On Thursday, 29 November I was invited to provide a short presentation to the Institute of Highway Engineers Traffic Signs Conference. Given the overall theme of the conference was the launch of the new style Traffic Signs Manual and to see how traffic authorities were adapting to the new Regulations which have now been in force for 30 months I felt I would provide a slightly irreverent tone and discuss the many failures in traffic signing that exist on public and private roads.
This could have backfired spectacularly, given that the keynote speakers from the Department for Transport were present and I was about to launch into a tirade about appalling sign quality. It isn’t their fault of course, they’re one department that is under-resourced and over-worked. It is unfair to lay any blame at their door over this topic.
The second risk was offending delegates who may have discovered their own work on display. I considered this in detail and made a point of not mentioning any local authority names, although a savvier delegate may have recognised a location. It is important to stress that I was not intending to name and shame individuals. Criticism is not a nice thing to receive even when it is well intended and my immediate priority was to educate and entertain.
My slot came late in the programme, penultimate in fact. With hindsight, it may have been better if I was the final speaker as the person who followed me did a very well-presented discussion on the challenges posed by temporary traffic signing for the upcoming Ultra Low Emission Zone in the London region and her presentation would have flowed better earlier in the programme. It also would have enabled a slight over-run which I had been worried about to have less of an impact on subsequent speakers. However, this aside I still feel everything was successful.
This was my first major presentation to a large group of highway professionals, several of whom are much more talented than I am and could probably mop the floor with designs I’ve created, so I did not want to come across as the know-it-all wise guy either. I cautiously provided examples of how I would have designed some of the signs I was exhibiting and threw out the caveat that “this may not be perfectly designed”. Fortunately, I either got everything spot on or traffic sign engineers are too polite to stand up and say one is talking nonsense. I’m hoping it was the former and not the latter but who knows.
Overall, I had a thoroughly enjoyable time and I think it is of utmost importance that sign designers take the time to get together on an annual basis and share knowledge and anecdotes. The industry can only get stronger if those that care about standards and quality fight the corner for them and ensure that corner-cutting and poor efforts are consigned to the list of bad practices and banished from design offices.