Review #2 cont’d: Shanghai Signage

Location French Concession, Shanghai

In North America we love signs. Don’t turn right. Go straight. Go around this round-about. Don’t run into this wall. The road is about to curve. This traffic light is for people wanting to turn right [1]. As soon as you get on the road, everywhere you look there is a sign telling you where to go, where not to go, and how fast to do it.

Not so in Shanghai.


There are about 25 million people in Shanghai and they are not genetically better drivers than Vancouverites. But somehow they have figured out that a traffic light with arrows that light up instead of circles means that it applies to people making turns. So why do we need a sign next to a traffic light saying “RIGHT TURN SIGNAL”?

Sign madness in Vancouver. Image courtesy of Pedal Talk:

Compare the image of an intersection in Vancouver to one of a similar intersection in Shanghai.

Sign serenity at West Jinling Road, Shanghai (near South Huangpi Road metro station).

I don’t know about you, but I get a little anxious looking at the Vancouver version. So many signs to read! Which ones are for me? Did I read them all? Wait! Which traffic light do I want? Did that car next to me see the sign that says he can’t turn right on a red light? (No, not that red light, the other one. No, the one on the left. Yes, that one.)

A few years ago, some towns in the Netherlands and at least one big city in the UK made headlines by trying out a “naked streets” concept. According to a NY Times blogger,

Reports often cite the town of Drachten, Holland, as an example. Accidents at one major intersection fell from 36 in four years to two in the two years after traffic lights were removed. The flow of traffic also improved despite a rise in traffic volume.

I don’t know if removing traffic lights altogether would work everywhere, but surely we can swing the pendulum back in that direction a little bit. Let’s get people more aware of their surroundings and less dependent on signs – after all, try as we might, we can’t put a sign on everything.

Uh huh.

Next up: bike lanes!

[1] Road signs courtesy of the BC Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure.


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