Sign Pollution

This week I was on the road in Ohio. It was a week of gray, rainy weather, so my mood wasn’t great. Still, I was struck by how ugly our state looks from the perspective of our interstates, due in significant part to the overabundance of signs that line the highways.

IMG_1891We’ve got a sign pollution problem. Speed limit signs and traffic alert signs. Signs stating that you need to wear your seat belt because it’s a state law. Signs unnecessarily announcing “caution overhead hazard” when there is a bridge looming immediately ahead. Signs advising that fines are doubled in work zones, mile markers, “no edge lines” signs, exit signs, rest area signs, “emergency stopping only” signs, signs listing every fast food outlet, gas station, and hotel at the exit that is approaching, signs warning that bridges ice over before roadways, merge markers, and electronic billboards about missing adults, among countless others.

Ohio may not have the striking scenic beauty of, say, the Grand Tetons or the coastline at Big Sur, but the rolling farmland is pleasant — if you could see it without all of the ugly, institutional signs that seemingly appear every 100 yards or so. (And don’t even get into how much those signs cost.)

When I was a kid, First Lady Lady Bird Johnson launched an “America the Beautiful” campaign that sought to minimize the number of billboards on highways and their ability to block the view of the countryside. There also was a powerful commercial featuring “Iron Eyes” Cody as a proud native American who sheds a tear at the trash thrown from a passing car, which made me into a lifelong opponent of littering. Ironic that now it’s our government, with its zeal to post signs for every conceivable reason, that is the offender.