New York Fights Scourge of Capital-ism

Opening a new front in the War on Error, New York City will soon spend an estimated 27 million dollars to get the city’s thousands of street signs to STOP YELLING AT YOU! In the name of readability the city will be moving from CAPS LOCK to Title Case on all street signs. There are over a quarter of a million signs to be replaced at a cost of $110 each.

According to the Federal Highway Administration, mixed-case signs are more readable; according to the city’s Transportation Commissioner, they’re also kinder and gentler. From the New York Post report:

The new diminutive signs, which will also feature new reflective sheeting, may also reflect a kinder, gentler New York, she said.

“On the Internet, writing in all caps means you are shouting,” she said. “Our new signs can quiet down, as well.”

GOOD POINT!! Oops, sorry. That was unkind.

The original federal font guideline in question came from the 2003 edition of the “Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices”. Although multiple news reports cite the study, no statistical data on exactly how much safer or less shouty the new signs will be was made available.

Of course, protecting you from capital letters would seem more absurd if government wasn’t already trying to protect you from salt, soda, bagels, fat kids, and Wal-Mart. For a good nanny, there’s no case too big or too small when it comes to protecting people from themselves.

New Yorkers have to be getting frustrated. The city has a huge budget deficit, about $9.2 BILLION, and the solutions proposed involve little in the way of cuts, but much in the way of digging deeper into citizens’ wallets. And the various, gimmicky solutions are rarely smart or effective.

For example, tax increases have brought the price of cigarettes to a whopping $10.80 a pack. However, the city also toys with the idea of banning smoking in many outdoor spaces, and already has a city-wide ban on smoking in bars and restaurants. How much sense does it make to try to make up budget shortfalls by adding hefty taxes to a product you are already trying to regulate out of existence?

Or look at the sliced bagel tax. Using an obscure law already on the books, bagel shops across the state saw their prices go up on bagels that have been sliced. Bagels that have been sliced! Could you look someone in the eye and tell them that slicing a bagel is an upcharge? I couldn’t.

But instead of cutting programs or saving money, the city is spending millions of dollars because Title Case is slightly more readable and therefore, presumably, some fractional bit “safer.”

How does a state devolve into such ridiculous and dire straits? Well read the following excerpt from the “Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices”:


10 All sign lettering shall be in upper-case letters as provided in the “Standard Highway Signs and Markings” book (see Section 1A.11), unless otherwise provided in this Manual for a particular sign or type of message.

11 The sign lettering for names of places, streets, and highways shall be composed of a combination of lower-case letters with initial upper-case letters.

12 Letter height is expressed in terms of the height of an upper-case letter. For mixed-case legends (those composed of an initial upper-case letter followed by lower-case letters), the height of the lower-case letters is derived from the specified height of the initial upper-case letter based on a prescribed ratio. Letter heights for mixed-case legends might be expressed in terms of both the upper- and lower-case letters, or in terms of the initial upper-case letter alone. When the height of a lower-case letter is specified or determined from the prescribed ratio, the reference is to the nominal loop height of the letter. The term loop height refers to the portion of a lower-case letter that excludes any ascending or descending stems or tails of the letter, such as with the letters “d” or “q.” The nominal loop height is equal to the actual height of a non-rounded lower-case letter whose form does not include ascending or descending stems or tails, such as the letter “x.” The rounded portions of a lower-case letter extend slightly above and below the baselines projected from the top and bottom of such a non-rounded letter so that the appearance of a uniform letter height within a word is achieved. The actual loop height of a rounded lower-case letter is slightly greater than the nominal loop height and this additional height is excluded from the expression of the lower-case letter height.

13 When a mixed-case legend is used, the height of the lower-case letters shall be 3/4 of the height of the initial upper-case letter.

14 The unique letter forms for each of the Standard Alphabet series shall not be stretched, compressed, warped, or otherwise manipulated.

I mean seriously. “The actual loop height of a rounded lower-case letter is slightly greater than the nominal loop height and this additional height is excluded from the expression of the lower-case letter height.” That’s what you call a double complete rainbow sentence, because all you can ask yourself is “what does it mean?”

The output of bureaucracy is most often inanity comprised of verbosity. How much was spent to study the readability of lower case letters? How much safer are they, in the end? If the report has an answer, it’s couched in so many descending stems and letter tails you might never decipher it.

The city claims the cost isn’t as high as it seems, because they were already going to be replacing a lot of the signs anyway due to wear and tear. But you’ll pardon me if I have as much confidence in bureaucrats’ wisdom on when a sign is past its prime as I do their taste in bagel presentation. The question New Yorkers – and really all Americans – must ask themselves is … where does this end?

How long can we sit and watch government expand without limit? How many liberties will we permit to be taken away in the name of “safety”? How many ridiculous wasteful “programs” and “initiatives” are too many? Cutting the budget is doing the people’s work. Cutting letters down to size at a huge expense is not. The combination of the nanny state’s War on Error and the statist impulse to retain huge government at the continually increasing cost of the taxpayer is a devastating force.

In the grand scheme of things, and the scale of woes our nation faces, $27 million may seem like small potatoes. But our nation is juggling a lot of potatoes already, and it is only getting worse. I know if I lived in New York, I’d just about be sick of juggled potatoes. Give me salted fries in a Happy Meal with a toy and sliced bagel any day of the week.

I mean … capital letters? Really guys? YEESH.

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