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Winchelsea Traffic Signs Project

What is this project about?

The aim is to persuade the public bodies who are responsible for putting up traffic signs and other street furniture in and around Winchelsea to:

  • re-assess the effectiveness of their signs as aides for road-users
  • start taking into account the visual impact on the countryside.

In other words, we want an efficient but environmentally-sensitive system of traffic signs and other street furniture.

The project is not simply about reducing the number of traffic signs. It is also about better signs. For example, we would like to replace the uninformative signs that clutter the approaches into Winchelsea with new signs that would keep through-traffic on the A259 but attract visitors into the village by highlighting its heritage and facilities. This could be done by replacing the inappropriately brutal motorway-like signs with designs that are in keeping with the rural and historic character of the village.

What is the problem?

By 1999, there were about 230 traffic signs in and around Winchelsea (which has less than 290 houses)!

The fact that Winchelsea is a Conservation Area and part of the High Weald Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, and has a heritage judged to be international importance, did not save it from being blighted by a forest of traffic signs.

It is questionable whether many traffic signs in and around Winchelsea are doing their job effectively. Too many traffic signs along a road make it difficult for drivers to read the information, particularly as signs tend to be clustered at the most difficult sections of road, where drivers have to concentrate on their driving.

The diminishing effectiveness of signs is made worse by the fact that new signs are added without reference to existing signs. Thus, old and new signs often conflict with, duplicate or obstruct each other.

Too many traffic signs also dull their effectiveness by making them commonplace rather than providing alerts to drivers (the so-called problem of ‘habituation’).

And excessive numbers of traffic signs create other problems. For example, the growing cluster of signs at the road junction on Sandrock Hill in Winchelsea was considered by Rother District Council planners to have so blighted the area that it was felt there could be no objection to the erection of an unsightly mobile ‘phone mast and equipment cabinets by mobile phone company T-mobile.

The cost of the signs in and around Winchelsea has been estimated at over £250,000. Given the ineffectiveness of many of these signs, this is an inefficient use of public money. However, there appears to be no lack of money for traffic signs, even though road maintenance and safety budgets have been cut back year after year.

The Cause | What We Did | What We Acheived | Unfinished Business |

Road Signs

  • Drivers recall as little as 20% of traffic signs. (Psychology on the Road by David Shinar (New York, 1978).
  • Recent research has shown that information overload from haphazard signposting harms drivers' concentration and increases the risk of accidents. (CPRE, autumn 2006)
  • Accidents have fallen by 44% in London's Kensington High Street after street clutter was removed during refurbishment work. (CPRE, autumn 2006)

To see how street signs and other street furniture should be used, have a look at the Streets for All manuals of best practice produced by English Heritage.