Seeing signs: Help or hindrance for byways and business districts?
BENNINGTON -- Officially designated scenic routes, downtowns and business districts -- there's signage strewn all along America's major roadways pointing motorists toward town centers and local points of interest. But do they have an impact, or are today's travelers affected by "sign fatigue"?
Local business people and state Agency of Transportation officials said there is some indication such signage matters; or at least they hope.
"They can't hurt," said Connie Brooks, owner of Battenkill Books in Cambridge, N.Y., where the New York State Department of Transportation recently gave the green light for new "business district" signs at the village's main intersection of routes 22 and 372. The signs will direct traffic to where most businesses are located along Main Street.
"I know personally I look for those signs" when traveling, Brooks said. The bookstore owner wrote a letter of support to the state DOT requesting the signs as part of a multi-year effort by village officials to install markers for the business center of Cambridge -- which Brooks said many out-of-town customers remarked they never knew existed.
"If you don't know the area at all ... (then) you wouldn't realize there's anything else" while driving north or south along 22, she said. (Some business district signs do currently exist, but they're small and difficult to spy, according to Brooks.)
In Bennington, objections arose on both ends of the region's "bypass," which allows through traffic to avoid the downtown. Across the state border where New York Route 7 diverges with the western leg of the bypass, formally known as Vermont Route 279, complaints were voiced about inadequate signs pointing to Bennington.
Meanwhile, on the recently opened "northern" leg, a lack of any mention of Manchester had officials in the Northshire roiled. Amy Gamble, a traffic operations engineer for VTrans, said Friday that a Manchester sign was in the process of being added.
In terms of business district signage, Gamble said VTrans worked with local planners around their needs. "Generally, when we have directional signs (for) towns ... they point to the downtown center," she said. As requested, Vermont will also mark districts that are off of state highways. (Bennington planners have asked for such added pointers.) Gamble said business signs were implemented on a case-by-case basis, and Vermont also has a business sign program in which individual businesses can lease signs.
Quantifying the impact is difficult, but there is evidence that motorists pay heed.
Vermont Scenic Byways Coordinator John LaBarge said while he had "no hard figures," his office has seen "a lot of growth and interest" in the scenic byways program from outside "drive market areas" -- out-of-staters within a day's drive.
Travel and tourism comprise a large percentage of the state's economy and employ one in nine Vermonters, according to the state Department of Tourism & Marketing. LaBarge said he could monitor interest in byways through website hits and visitor centers. (A production of 60,000 byway pamphlets, expected to last at least a year and a half, is nearly gone after one year.)
"A lot of people are asking, ‘What are the byways?'" A national program to promote local items of scenic, historic, and cultural interest, Vermont now has nine (soon 10) of the officially designated scenic routes, including two locally: The Shires of Vermont and Molly Stark.
In New York, Cambridge's new business signs received state approval after a DOT tally. Village trustees approved a resolution of support Wednesday. In a Dec. 12, 2012, letter to village Trustee Sara Kelly, Region Traffic Engineer Mark Kennedy wrote that "business district signs are usually provided for areas where motorists must leave the state highway system to reach the business district."
That rule of thumb did not apply in Cambridge, where both routes are state-maintained, although Kennedy continues in the letter to say that a field review found three times as many businesses on Route 372 as on Route 22. He adds a caveat, however: "(Understand) that identifying Route 372 as the business district could be opposed by the businesses on Route 22."
By pointing visitors one way, business district signs may wash over the other direction.
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