Road Signs - Exhaust Notes

In the course of preparing this issue, I spent three consecutive weeks on the road. For nine days (most of them in the rain), I traced U.S. 6 from California to the tip of Cape Cod aboard a Harley Street Glide, then made a five-day sprint back to L.A. I was in town for a weekend and took off again for a week on the monster twins test, riding up the West Coast.

During that quick 10,000 miles, I had plenty of opportunities to get a sense of what's happening on the back streets of America. On Route 6, a mostly rural route that's been bypassed by interstates in many areas, all the Out of Business and For Sale, Priced Reduced signs on small-town businesses and gas stations made me wonder how investors could feel so optimistic about the economy. I wondered how some states with low gasoline prices (and therefore presumably lower taxes) could have roads that were so much better than, say, Illinois, where I encountered the second-highest gas prices of the trip (after California) and where many roads carry tolls. It seems like more money is going into the system, but there is no sign of it reaching the pavement.

Even where the money apparently is being applied, I was sometimes mystified. Virtually all states have laws that double traffic fines in work areas. This was done in response to accidents that killed road workers. These workers are further protected by reduced speed limits, sometimes as much as 35 mph lower than the normal speed. The problem is that many of these "work areas" seem to be nothing more than a series of warning signs and a few cones or barrels. I'd crawl along for several miles waiting for the reason to appear, but there would be no workers, no equipment, no lane closures, no rough pavement, not even blockage of the shoulders. On multi-lane roads, some drivers would obediently slow to the posted work zone speeds, while others, especially as it became apparent that there were no workers or any reason for caution, would resume their normal pace, creating a dangerous speed difference. Some states only make work zones and related speed limits active when a sign's lights are flashing, which seems like a better and safer system.

Of course, there were a couple of occasions when someone actually was working in these otherwise unattended zones. The lone figure was a cop sitting in his car on the median shooting radar.

There are signs warning of all kinds of critters on the highway-cows, horses, elk and even eagles in eastern Utah-but by far the most commonly warned-of animals are deer. That's as it should be. During this time of year, a Google News search will turn up reports of about 20 recent motorcycle/deer collisions, a number of them fatal for the motorcyclist. Having heard from survivors of two such events just before I headed east and still shocked by the recent death of Larry Grodsky, safety columnist for Rider magazine, in a collision with a deer, these animals were very high on my threat list.

As a result, I was very aware of those deer warning signs. The problem is that they seem to be nearly meaningless. I noticed that the dozens of deer carcasses I saw along the road, including one in metro Kansas City, were rarely near warning signs, though some states purportedly post the signs where collisions have occurred. Some use the shotgun approach with Next 20 Miles addendums added to deer warning signs, which are posted every 15 miles.

I have a suggestion for something more meaningful than the large metal signs: Print several thousand smaller plastic-reinforced paper signs with a similar graphic. Actually there should be three designs-the standard deer silhouette, the silhouette with a red cross and the silhouette with a headstone. The silhouette by itself would indicate a deer collision, the red cross would indicate that a motorist was injured badly enough to require treatment, and the headstone would indicate that a person was killed. A cluster of these relatively inexpensive signs would be fair warning that this really is a place where deer cross, and if their migration patterns change, the signs would weather away in a few seasons.

Most states post a forest of road signs where you first enter them. Almost all of these seem to include admonitions to use seat belts. However, in none of the 16 states I entered did I notice a sign advising you the state has a motorcycle helmet law. I have seen them in the past in a few states, and maybe Route 6 doesn't rate such signage, but it surprised me. Last summer, I was pleased to see Motorcycles Use Extreme Caution signs in Washington state to warn of motorcycle-specific hazards. I didn't see any of those on this trip, though I encountered several situations that warranted them.

In general, I'm for fewer road signs, though. Considering how pointless many are, I think they should be thinned out some. Anyway, one of the most useful signs I saw about road conditions was well off the road in eastern Colorado and quite unofficial. It read, Speed Trap 6 Miles.

If you speak sign language, you can contact Art at artofthe motorcycle@hotmail.com.