Monday, March 23, 2009

Traffic Operations Division Tour, part II

In Part I, I described the first part of the tour of the City of Ottawa's Traffic Operations Division at 175 Loretta Street, just off of Gladstone past the O-Train tracks. This is the building from which they monitor and control traffic operations, as well as prepare signs and signals for installation.

In today's part, I'll go over the signage operations.

After the previous room, we went down a hall to the double-height sign room in the back of the building's lower level.

They had an assortment of signs lying on the side wall, presumably custom signs. They gave names to the ducks on the one in the middle one:

These big ones go on top of traffic signal standards at intersections. There isn't much to get the scale, but they're big--the tall ones are person-sized. The peice of letter-sized paper on the one on the left gives an idea of scale. They have to be big to see them from so far away, as they're at nearly every passive signal and at major roads.

We then went into a small room cut off from the main sign room where they cut out one of the thousands of (de)signs. They use a variety of methods, including silkscreening (like for making t-shirts, where each pass is a different colour), but most are designed and cut using computer-aided software. Thanks to computers, they've been able to reduce staffing requirements by about 50% over the last twenty years.

This particular sheet contains the numbers for the new population signs--the population of Ottawa has recently gone up to 900,000!

They make about 3000 regular signs per year, and 2300 custom signs. But it's inefficient to make just one sign, so they make a bunch of them and store them. Here's a view of the storage room. They had a series of these huge racks of signs. At the start of each day, they'll load up onto the trucks the signs that they'll need for the day.

In the background you can see they have three different sizes of stop signs. In the foreground, Traffic Operations Manager Jim Bell holds up a no-left-turn sign. Again, the signs are a lot bigger than you might think when you see them on the street.

The material on the signs is made with a retroreflective coating, which means that light bounces back to where it came from. By comparison, if you were to hold a flashlight near your eye and point it at a mirror, it would only shine back in your eyes if the mirror is facing you straight-on. Jim showed us that newer signs are made with little prisms, which are five times more reflective than the old reflective-ball coating.

They had a couple of specific signs, too, such as a pre-assembled pair for the intersection of Island Park Drive and Island Park Crescent. In the back are some yellow "Operation Lookout" signs. You don't see these in Centretown; they're mostly put on higher-speed roads to distract people with educational messages.

Some bike signs, as this was, after all, a tour for the Roads and Cycling Advisory Committee...

And at the back of the room were some de-commissioned street signs from former municipalities. These are taken down when a street's signs are replaced with the new blue ones that sport the new City of Ottawa logo. (The new blue ones also have bigger lettering) You can actually buy these old signs from the City for $10--a steal! The City keeps a list of decommissioned signs in inventory, and you can order them by e-mail and pick them up at 175 Loretta. (I've ordered Somerset Street West and Preston.)

Lastly, here's a photo of a sign in action! This bike route sign is encouraging cyclists to ride in the gravel-filled part of Stewart Street.

Oh well. I guess signs can't do everything!

Tune in Wednesday for part III of the tour: traffic signals + epilogue


  1. Great article! And thanks for the tip about the decommissioned signs, had I known earlier I'd have my street sign in my bedroom.

  2. Now, if only they could design and install signs that are visible from inside an OC Transpo bus.