Normative Signs: The Poetry of "Ought"

In which the author finds beauty in how people tell other people what to do.

Month: September, 2014

Bikes May Use Full Lane

full_lane1This sign in South Beach, Fla., asserts (or perhaps clarifies) what is true but little-known in at least some jurisdictions, namely that bikes are vehicles and are entitled to take up an entire lane of the road if they want to. (I’m assuming without knowing for sure that that’s the case in Florida just as it is where I live in Ontario, Canada.

As a cyclist, I think the sign is pretty cool.

But why have a sign explicitly giving permission that the law gives on streets anyway? Well, presumably precisely because it’s a little-known legal fact.

The only odd thing is the placement. This sign is on a post that is…well, in the middle of the sidewalk, where it’s more likely to be seen (and hard to avoid) by pedestrians.
In fact, as you can see from the final picture, given the width of the sidewalk and the placement of the sign, pedestrians literally have to step around the sign post to get by. So while cyclists can use the “full lane,” apparently pedestrians can’t.

Dogs Must Be Carried

dogs_must_be_carried2This sign is posted on the side of an escalator at Manchester airport in the UK.

As the sender of the photo pointed out, it’s a very odd thing to require that one carry a dog in order to be allowed to use the escalator, especially given restrictions on bringing dogs into the UK. A passport surely must be carried. But a dog?

But of course, what it really means is “those who have a dog with them must carry their dogs rather than letting the dog walk up the escalator.” But that’s rather a lot of words for a normative sign, isn’t it?

Brevity may be the soul of wit, but it’s also the source of a lot of ambiguity.

dogs_must_be_carriedThanks to Wayne Norman for sending the photo.

Hand Washing & Normative Density

hand_washing_wordcloudYou don’t see this kind of normative density every day. It’s a sign posted on the mirror in the bathroom of a Toronto office building.

Notice that the sign is in the shape of a hand — itself a universal (?) normative sign meaning “STOP!”

And the sign is also basically one big word-cloud, consisting of words related to hand-washing and sanitation.

Thanks to Barbara Secker for submitting the photo.