appeal the preliminary ruling from the state Office of Tourist, Trade and Economic Development, which reports directly to Gov. Crist. That appeal would be in regard to that state office saying it would not approve (said to be around $7 million) in state funds. My question is: Why would the commissioners appeal that state ruling?
Can we, the people, wonder what some members of the Board of County Commissioners might be thinking?
The state, even in this recession, has extra millions in state cash for some proponents/sport fans wanting to host a major league baseball franchise for a few spring training games?
As a fiscal, conservative-thinking taxpayer, I fail to understand why some of these county commissioners would continue to seek those state funds when the state is hard pressed for tax revenues and had to make many budget adjustments in the last legislative session. Have not past news accounts mentioned the state was short tax intake (of how many billions was that?) in tax collections and had to make a number of budget cuts? Is this the time in a recession to use any public taxes, from whatever source, to subsidize a professional baseball team and players?
It seems to me, if a politician claims to be a fiscal conservative, well then forgo ideas/projects of unnecessary spending and focus on spending our limited local and state dollars on needs and not a pro-sports entertainment wish list.
And, lastly, I think I read somewhere that the concept of a democracy is supposed to be that those who are elected to represent us would care to seek the will of the people. That said, my last question is: Why have not the county commissioners after all this time of talking about spring baseball offered residents of this county the opportunity for a countywide referendum ballot question? Why? Because a percentage of tourist bed-tax dollars from all parts of the county is said to be in this funding proposal.
I say, let’s have the consent of the governed help decide this important and costly matter. I do think there are many remaining questions or concerns with which all fiscal conservative-thinking residents of Sarasota County might also have. As such, you can share your views, questions or concerns with our elected BOCC members at: Chair-BOCC, 1660 Ringling Blvd., Sarasota, Fla., 34236 or e-mail them ASAP.
+ Roundabouts would not be good for all
Regarding the proposed roundabouts on U.S. 41, in Bergen County, N.J., the same concept was discussed and hotly debated. The eventual decision was to scrap the roundabout, because it would require using the government to take private land, including a church and school.
One of the interesting facts that came out about roundabouts is that they do not work well, especially for senior drivers. Older drivers are hesitant to merge into traffic and would prefer to wait for a traffic light when they know they have the right of way. Perhaps this should be taken into account.