LITTLE VALLEY - Signs, signs, everywhere a sign - especially in the Cattaraugus County Public Works Department's sign shop.
The county has operated its own sign shop since the late 1930s. While there have been many changes over the years, the biggest change has to be that signs are no longer hand-painted on wood. Today's signs require high intensity reflectivity for improved safety and visual clarity. The shop is designed with specific equipment to increase its usefulness, productivity and operational effectiveness.
"We can do almost everything in-house, which saves time, money, and gets the sign out in the field sooner to protect the traveling public," said Mark Loveless, sign technician.
From left are Sam Grey and Jim Frentz, sign maintainers; Mark Loveless, sign technician; and Bob Learn, senior traffic sign maintainer.
The shop team has a sign technician, senior traffic sign maintainer and two traffic sign maintainers. The team maintains an inventory of 10,000 signs and will make and install almost 500 signs during construction season.
"This team is capable of taking an order, making the sign, and placing it within a 24-hour period, depending on its location," said Bob Learn, senior traffic sign maintainer.
In addition to county signs, signs are also made for other counties, municipalities, the state Department of Transportation, police and fire departments and school districts.
Traffic control in New York state is governed by numerous requirements from the following sources: Federal Manual of Uniform Traffic Control Devices; New York State Supplement to the Federal MUTCD; New York State Highway Law; New York State Vehicle and Traffic Law; and local laws and ordinances. Creating signs that follow all these rules and regulations, and provide for and promote the safe and orderly flow of traffic, means the requirements must be applied each time a sign is requested. The information is then used to determine size, color, shape, reflectivity and where the sign must be located.
"There are two major challenges that we must deal with on a regular basis," Loveless said. "The first is in the interpretation and application of these regulations when producing and placing signs. The Sign Shop team takes a methodical and conservative approach in everything we do."
The next issue is signs are seen as the ultimate solution to traffic control issues, such as speeding.
"Signs only work when followed, they are not self-enforcing," Loveless said. "The influence of a sign is limited to the willingness of people to read them and comply."
Misuse of signs for traffic control can lead to confusion, frustration and create unsafe conditions.
"Over-signing is never an option for controlling traffic, nor is it a best practice to place undue inconvenience on the traveling public," said Learn. "A sign is placed to provide a uniform and easily understood message that allows drivers to make the proper choices for their safety."
The process for making any sign starts with a request and a location selection. The team will then make sure that this sign will not conflict with any other sign in that location.
A review of regulatory documents will be conducted for compliance, sign reflectivity, and placement.
A team member will contact Dig Safely New York to prevent any damage to underground pipes or lines prior to driving in the sign post.
Sign posts are designed to yield on impact to avoid any injury to the driver. Special bolts are used to prevent tampering and theft.
"When disasters hit, such as the Gowanda Flood in 2009, this department is the first place other agencies turn for help," Loveless said. "We are fortunate to have the capability to produce signs in-house faster than they can be obtained from outside sources, and generally at a lower cost."
Loveless is considered a resource on the state and federal level in dealing with the ever-changing world of traffic control. His knowledge of traffic control rules and regulations have been sought by other municipalities, as well as Cornell's Local Roads Program.
Among the team's favorite projects are the creation of E911 signs. The signs, which are color-coded by fire district, were created to help emergency personnel find those in need of assistance. The signs have helped improve response times in Cattaraugus County.
The team also implemented its own "recycling program."
Instead of discarding an old sign, it is recycled with a new face using the old substrate. A typical used highway sign can be upgraded to "as new" condition, which reduces costs and makes tax dollars go further.
"A few years ago, the sign shop in Hamburg, N.Y., which was operated by New York state Department of Transportation, was closed," Loveless said. "Those municipalities and agencies that depended on those services now come to us for their signage needs. After all, that's why we are hereto protect public health and safety."
Loveless said he enjoys the challenge of using his knowledge and experience regarding signs to protect the traveling public. Learn reiterates Loveless' sentiment.
"I take pride in looking back at an area where we just upgraded it," Learn said. "There is even more satisfaction when you get to see the first person drive through that area after it's been reopened."
Jim Frentz, sign maintainer, said he likes the variety that the work involves.
"Every day is different,'' he said. "That's what makes it so enjoyable. And, meeting the public when you're out on a job is a plus. In the end, it's all about protecting the traveling public."
Signs have come a long way from the days of hand-painting on wood.
Today, there are reflectivity standards that provide drivers better visibility during the day or night, and in inclement weather.
Reflectivity standards have five different grades and include, from highest to lowest reflection: diamond grade fluorescent, diamond grade, high intensity prismatic, standard high intensity and engineering grade.
Engineering grade is used for parking and other signs where reflectivity is not as important for safety.