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October 9, 2003 10:29 AM

Broken: Highway sign

Stephen Cullar-Ledford writes about a highway sign I've wondered about for years:

This sign is commonly used to warn drivers that the right lane is ending and that they need to merge to the left. However, the two lanes on this sign only get closer together instead of actually merging. My (unlikely) theory about the design is that we're supposed to see the negative space between the lines as the shape of the roadway, which would make it correct.
Update: I forgot to mention Stephen's addition: "I'm not the first one to notice this..." - see this page for a report on the sign.


Well, of course this sign doesn't work to indicate a lane merge. The problem is that in the US it's often expected to serve the dual purpose of "road narrows" and "lane merges." In Europe, the sign Stephen displays indicates "road narrows." A different sign is used to indicate lane merges and ends. The latter consists of parallel arrows--two, three, four, etc. to indicate the current number of highway lanes, with the lane that is merging (either from the left or right) being denoted by an arrow that bends inwards. Fortunately, some US state highway authorities have created painted or electronic signs that use this approach during major roadworks, sometimes but not always accompanied by "lanes merge" messages.

The alternative MUCTD solution of reverting to an older, all-word sign is also dumb--word signs are hard to read at speed and if the driver can't understand English or is functionally illiterate, good luck!

Posted by: Christopher Lovelock at October 31, 2003 06:41 PM

I never had a problem with this sign, I think I understood it intuitively. The lack of arrows on the stripes differentiates it from the signs where the black stripes would represent lanes. I might understand thinking it means "median disappears" but there are other signs for that, too. But I think it would be made clearer by some road stripes to show a lane is ending.

Posted by: Keiko at November 6, 2003 07:12 PM

Just as Keiko suggested, the 2003 edition of the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices has added lane stripes to this sign:

Hopefully, this will also stop the abuse of using this sign for Road Narrows, for which it was never intended.

Posted by: James Lin at January 7, 2004 03:24 PM

If you didn't go to traffic school and you don't know the signs, you are a douchebag and shouldn't be driving.

Posted by: ..... at June 13, 2004 10:36 AM

The think black lines aren't supposed to be the lanes themselves; they're the sides of the road. Everything in between them is the road (refer to James Lin's link above with one of the signs having a dotted line).

Posted by: Scott at August 19, 2004 04:48 PM

All Signs aren't necessarily designed to be intuitive. Especially roadside signs. They are designed to be easily seen. You should know what this sign means because you studied the book and took the driver's test which shows you various pictures of signs with their meanings beside them. A triangular shaped sign being intuitively know as a yield sign is ONLY intuitive because you once learned that fact.


Posted by: chris baker at September 8, 2004 01:21 PM

The sign got your attention to the fact that the road was changing in some way.....does it really need to be that specific?

Posted by: Please stop me at October 6, 2004 08:49 AM

It seems people come on here just to argue that each particular post is NOT broken, and that everyone who finds humor in the situation is just a complete idiot. I personally never really thought about the sign, just knew what it mean, but I DID find it quite humorous when he pointed this out. Come on, get a life, people...

Posted by: Justin at May 10, 2005 06:35 PM

In England that means the right lane is nrrowing! You often see this if construction work is ogin on at the side of a road! Can only presume its the same for you!

Posted by: Damien at May 18, 2005 09:48 AM

I have some interesting roadgeek trivia about one of these signs...

I frequently travel on Route 110 in Virginia, which goes right past the Pentagon. It's a three lane highway which used to practically go beneath the Pentagon.

After 9/11, they blocked off one of the southbound lanes with a Jersey wall and added approriate RIGHT LANE ENDS signage before it. Later, they re-routed Route 110 so it now makes a wide arc east of the Pentagon, where the parking lots used to be, and demolished the old road (it's part of the new parking area I think).

However... due to some administrative oversight, they forgot to remove the RIGHT LANE ENDS sign from the old Route 110 alignment. Route 110 remains a three lane highway today; the right lane doesn't actually end.

You can see the old sign if you are traveling southbound on Route 110 toward the Pentagon. When the road passes under a bridge, it curves off to the left (it used to go straight). The sign is just after you go under the bridge, on the right along the old alignment. It's easy to miss, but the new road has been open for months now and they still haven't removed it. I'm wondering if anyone will ever notice.

I would supply a picture, but I can only imagine what sort of trouble I'd get in for taking pictures anywhere near the Pentagon these days.

Posted by: Karl Xydexx Jorgensen at July 30, 2005 09:40 PM

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