Signs Of The Times

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I recently wrote on “the importance of place,” which in architectural terms typically covers a wide array of contributory factors governing the aesthetic character of a community.

East Hampton Village is in the midst of a battle royal with the utility company PSEG over exactly these criteria, and the latter’s general disregard and insouciance toward same.

Sag Harbor Village is on perpetual high alert in a largely successful effort to preserve and maintain the scale and architectural integrity of what most consider a near perfect community.

Southampton Village is trying desperately to stave off the erasure of century-old, modestly scaled homes and well-established neighborhoods by speculators and developers uninterested in maintaining any resemblance to the status quo.

The cumulative size and height of a home or building, the building materials, setbacks, landscaping and the scale and proportion of architectural elements all contribute to the overall feeling or character of a place, but there is an insidious and creeping erosion of the visual legacy in each of these villages and other East End hamlets through the relentless and runaway disparate signage overwhelming our roadways.

Visual pollution can take many forms, but the seemingly endless array of signs dictating all manner of driving, biking and walking rules and regulations has reached a saturation point in many areas, particularly Bridgehampton, the recently installed crosswalk signs notwithstanding.

I know, and fully appreciate, that public safety is the primary reason for many highway and street signs, but how many times does one need to be told “Speed Zone Ahead,” or “No Parking Between Signs”? Wouldn’t once be enough?

Is it that we are so numbed by the whole signage experience that we have to be constantly reminded every few feet of what is coming ahead? Is it the perpetual dumbing down of the general populace that they have to be coddled into negotiating a simple roundabout?

In most places abroad, and including our nearest neighbors, Canada and Mexico, it is a given how to enter, exit and yield in such a traffic pattern, and the signage is minimal. On Scuttlehole Road, however, one has to navigate a half-dozen signs before even entering the fray of the three-pronged, far-too-small-for-the-traffic, roundabout.

On Ocean Road in Bridgehampton and along Noyac-Long Beach Road in Noyac there are signs every 50 feet telling us “No Parking Between Signs.” This adds up to scores of signs in both locations. Why not take a lesson from Sagaponack Village, which recently removed all of its similar signage along Sagg Main Street to the beach and replaced them with discreet signage at every telephone pole indicating that a season sticker is required? At a minimum, the Ocean Road and Long Beach Road signage could be reduced by half without detriment.

Perhaps, however, the stretch of roadway most at risk for overkill is Bridgehampton’s Main Street. Traveling east there are an astounding 64 signs between the red light at the Commons and the red light at Ocean Road. Who oversees this effort? This is signage on steroids, and it has become both numbing and distracting at the same time, particularly at night when car headlights illuminate the multicolored signs of varying heights, sizes, shapes and states of installation.

Whatever happened to the concept of “less is more”? Clearly the New York State Department of Transportation did not get that memo, and I am not referring to those signs of great importance for public safety, but those of redundancy or irrelevance. Does one really need a sign for “No Parking In Bike Lane” interspaced among “No Parking Between Signs” and “No Stopping Any Time”?

The installation of these signs is so chock-a-block that they begin to overlap each other. On many, the graphics are almost unreadable due to age, and others are duplicates of other nearby signs, or simply irrelevant.

Whether it’s building size and shape, the preservation of ancient trees, unnecessary overhead wires and lighting, parking, traffic patterns or signage, these all contribute to the fabric of a community. Whenever possible, the criteria of “Is this really necessary?” should be employed to truncate or eliminate unnecessary clutter. Otherwise one is faced with a visual reality quite different from the desired result, and the overall character of place is lessened.

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