Government gone wild

The signs were always there, we just couldn’t read them

Roads Report Blog Entry February 29, 2016

David Matthews has been chronicling the unexpectedly humorous side of transportation news for his Roads Report column since 2000. The stories are all true.

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Highway robbery

A government official in Russia has been accused of stealing 30 miles of road. Not hijacking 30 miles of road. Not stealing money allocated to build 30 miles of road—30 miles of actual road. 

 

Police said Alexander Protopopov, the acting deputy chief of Russia’s prison service, stole 30 miles of pavement right out of the ground.

 

An investigative committee found that Protopopov spent more than a year dismantling and removing the giant section of highway in the remote Komi region so that he could sell its 7,000 reinforced concrete slabs.

 

Officials believed Protopopov made a personal profit by selling the slabs to a commercial company, which then turned around and sold them again for its own profit. 

 

Protopopov was charged with misappropriating state property and could face 10 years in prison. 

 

Road construction has long been one of the most corrupt industries in Russia. Many still remember how the construction of a 30-mile mountain highway for the Sochi Winter Olympic Games wound up costing $8 billion, which the Russian media claimed was equal to what it would have cost to slather the whole roadway in Beluga caviar.

 

Snow chair

Omaha, Neb., isn’t used to much snow, so when others start to complain about the city’s snow-clearing services, Justin Anderson rolls into action.

 

Anderson is a veteran of the Iraq War who is now in a wheelchair after losing a leg. After recovering from that, plus surviving two battles with brain cancer, Anderson isn’t about to let a little snow stop him.

 

So last year, he had his off-road wheelchair outfitted with a snow blade that he can tilt up and down on the fly. 

 

Now whenever it snows, Anderson is able to use his wheelchair to clear the sidewalks around his house, which is located right around the corner from an elementary school. 

 

“I don’t want kids or parents having to go through the snow and possibly trip or hurt themselves,” Anderson told WOWT 6 News.

 

“The community has supported me immensely with my struggles and tough times as I had a leg amputated and my fight with brain cancer,” Anderson said. “This is my way of giving back.”

 

The only obstacle Anderson faces now when clearing snow comes from local residents asking to take pictures with his one-of-a-kind snow chair.

 

An about-face on typeface

Get ready for new highway signs with a retro feel.

 

In January, the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) announced that it changed its mind about a highway sign font it had approved 12 years earlier. 

 

In 2004, the agency authorized the use of Clearview, a font developed specifically to improve the legibility of highway signs, particularly for older drivers. 

 

Its predecessor, a 1940s font called Highway Gothic, could be difficult to read at night. Due to the thickness of the letters and their reflective coating, a lowercase a, e or s could sometimes blur under the glare of headlights and appear to be an o.

 

Clearview was created by an environmental graphic design firm to fix these issues by increasing the negative space inside the letters, making them easier to read accurately in any lighting condition. 

 

The FHWA agreed, at the time, citing a Penn State University study that found Clearview improved highway sign legibility for drivers traveling at 45 mph by 80 ft of reading distance, creating an additional 1.2 seconds of reading time.

 

Clearview was approved as an alternate font to Highway Gothic, not a replacement, but around 30 states decided to adopt it. Canada and Indonesia even made it their standard.

 

But since then, the FHWA said further research showed Clearview actually compromised the legibility of signs in negative-contrast color schemes, like speed limit and warning signs with black letters on white or yellow backgrounds.

 

So now Clearview is out, and all signs will eventually return to Highway Gothic, a font designed during the Truman administration. 

 

Needless to say, Clearview’s designers are disappointed. Speaking with The Atlantic, co-designer Donald Meeker summed up the FHWA decision this way: 

 

“Helen Keller can tell you from the grave that Clearview looks better.” R&B

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