FHWA Seeks Information on State, Local Use of Clearview Font for Highway Signs

AASHTO Journal, 22 December 2016

The Federal Highway Administration is seeking comments to Jan. 27 on how state departments of transportation or others used the “Clearview” font lettering style for highway signage, a follow-up to the FHWA’s action last Jan. 25 to terminate the authority under which it had allowed use of that font.

The request for information follows criticism of the earlier FHWA action by some in the transportation industry who regard Clearview as a font many drivers find easier to read than the FHWA’s official version.

Some also objected that the agency had allowed state or local agencies to use Clearview since 2004 under an interim approval before suddenly terminating that authority in January. The FHWA’s termination action means that sings bearing Clearview fonts on FHWA-funded highways must be eventually replaced with those bearing the approved font when the current signs reach the end of their serviceable life.

capitol0816.jpgThe board of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials – which comprise the CEOs of state DOTs – voted in its Nov. 15 annual meeting to urged the FHWA to reverse itself and reinstate interim approval for Clearview.

The AASHTO resolution said that “some roadway agencies have invested and used Clearview font for over 10 years with no known negative impacts on the motoring public.”

It also said: “Some research has demonstrated increased legibility distances and improved legibility for older drivers during the nighttime when challenges increase for drivers through the use of Clearview Font, without increasing font size or significantly the overall sign size.”

The resolution further urged the FHWA to establish a task force to address concerns the agency had cited in its Jan. 25 Federal Register notice and provide a recommendation for each concern, and asked the FHWA to “fully examine any potential termination of an interim approval, in coordination with other interested stakeholders.”

The FHWA in its Dec. 12 request for information said that after it terminated the Clearview font approval, the agency “received comments from stakeholders suggesting that FHWA should have solicited public comment prior to the termination. Other comments suggested that FHWA did not consider all relevant research that was available in making its decision. As a result, FHWA is publishing this RFI in order to gather any information or research that FHWA may not have been aware of when the termination was prepared.”

It also emphasized that the information request “is not a solicitation for comments on the termination of IA-5 [the interim approval] or for experimentation requests. The purpose of this RFI is to gather information, if any, that was not previously available to FHWA.”

The FHWA specified that it now wants “quantitative information from state and local agencies specifically related to their use of the Clearview font.” Some examples would be the stakeholders’ applied technical standards or any deviations from the interim approval conditions, and what factors the state and local agencies used in deciding to adopt the Clearview style.”

The informational request concluded by saying “the FHWA based the termination of IA-5 on available relevant information and research,” although AASHTO in its board resolution and others have said more research supports Clearview use than is against it.

Now, however, the notice said that “to ensure that FHWA has access to any additional information, FHWA requests any additional information regarding experience with the use of alternative fonts or research not otherwise known that may be useful to FHWA be submitted for further consideration.”

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