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March 18, 2006 12:03 AM

Broken: Left arrow

The_other_left Ayse Sercan sends in a picture taken in San Luis Obispo, California:

I took this photo of a traffic sign at the Cal Poly San Luis Obispo campus.

The arrow must have meant "the other left."


Okay, there's no doubt in my mind that this is broken. :D

Posted by: anykey at March 18, 2006 12:11 AM

Not necessarily broken, perhaps just mistaken. Traffic approaching from your left traveling to your right does not have a stop sign. A better sign would say "Cross traffic does not have to Stop"

Posted by: Obi One at March 18, 2006 12:15 AM

Wow. This is sheer brokennessitudity.

Posted by: game kid at March 18, 2006 12:48 AM

Hmm its coming from the left traveling right? Its on the fence broken, since the sign isn't pointing to which direction the traffic is coming from but traveling.

Posted by: Mike at March 18, 2006 01:10 AM

Definitely *not* broken. The sign doesn't say "Traffic *on* left"--it says "Traffic *from* left". From this perspective, traffic from the left would be traveling from left to right, hence the arrow pointing from left to right. The arrow is not pointing to where the traffic is coming from, but rather indicating the direction of the traffic.

Think of a weathervane--if the arrow on a weathervane is pointing east, you wouldn't say the wind is from the east. The wind is from the west, and though the arrow is pointing east, it's indicating the direction of the wind.

Posted by: furd burfel at March 18, 2006 01:37 AM

I agree with Furd. Not broken, since traffic from the left heads towards the right. "Cross traffic does not stop" may be inaccurate as well. There's at least one intersection on the University of Washington campus where cross traffic does not stop in one direction only.

Posted by: Karl at March 18, 2006 04:58 AM

As already mentioned, I would not consider this broken. It could be worded or diagrammed better, but it makes sense to me. Basically the traffic from the left, turning to the right has no stop sign...

Posted by: Rod at March 18, 2006 08:34 AM

They should have never put the arrow there to begin with.

Posted by: someone at March 18, 2006 09:33 AM

Why? Why must everybody try to prove it isn't broken? cant they just shut up and laugh!

Posted by: abcdman2 at March 18, 2006 09:49 AM


Posted by: asdf at March 18, 2006 09:50 AM

I wasn't in the least bit confused by that arrow. It's obvious that the arrow is showing the direction of the traffic flow that does not stop.

Posted by: bob at March 18, 2006 10:19 AM

I was actually confused by the statement that it was broken. I understood the sign perfectly (and agree with bob and furd), but didn't understand what the submitter was trying to get at (at first).

So... if the sign is broken, so am I.

oh, wait... :/

Posted by: karen at March 18, 2006 11:33 AM

I would like to correct a misconception by furd burfel concerning the wind direction. A weathervane arrow points INTO the wind and a wind FROM the East is in fact called an East Wind.

Posted by: tomwylie at March 18, 2006 11:56 AM

Nothing broken about the sign. The arrow is showing the traffic flow, not where it's coming from.

Posted by: Loren Pechtel at March 18, 2006 01:06 PM

Oh, jeez. I knew the moment I saw this picture that someone was going to argue "not broken" because the arrow is pointing in the direction of traffic flow.

Look, guys, I guarantee -- guarantee -- that anyone driving along and encountering this sign for the first time, would first look right, not left. Because that's what an arrow means. It means, "Look over here." It's nearly a culturally universal symbol; it's practically hard-wired into our brains.

This sign is not "on the fence broken" -- it is completely, utterly broken, and probably quite dangerous, because it directs drivers' attention to the exact opposite side than what they should be paying attention to. I would not be surprised to learn that this sign has been the direct cause of several accidents.

Sorry for the rant, but like abcdman2, I get frustrated with posters who try to prove how clever they are by "figuring out" why something isn't broken. Rule of thumb: If you have to "figure it out" -- it's probably broken. Especially on something critical like a road sign.

What I'm really curious about is why they thought they needed the sign in the first place. Isn't that what a (non-4-way) stop sign means? That cross traffic doesn't stop, so you have to? Or are things different in San Luis Obispo?

Posted by: E.T. at March 18, 2006 01:23 PM

the purpose of this or any sign is to convey an idea simply, so that anyone con easily and quickly understand what it means. the very fact that it has been submitted and accepted to "This Is Broken" means that it is, infact broken, regardless of technical accuracy

Posted by: BannanaSam at March 18, 2006 01:33 PM

actually the purpose that this sign conveys is not a 2 way stop, but a three way stop, traffic from the right has to stop at that intersection but traffic from the left does not.

Posted by: Dragon at March 18, 2006 02:36 PM

I'm with Furd et al with this- not broken at all.

I had to stare at it for a while wondering who thought it could be broken, and had to come to the comments to find out. Traffic from the left goes right.

It's a stop sign, so you'll stop anyway. This is an additional warning saying "Really, stop. We mean it".

The sign doesn't even NEED an arrow, but it does have one and it is pointing correctly. I bet if the arrow were pointing the other way it would be submitted anyway for being unhelpful. "Do you really need an arrow telling you which way is left?"

And BananaSam, as much as the wemaster would like to disagree, this site is fallible and simply being accepted as "Broken" does not make it such.

Posted by: Jim King at March 18, 2006 02:58 PM

why don't they just get rid of the arrow

Posted by: Angie at March 18, 2006 03:04 PM

Yeah, I think we can all agree about the sign's unstated intent (Traffic from left *to right* ----> does not stop). Even the sign-making convicts at San Quentin know the difference between right and left. But unlike most of the signs we usually see here, this one has the potential of causing major problems. What's more broken than something having the very real potential of causing death to the user?

Posted by: Ron Mexico at March 18, 2006 03:56 PM

I have a problem with anybody that drives and thinks that this is broken. Most of the signs around here that say cross traffic does not stop with an arrow pointing like this which is the direction of the traffic. If a driver, who is intelligent enough and has to have a license to drive has to stop and think about what the arrow is indicating (not which way to look, but the traffic flow) should not have a driver's license. I don't like it when people make viable arguments for things that are not broken and then people say that they are tired of people trying to figure out how it is not broken, when it is not broken. I can see if this sign said traffic comes from this way --->. Then you have an argument. But the sign says traffic from the left does not stop and has an arrow indicating traffic flow. Not broken in the slightest bit.

Posted by: Andy Hoffman at March 18, 2006 04:46 PM

The whole additional sigh is pointless considering how many people run stop signs/lights and drive the wrong way on one way streets. Those of us who value our cars (and lives) would stop and look both ways for idiots.

Posted by: Paul at March 18, 2006 08:49 PM

nuff said.

Posted by: TK at March 18, 2006 10:04 PM

What's broken is anyone who doesn't look both left and right at any intersection.

As for the sign as posted. It is not broken. Sorry if you don't know left from right.

Sorry if you don't understand english (from left).

Please, please don't drive anymore.

Posted by: longhair at March 18, 2006 11:41 PM

sorry, i'd have to say not borken too

Posted by: entropy at March 19, 2006 12:09 AM

Every arrow on every traffic sign I have ever seen has indicated the direction that traffic is travelling and/or should travel. Arrows on traffic signs do not say "look in this direction"; they say "cars are going in this direction" or "go this way" If anything, the arrow is superfluous, but not broken.

Posted by: dmention7 at March 19, 2006 12:50 AM

I fully agree with dmention7. Has any of you who think this is broken ever driven a car? Arrows in traffic signs always point to the direction of the traffic flow, not against it.

Posted by: name at March 19, 2006 05:10 AM

I found the sign impossible to understand.

I also understood it, with the explanation given here.

However, most people seeing this sign will not have their laptops available so they can research what the sign means and receive the explanation.

Just because there is a explanation for something does not mean it is not broken.

Posted by: J. Scott at March 19, 2006 12:02 PM

this may not be broken, but is there really any reason for any arrow to be there? if you can't read the local Language you shouldn't be driving in that country... somebody who can't read english will just be confused by the arrow and for people who can it is totally unneccesary to have an arrow showing traffic flow of cars that do not stop..

Posted by: infinity306 at March 19, 2006 05:07 PM

Brokenness in a user interface is not determined by whether the interface is *technically* correct, but by how it is commonly perceived. The perception of an interface element like a traffic sign is rather critical, so the element must be designed such that it is perceived *correctly* by as high a percentage of users as possible, and within as short a time as possible. The fact that something is posted here indicates that at least one person perceived it incorrectly, and it may not be possible to design the element so that not a single person perceives it incorrectly. But the follow-up comments themselves are relevant to brokenness. I perceived the sign correctly at first glance, and so did not consider it broken. But several comments indicate that other people are given an incorrect impression at first glance.


Given that a significant proportion of users perceive the sign incorrectly, and that the sign could conceivably be designed, with reasonable effort, such that this proportion could be reduced, how can you argue that the current design is not broken? We might have looser standards for deciding whether, for example, a paragraph from a physics textbook adequately explains a concept, and brokenness might hinge on the average reader's expected level of comprehension, how much effort it would take to rewrite it so that fewer people would misunderstand it on first reading, etc. -- but the situation is much simpler with this sign. We know the expected minimum comprehension of someone with a driver's license, we know how long they have to react, we know the potential consequences of misreading the sign, and we know that designing a better sign would not be terribly difficult.

Our evaluation of brokenness needs to go beyond our own perception. Rather than argue the point with people who say it's broken, we need to step back and realize that their comments themselves can be a measure of brokenness, even if our own perceptions were correct. If interface designers don't do this, how will interfaces ever be improved?

Posted by: Lomedhi at March 19, 2006 06:51 PM

To expand on my previous comment:

Not broken. Traffic sign arrows *ALWAYS* show the flow of traffic or it's denial, they *NEVER* point to the source of the traffic. It's a little bit odd in this case but it's far better to follow the standard. Drivers are used to the conventions, you don't break them even if the result is a bit odd.

In all my years of driving I've seen *ONE* sign that broke the rules and I wished I had known the address (this was before the web took off) to squawk about it. The morons labelled a freeway with a navigation-type sign. Annoying when you're actually looking for a navigation sign for an upcoming road junction--you struggle to read the sign and are left scratching your head at 75 mph.

The arrow does belong there for the benefit of dyslexics.

Posted by: Loren Pechtel at March 19, 2006 08:02 PM

At first, I was 100% sure not broken. But there is ambiguity, and that's bad.

What's broken here, is tha the intersection itself is non-standard. That means it needs explaining. And it's not easy to explain in the two seconds a driver has. You NEED to point out that cars coming formt he left will not stop - I'll bet most accidents are due to pulling uot into oncoming traffic that they thought was gonig to stop.

MY SOLUTION: A VERY simple fix - the arrow should have 1/3 of its tail cut off and have a silouette of a car there instead. No question then that the arrow is showing direction of movement.

Posted by: DAveC426913 at March 20, 2006 08:57 AM

My first impulse was not broken because as several people have pointed out arrows ALWAYS indicate traffic flow on traffic signs. However as several other people have pointed out, enough people find this sign confusing to consider it broken.

If this sign is actually a 3 way stop then the sign should have a diagram of the intersection with 3 stop signs on it, something like this:


_ _

_ _*


That way anyone can understand it even if they don’t read English well. Also it is worth noting that pedestrians (who may not know road sign standards) also need this information so that they don't get hit by a car they expected to stop.

Posted by: Sean P at March 20, 2006 10:51 AM

The sign itself is clear enough, I think, in practice, if ambiguous in deconstruction...

Most municipalities in California do not post signs for 4 way stops, so you often have no idea if the other traffic is going to stop or not. This is especially true at night, or is places where trees are allowed to overgrow signage, so you can't see if they have a stop sign or not. Frustrating.

Posted by: stongey at March 20, 2006 11:29 AM

Why do they need that second sign at all? probably 90% of all intersectinos controlled by stop signs, it is understood that the cross traffic does not stop. Unless there is a '4 way stop', then that's the way it is. Redundant and broken.

Posted by: harvey walbanger at March 20, 2006 03:26 PM

I live in a town full of these signs. The arrow represents the flow of traffic. Like a "One Way" sign. Not to mention, these signs are only placed on one way intersections. Very usefull and very safe! Not Broken!!!

Posted by: Michael at March 20, 2006 04:40 PM

This extra sign should not be needed at all. I assume they added it because people were not properly following the STOP sign.

Anyway, there are standard signs for a reason.

Posted by: Reed at March 20, 2006 05:34 PM

Who made that? Me? I hate this problem with left and right that I have... in any language.

Posted by: Bibi at March 21, 2006 01:35 PM

They could fix it if they drew a car on the left side of the arrow:


Posted by: WillF at March 22, 2006 10:10 AM

if you think about it, i have really large balls.

Posted by: bob at March 22, 2006 05:54 PM

The sign refers to the direction of the traffic. It is not broken.

Posted by: Improfane at March 23, 2006 02:01 AM

What's funniest is that the road to the right is blocked due to construction.

Posted by: Bryn at March 23, 2006 12:57 PM

omfg, the arrow means that people going to the right dont stop. idiots. it wouldnt make sense at all if the arrow was pointing left.

Posted by: kev at March 23, 2006 05:19 PM

I've seen signs in CA under stop signs that say "cross traffic does not stop". I think that's a more effective wording than this sign.

Posted by: jayK at March 23, 2006 06:43 PM

Traffic signs need to be interpreted correctly in microsecnds, and need to be interpreted correctly by 100 percent of users. There's no room for ambiguity, which is why in general it is better to use diagrams to show directions than words. This sign is full of ambiguity, which is what makes it broken. I wouldn't suggest changing the direction of the arrow, but I would suggest reworking the interesection.

The sign was put in to allow traffic into the university (mostly from the left, turning right) to travel unimpeded, while slowing traffic leaving the university (from the right, on a road that, as noted, is currently under construction). A better choice for the same traffic calming would be to have some other way to slow the traffic from the right down, or perhaps even to install lights.

In San Luis Obispo, half the population has been driving for at most five years. Things like that do have to be taken into account when adding signage. Yes, if you understand the system of road markings, it fits the system. But let's face it: most people don't know what a single solid white line means, much less a sign that is half of the "cross traffic does not stop" sign. Traffic decisions have to be made very fast and can cause considerable harm when they are wrong. The brokenness is the ambiguity, not the interpreted meaning of the sign and how it fits into the context of road signs in general.

And also I thought it was funny.

Posted by: Ayse Sercan at March 29, 2006 01:36 AM

I used to go to school at CalPoly. I rode my bike through this intersection nearly every day. The sign makes sense. It however, is not bold enough. The intersection is odd and makes it very dangerous for bikers....mainly b/c many drivers are idiots and can't figure out where they are going until they make others slam on the brakes to avoid them.

Not broken tho

Posted by: Ben at April 10, 2006 04:29 AM

Idiotic, but not broken. It shows the direction in which the traffic is moving, but is confusing all the same.

Posted by: Ilya at May 2, 2006 05:50 PM

It's been said before. If a road sign is at all confusing to ANYONE then it is clearly broken.

Posted by: Bedlamite at May 21, 2006 04:49 PM

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