Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Point Me to the River

The signs guiding people to Henry Hudson Riverfront Park appeared recently, just in time for Columbus Day weekend. As promised, there are three of them: one at Third and Allen, one at the western terminus of Warren Street, and one at South Front and Ferry streets. Skip Weed is to be congratulated for successfully incorporating elements from the riverfront park signage into a very appealing navigational sign. The only disparaging word that's been heard about them is that they are difficult to read from a moving car. Could that be because they don't have upper- and lowercase letters?

On the topic of signs, the Register-Star reported yesterday that a volunteer committee has taken on the task of assessing the signs that lead to and around Hudson and making recommendations for improvement: "Team looks to improve signage to city."  Gossips would like to pass along this tip to the committee: Word has it that the village of Skaneateles in the Finger Lakes has signage that is comprehensive, effective, and aesthetically pleasing. Before all the leaves are off the trees, a field trip to central New York might be in order.    


  1. A field trip to Skaneateles is always a good idea!

  2. Upper-and-lowercase type isn't the legibility issue here. It's that the key word -- "riverfront" -- has been set in the lightest and smallest typeface. The sign probably looked good on a screen, up close, but ignores the key factor in public signage: usability, how people actually view it (usually at a distance and at speed). At night, this will be even harder to discern.

    There are very good and extensively-tested reasons why street signs typically feature either white, reflective letters against a darker (usually green, red or blue) background; or else black letters on an orangey background: because these are proven to be easier to read outdoors, from cars.

    A simple royal blue sign with reflective letters and a white border, saying simply "waterfront" with an arrow would be more effective, if less decorative. This is why people actually train to be designers, and get paid for it the same way engineers are trained to design overpasses. (But today, everyone has a computer, so we regularly see flyers, banners, signs, and posters using Apple Chancery and Comic Sans typefaces around town...)

    Of course even design professionals can screw things up, too.. For example, First Niagara spent a lot of money on a new brand image which includes white stripes through a pale yellow background. In low light and some backlit half the logo completely disappears because there isn't enough contrast between the elements.

  3. Where's your sense of humor, Hudson? The speculation about upper- and lowercase letters was a reference to the revised Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices requirement that street signs have caps and lowercase. Obviously, more is going on here.

  4. yea, I have to agree with sam, I'm more in tune with simple green & white decelerations, not these icon laden touristy numbers. I also think "tourist kiosks" are a stupid idea for Hudson, so I you know most are going to moan at my take.

    We don't need to turn Hudson into a snow globe tchotchke for jersey tourists on a "heritage weekend". If you can't navigate a city grid - and hey get lost some - then you don't need to enjoy the treats Hudson has to offer. I'm tired of Cities catering every last vestige of themselves, & any shred of sophisticated comport, to this slavish idea that tourists need to be mollycoddled in order to visit your city. Can't we all treat each other with a little more dignity than some clip art attempt at making Place? Sheesh.

  5. Tim Slowinski has weighed in on the discussion of signs:

    I don't know if I will have time to go to Skaneateles, but I'm sure someone will get some photos of the signs. I've heard it was well done.

    I didn't have any trouble reading the park directional sign, I thought it looked pretty good with the picture of the ship on it. For a town like Hudson, I think standard street signs with plain backgrounds and reflective letters are much too boring. We need interesting, pleasing and creative signs, not ugly and boring ones.

    Tim Slowinski
    Limner Gallery

  6. Hello Carole,

    How fun for two of my worlds to collide. I grew up in Skaneateles and three of my siblings still live there. Sadly for this conversation I have no idea what the street signs look like because I know the streets like the back of my hand and don't look at them at all. But if no one has the chance to take the beautiful trip over Route 20 to Skaneateles I am sure I could get one of my siblings to take a couple of pictures and get them to the committee.

    Tim Legg

  7. Stop in Cazenovia (my home town) on your way along rt 20 to Skaneateles and see http://www.lorenzony.org/index.php .
    Lorenzo is a great museum house that the Dr. Oliver Bronson House
    could emulate.

  8. This is sounding like a really great field trip. Although I recommended it to the sign committee, I may gas up the Subaru and go myself!

  9. "Interesting", "creative", and "pleasing". Well we all know what art by consensus (or committee) looks like. And Hmmm... Clip art signs vaguely referencing the Half Moon, or some other cheap distillation of our past, well frankly I don't think there is anything creative about that. Kitschy street signs ballyhooing all the local attractions with cutesy little icons on them are exactly what zoning laws look to redress. And here we want a committee to put more up!!

    Our city is modeled on the Dutch grid (long blocks) so why not employ some Dutch urban design as well? Verkeersbordvrij. Which, incidentally, is exactly what I felt when I saw the pedestrian crossings on Warren. We could be forward thinking in our Urban Design. Or we could do what every other tourist trap ends up regretting when no one takes them seriously anymore.

  10. Carole, if you decide to go, please call me. I would be willing to be your companion.

  11. Dave- I don't think anyone is interested in filling the city with kitschy street signs. Dutch urban signage may be a cool idea. Why don't you join the committee? At this point, it it was started to get the ball rolling and formulate ideas. Mark Orton mark@davisortongallery.com
    could get you connected to it.

  12. I have to agree with Dave. If you can't find your way to the river, shame shame. Even 25 years ago when below 3rd and 3rd itself was a danger zone, and the Amtrak station was a dump, I could find my way to the river. The tourist kiosk in the 7th St Park is not much help to anyone and an eyesore. If one doesn't have the spirit of adventure to explore and navigate one's way around, Lord help one. Hudson was built by gritty pioneers and it will continue to grow with the help of gritty pioneers.