What’s Up with That? Street sign colors, typos catch readers’ attention

By Scott Hewitt, Columbian Arts & Features Reporter



Street signs were recently changed on Lakeshore and Northwest 36th avenues. The county-standard yellow backgrounds are now white. They are nice reflective-coated signs, I must admit. But the standard used to be that private drives had the black-on-white format. What drove the change (no pun intended)?

—Julie Jackson

Driving home one night, a street sign in Salmon Creek caught my eye. I realized that instead of the normal “1st” the 1 was instead followed by a “th.” Is there really such a thing as “1th Court”? And what would we call it? Oneth? Or Firth?

— Confused in the Creek

The sign replacements are for greater visibility. And the head-scratcher “1th” will go too, now that we’ve called it to the county’s attention.

It’s all about safety. Early this year, Clark County commissioners selected the new black-on-white sign style to replace the black-on-yellow street signs you see in the unincorporated county. That’s because the old signs don’t meet updated “retroreflectivity” standards adopted by the Federal Highway Administration. Retroreflectivity means reflecting directly back at light sources — like headlights — rather than in all directions.

But there’s no rush. The county will only replace signs that aren’t in good shape. It will take more than a decade to do them all. Clark County Public Works spokesman Jeff Mize said there are more than 50,000 individual street signs in unincorporated Clark County.

Private roads do share the black-on-white color scheme, but they are shaped a little differently and always are topped by the word “private.” Those won’t be replaced.

As for “1th Court,” we figured the real question isn’t whether such a place could really exist but — is the sign worth fixing? (Isn’t it a pretty dry world without a “1th Court” in it?)

“Yes it is worth bothering to do something about it,” Mize said. “It could become a public safety concern. It’s possible that it could become an issue for emergency response. When we’re dealing with emergency response, we take it very seriously and we don’t want to take any chances, period.”

Mize said Clark County manufactures its own street signs at its 78th Street Operations Center. Each “blade” — that’s the flat metal sign itself, minus any pole or other equipment — costs about $20 to make. Street sign letters and numbers are vinyl, cut by computer and “basically rolled right onto the blade,” Mize said.

In this case, Mize said, since the fix is so simple and affects a single sign, the county will just change the th to st without replacing the whole yellow blade with a new-style white one.

Mize reasonably pointed out that typos can take place anywhere — even, if you want a really far-fetched example, in the newspaper business.

“Unfortunately, mistakes happen,” he said. “These things do slip through.”

Got a question about your neighborhood? We’ll get it answered. Send “What’s Up With That?” questions to neighbors@columbian.com.