Q: How do you know when you’ve crossed into Brookline?
A: Signs per square feet increase exponentially.
Q: How else do you know you’re in Brookline?
A: There are hearings and committees formed to discuss adding more signs.
One of the first things I noticed when I moved here was all the signs stationed at all the borders: “Welcome to Brookline.” And underneath that: “No Overnight Parking Allowed.” And next to that, “Two Hour Parking Only.” And somewhere underneath that, “So Take Your Parking-Space-Looking-Stupid-Car-Driving-Desperate-Self and Park Where Somebody Cares.” OK, that last one is only there in my imagination.
Driving on, I notice other signage issues. Look at Beacon Street, from Cleveland Circle to Coolidge Corner: It’s an explosion of traffic TMI (Too Much Information). We are told, every few feet, where we can and cannot cross. We are then given stoplights for the same purpose. We are told not to cross the T tracks here, but cross them there. We are told everything we can possibly be told while on four wheels, except where we can park on that median so that we don’t get a ticket for putting money in the wrong meter.
I wend my way towards Route 9, coming to Walnut Street. OK, what is with the signs on Walnut? This is what we mean by “traffic calming?” Is George Orwell on the Transportation Board now? There has been more angry discussion of Walnut Street post-calming than before-calming, and justifiably so. Every few feet, there is a warning that there is going to be a warning that there is going to be a sign that there is going to be a speed bump. And word has just gone out that there is a proposal to add 13 more signs to Walnut Street.
Let’s leave the Signage Wasteland that is my neighborhood and see if things get any better elsewhere. How about the encouraging sign that depicts the bike path on Lee Street? Nothing like a beautiful ride through pastoral southern Brookline. Until, oops, suddenly the bike path simply ends, and you’re screwed unless you jump your bike onto the sidewalk where a sign won’t tell you that bikes aren’t allowed, but they’re not.
As I continue deeper into SoBro, into Chestnut Hill on Heath Street, the number of signs has dwindled appreciably. But then, there it is, the sign that takes my breath away even more than this bike ride: “Lapland Street, formerly known as Lapland Road,” it reads.
Can anyone explain what this one is all about? Why does this little street get this strange sign? I can only imagine the political intrigue, the months of meetings that must have occurred to end up with this miracle of oversignage. It must have happened because some irate visitor went mistakenly to Lapland Street, believing they were headed for Lapland Road, and then perhaps tried to sue the town for misleading them.
In my feverish imagination, I see it unfold. A warrant article comes up at Town Meeting: “To Inform Visitors that Lapland Road Is Now Lapland Street.” The Brookline Civic Association takes a position in favor of protecting that particular neighborhood’s rights to being properly identified; the Coalition Against Unfair Taxation wants to know what the new street name will cost the taxpayers. Brookline PAX takes a position against to demonstrate that all citizens have and have always had the right to call Lapland Road whatever they wanted. After a long, contentious debate, the School Committee voted unanimously not to take a position on the matter. At Town Meeting, ACLU precedent was cited, a slide show was given, and the acrimonious vote still tears neighborhoods apart. The Selectmen named the study committee, stipulating that all involved must have absolutely no knowledge of where Lapland Street, Road or Country is, and no opinion whatsoever about signs, signage or sinusitis.
OK, that didn’t really happen, except in my imagination. Right?
Do I sound cynical? I’m sorry. I don’t mean to be. I love Brookline for all of its quirkiness. I just think our signs are a sign of our worst trait: to process everything to death, and to ridiculous levels. As my grandmother would have said, “Enough with the signs already.”
Copyright 2007, Susan Senator