What happened to the Curly W on D.C. freeway signs?


An old ‘Curly W’ sign. (Via Google Maps)

This being the Redskins’ offseason, I’m temporarily free to explore some of the weirder questions fans occasionally present to me. On rare occasions, I can even discover actual answers. Here’s one of those occasions.

“Dan – Do you know why the Nats logo was taken off of the highway signs?” reader @DLeeGalloway asked me last month. “A green square was put over it. Noticed a few weeks ago.”

I did not, in fact, know the answer to this question. But I reached out to the D.C. Department of Transportation, which in turn put me in touch with the Federal Highway Administration, bringing to two (2) the number of transportation agencies I was contacting for the first time thanks to our enterprising readers.

So what happened was, DDOT conducted a survey of attendees at Nationals Park about the strength of the Curly W as a traffic helper. The DDOT survey “did not provide a conclusive result on the effectiveness of the use of the logos on traffic signs,” according to the FHWA.

So the federal agency did a follow-up “human factors evaluation,” which concluded that “the addition of a graphic logo to the word legend on a sign took observers longer to process, requiring longer glance times to the signs containing the graphic logos.

“These longer glances did not necessarily allow for an unfamiliar user to comprehend the meaning of the graphic logo,” the agency went on, in its message to DDOT. “Further, for familiar drivers, the addition of the logo did not enhance comprehension of the accompanying word legend. In fact, the logos evaluated generally had relatively low comprehension levels. The result was only a longer glance at the sign, but without the intended benefit of enhanced recognition of comprehension.”

The “word legend” thing refers to the phrase “Nationals Park.” In other words, the stadium’s name was sufficient information, even for drivers who did recognize the Curly W logo.

Thus, the Curly W’s on D.C. freeway signage were removed or covered over, beginning in the middle of 2013 and concluding in early September. No signs were removed; just the Curly W’s.

“U.S. D.O.T. is proud to be in the same neighborhood as the Nats,” Federal Highway Administration spokesman Neil Gaffney said in a statement. (I should note that Gaffney pursued this information for me despite being a diehard Phillies fan originally from Philadelphia.) “We’re working with the team and the District to help fans get to games safely by making sure there are appropriate signs to point the way. Directional signs don’t have graphics because they are harder to read and can be distracting. Simpler signs make for safer journeys.”

And thus, you now know why you will no longer see Curly W logos on D.C. freeway signs.

Okay, who’s got another question?

Dan Steinberg writes about all things D.C. sports at the D.C. Sports Bog.

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