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How Street Name Signs Define Local Culture

January 17, 2019

Street signs play an important role in local culture. Even people who do not have a concept of how their local grid system is laid out can appreciate signs that tell them where they are located. Here are ways that street name signs add identity to a community.

Different Styles in Different Cities

Every city or town in the United States uses street name signs that conform with standards set by the Federal Highway Administration’s Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD). Quality sign makers use engineer grade sheeting with highly reflective effects, as the color and size of the sign conform to regulations of the local jurisdiction.

At one time street signs were commonly mounted to buildings, whereas now they are commonly mounted to metal poles. The standardization of street signs has led to less buildings displaying the complete address on the front, in favor of just the address number. While the street sign still has the power to convince people what street they are on, GPS has gained widespread use and is taking over as the authoritative navigator in many people’s lives. But the street sign still serves as the final confirmation of location, when compared with online data.

Local officials decide on the uniformity of street name signs so that they fit the local profile. Some cities use white signs with black letters, while others use green signs with white letters. Other background colors used in America for street signs include black, brown, blue, yellow and red. Sometimes these differences alert drivers when they moving from a city to an unincorporated area of the same county. Different sign colors within the same area may also indicate switching from a public to private street. In many places local developers are the investors in street signs and have a say in the design and orientation of signage.

Street Names and Local Culture

Another way in which street names contribute to local culture is they use names to reflect the local environmental terrain. Many of the towns on the coast of Southern California, for example, end in the word “Beach,” which automatically creates several streets that include the word, even if they aren’t on the coast. Big cities tend to have “expressways,” while mountainous roads might even include the word “mountain” as the suffix to the name. Cities and towns defined by canyons, deserts, lakes, rivers, valleys and hills often use these terms in street names.

Custom street name signs are needed for private roads or large parking complexes to help direct traffic. Sign sizes often conform to the speed limit so that 6″ signs are used when the speed limit is 25 mph or less, while 9″ signs are used in areas when the speed limit is over 25 mph.

Popular streets serve as anchors to many people who rely on memory rather than maps or electronic devices. Simply by knowing how many blocks your establishment is from a well known street, they can memorize a location. When people think of a certain community, they often think of the major streets and intersections where key landmarks are located.


Street name signs are what both local residents and tourists pay attention to for pinpointing locations and destinations, which all communicate local culture in many ways. Learning about who decides how street signs appear in your region is important if you are investing in multiple signs. For more information about street name signs, call Zumar at our Arizona, California or Washington location.

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