The battle against confusing parking signs

New York street sign (left) improved by Nikki Sylianteng (right) Image copyright Nikki Sylianteng

American drivers are frequently baffled by complicated parking signage. Now a campaign by a frustrated guerrilla designer could help make the system less absurd, says Jon Kelly.

For a nation so famously in thrall to the internal combustion engine, the United States can be a deeply perplexing place in which to park.

By the time you've read and processed the byzantine instructions gazing down from an array of multi-coloured signs above the typical sidewalk in New York or Los Angeles, you might have loitered long enough to have earned a ticket.

Get it wrong - and if you aren't used to the city's rules, there's every chance you will - and you face a fine or having your vehicle towed away.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Information overload in Washington DC

In one extreme example, a pole displaying parking regulation signs outside an elementary school in Culver City, California, loomed 15 feet in the air.

Image copyright ABC
Image caption The 15ft sign was eventually pared back, although it still loomed large over Culver City

One sign might tell you that at, at certain times of the day, this stretch of kerb is a no-parking zone. Another sign might tell you that, at other times, it is a no-stopping zone. And yet another will declare this is a permit parking district, or that you have to move your car at particular times to allow street cleaning. Just to confuse matters, each sign will have an arrow pointing one or both ways to indicate in which direction this sign (but not the others) applies.

"There's a lot of information on these signs that isn't relevant," says Nikki Sylianteng, a freelance designer who lives in Brooklyn, New York. They very often fail to provide a simple answer to the question: When can I leave my car here, and for how long?

Frustrated by all this, and having been handed one parking ticket too many, Sylianteng mocked up an alternative - a sign made up of simple blocks of green and red setting out at what hours and on which days it was permitted to park.

Image copyright Nikki Sylianteng

She posted it in the street outside her apartment, with a marker pen for passers by to add comments.

Image copyright Nikki Sylianteng

The response was positive, so Sylianteng set up a blog titled To Park Or Not To Park showcasing particularly egregious examples of jumbled signs as well as her alternatives.

Now councillors in Los Angeles have voted to run a pilot scheme to test Sylianteng's designs. But officials in Malibu, California will still have to find an answer to the problem of residents allegedly erecting fake no-parking signs outside their properties.

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