Tag Archives: traffic

No, No, a Thousand Times No

Common wisdom says that we’re living in an “anything goes” era, when the norms of society have been run through a wood-chipper. This may be true, but it hasn’t stopped people from attempting to regulate — and especially to prohibit — various forms of behavior. Witness this sign:









Okay, I understand the passion that prompted this sign. Who wants to dig into plumbing and remove food, not to mention cat litter? What intrigues me is the capitalization. Why throw a capital letter at a “Q-Tip” and withhold one from “baby wipes”? Maybe it’s a brand-name issue, but I doubt there’s a copyrighted product called “Food” or “Sanitary Towels.” Before I move on to the next sign, I should mention that I’m not completely sure what  “baby wipes even they are flushable (they really are not)” means. I’m leaning toward “don’t believe the blurb on the package,” a statement that I apply to everything I buy.

And then there’s this sign in a public plaza:









I understand most of these prohibitions, even though I don’t necessarily agree with the choices. “Bike crossing” makes me imagine a Schwinn spending some private time with a Citibike, and before you know it, a bike crossing occurs.  Just kidding. In real life, my best guess is that “crossing” refers to cutting diagonally from one street to another that’s perpendicular. But is it really necessary to state that a bike shouldn’t be ridden through a twisted, narrow path in a plaza full of people, many of whom are little kids? This is New York, so the answer is probably yes, but because this is New York, the sign  won’t make one bit of difference. While reading and puzzling over the sign, the cyclist will probably run into someone anyway.

Moving (but not cycling) on:









How did “music” arrive on this list? And is “site safety prohibited”? And is music that dangerous? Having lived through the Sixties, I agree that revolutions have soundtracks. Still, it’s disturbing to see music listed with smoking, drugs, and weapons. I do love the last line, especially “shall be strictly enforced.” “Shall,” which once upon a time was the emphatic form in the third person (as you see it here), has largely given way to “will” in American English. Adhering to this venerable usage makes me want to observe every rule this site-manager insists on.  I just have to say yes, yes, a thousand times yes, to anyone who writes “shall be.”


Punctuation Problems

And the award for good punctuation goes to . . . none of these signs. Why? Well, take a look.

The first comes from a fence around a mansion in Newport, Rhode Island. (Yes, this blog is about language in New York City, but even a grammarian needs a vacation from time to time.)  Where would you add punctuation?









Is this direct address? Are the mansion-owners calling me (or any other sightseer) a “bad dog”? And who’s being ordered to “keep off fence” — the property or the dog? I don’t know. I do know that there are no bad dogs, just bad sign-writers.

Another muddle for you to solve:








I assume the contractor didn’t have time to add punctuation marks to this notice.  Too bad, because you can punctuate it this way:

Construction zone? No.

Access permitted.

Authorized personnel only permitted beyond this point.

Hear that, authorized personnel? There’s no building going on here. Wait behind the barricade until we call you. Regular people, feel free to walk wherever you like.

This one needs more than punctuation:









No, I didn’t add the duct tape. I resisted the temptation to peel it off to see what was underneath. Maybe it said “keep right” or “keep left”? Theories welcome.

No parking in Oregon, and other absurdities

New Yorker that I am, I don’t often think about compass directions. I go uptown or downtown, and to the East or West Side. So this sign caught my attention as I walked around Seattle last week:









My first impulse was to check the position of the sun and try to determine where, exactly, south was. I located the sun easily enough, but I’m staying in a house with a two-month-old. Was it morning or afternoon? I didn’t know. Nor did landmarks help, because my knowledge of Seattle geography is hazy at best. Next I looked at parking patterns. The sign was close to a corner;  only a micro-car could squeeze into the bit of curb in front of the sign. That direction was probably not south. Behind the sign were maybe fifty parked cars.  Law-abiding Seattlites are unlikely to flout parking rules in such large numbers, I reasoned — no south there, either. At last I figured out the true meaning. Listen up, Oregonians! Pay attention, Californians! You need to head north for parking. As I pondered the meaning of the sign, by the way, I decided it was fortunate I wasn’t driving a car at the time. I might have hit the tree while decoding.

And while I’m on the topic of absurdities — and I am — here’s a ticket stub from a play I saw recently:



I don’t mind paying for the ticket, and I’m semi-okay with the service charge. But paying a fee for a fee is going too far, in the same category as a charge for “shipping and handling” when I’m standing at a box office, holding my hand out for the ticket, which the cashier places on my palm. Why is that “shipping and handling”? At Madison Square Garden, it is.

One more:

Isn’t the very definition of “crime” something that is “punishable by law”? What else would it be, a crime rewarded by free ice cream cones?

It’s July 4th, America’s day to celebrate our independence — which apparently includes the right to hang silly signs and impose ridiculous fee fees. Enjoy your barbecue and your right to express yourself, absurdly or not.

Oxymorons, Again

Consistency seems to be out of style these days. A while ago I posted a couple of signs that contradict themselves (See “Oxymorons” at http://www.grammarianinthecity.com/?p=1195). I keep finding more, such as this one, which hangs over the entrance to a parking garage:

Quik park slowly. Got that?






Yes, I know that “Quik” is part of the name, but you’d think the owner would move “quik” away from “slowly,” if only to keep the attention of a potential customer who’s in a hurry. And is it too much to ask for a “c” before the “k”?

A penny to anyone who can explain what “shop and save for free” means, in the context of bakeware or anything else:

Shop for free?









Not to mention whether (and where) you should brake your vehicle:







Or where you should shop, and for what:

A sidewalk inside?









Either the slabs of cement are ten bucks each or the store is having the equivalent of a garage sale in the dining room. Either way, something’s odd. Bottom line: People often think we New Yorkers are rude (and sometimes, we are). But mostly we’re just confused.


New York signs make a valiant effort to boss people around. Valiant, but futile, as New Yorkers are not known for their unquestioning obedience. Yet the effort continues. Call it faith, if you’re an optimist, or insanity, if you’re not. Here’s an example of bossy New York, in the primary image I chose for this blog:

NYC Block Box Sign


I often wonder whether non-New Yorkers understand this sign, which directs cars to stay out of the intersection (“the box”) when the traffic light turns red. New Yorkers decode it easily; they just choose to ignore it. Effective or not,  this sign is one of my favorites, rivaled only by the classic “Don’t even think of parking here” that sadly has disappeared from the streets of New York. Not that drivers paid attention to that one either.

Recently I snapped photos of two lists of no-nos. Here’s one from a city bus:








Except for the first (littering), riders mostly obey the other prohibitions on this list. I don’t credit the sign, though, because in this day and age, hardly anyone assumes that smoking is allowed on public transit. Spitting is rare because of the gross-out factor.  The last prohibition seems to be a leftover from the boom-box era, when teenagers lugging thirty pounds of technology blasted thumpingly loud music into their fellow riders’ ears.  Even then, those devices were more often playing CD tracks, not radio broadcasts.

The next sign was posted by the management of an apartment building:








When I saw this sign, no one was around, so no one was noncompliant. So is this an effective sign? In my view, no, because of its content.  Maybe a couple of kids gave up ball-playing, but that’s probably because they’d been scolded by someone who didn’t want to listen to the thump of a tennis ball or a Spaldeen (a pink ball essential to stickball, a NY street sport that no one plays anymore because of all the Uber vans clogging the road). Nor does the sign stop “loitering.” That activity disappears naturally because if you stand in one spot, a preoccupied pedestrian is likely to knock you over. Side point: Why specify “sitting in front of building”? Perhaps you’re allowed to sit next to or behind the structure? Or on top of it, if you can get past the doorman? I  agree with the ban on peddling. It’s a well known fact that one sidewalk cart, unopposed, spawns ten more each day, each of which in turn gives rise to ten more, leading to . . . well, you can imagine. But peddlng is, in my opinion, less of a problem for this building than pedaling — bikes criss-crossing the sidewalk and terrifying everyone moving on actual feet.

But carriages? True, strollers increasingly resemble Hummers. I’ve been kneecapped by more than a few baby carriages myself. But seriously — how can you tell parents that their baby’s primary mode of transportation is not welcome?  You may have noticed that the list ends with “under penalty of law.” Illegal baby carriages. Who knew? Unless they’re referring to a Jane Austen sort of carriage? Or the horse-drawn ones that circle Central Park? Not likely.

It seems to me that New Yorkers, with their ingenuity and preference for hanging out (loitering?) on the cutting edge, should be able to come up with a better “don’t” list. Mine isn’t complete, but so far I’ve got cell-phone blathering in crowded areas (especially when it involves relationships, recent surgery, or job complaints),  texting while walking, and bicycling on the sidewalk. What’s on your list? Feel free to send it in. First prize is a boom box with an AM/FM connection, which you can use whenever you sit next to a “no radio playing” sign.

What counts

Riding on a New York City bus recently, I glimpsed a going-out-of-business sign advertising discounts of “90% to 90%.” I couldn’t snap a photo of that gem from a moving vehicle, and when I returned the following day, the store was boarded up, denying me both the photo and the bargains within. But I did take a picture of another crime against arithmetic. (Yes, I know that I’m supposed to concentrate on grammar in this blog, but I can’t pass up illogical statements, even if they’re made with numbers.) This placard appeared on an uptown express bus, showing where the stops are:

Follow the numbers.

Follow the numbers.









For non-New Yorkers, let me explain that most Manhattan streets are numbered. The city’s grid was established in the early 19th century by order of the City Council, which charged a committee with “laying out Streets… in such a manner as to unite regularity and order with the public convenience and benefit . . . .” What would that committee make of this sign, which sends a bus up north on First Avenue to 14th, 23rd, 34th, 29th, and 42nd Streets – in that order? And no, the bus doesn’t double back on 34th to hit 29th before making a U-turn and driving to 42nd Street.

This sign illustrates two truths, both “universally acknowledged”: (1) Proofreading is a lost art, for both letters and numbers and (2) To travel on public transport in NYC, you need sharp eyes and good luck.

Facing the new year

Closing out 2015, I find three signs aptly express my feelings about this season. First:

Ten fingers? Check. Ten toes? Ditto.

Ten fingers? Check. Ten toes? Ditto. Sanity? Doubtful.









I checked the definition of “checkout,” which involves a summing up of obligations and payment thereof.  This sign caught my eye, and not only because it signals a further decline in customer service. (I’ve just completed two transcontinental airline flights, so that topic is on much my mind.)  What drew me is the “self” portion of the sign. January approaches, and like the Roman god Janus (who was probably not the source of the name “January”), I look both forward and back. But mostly I look inward, to “checkout” the state of my “self.” I won’t place my findings here – too private – nor will I stop as January ends. The unexamined life is not my style. Obsessive worrying, alas, is. (And yes, compulsive snark, too.)

Here’s the second sign:

To where?

To where?









I could insert a wish here – that the sign not be a prediction of my, your, or our collective future. But a daily dose of The New York Times shows, beyond a doubt, that a “rough road” is likely for all of us. Nor in good conscience can I insert a platitude – something about life’s bumps strengthening character. Sometimes life’s bumps lead only to bruises. Yet Yogi Berra – the late, great Yankee catcher and creative grammarian – gave good advice: When you come to a fork in the road, take it. Rough or not. After all, what’s the alternative?

Finally, no new year (and no New Year’s post) would be complete without a resolution. Mine begins with this sign:

Who wants to be "the top bell"?

Who wants to be “the top bell”?









I saw this sign behind a construction fence enclosing access to the Second Avenue Subway. It contains, in my opinion, the coolest job title ever. I resolve to become, by the end of this new year, “the top bell.” Whatever that is.


Hey, I’m Walking Here! Part 2

As a pedestrian in New York City, I generally feel that I am the lowest of the low, the bottom of the barrel, the – well, insert your favorite metaphor for “unimportant” here. Why? Stoplights are timed to move motor vehicles along, not to give me a chance to put one foot in front of the other and reach the other side of the avenue before the next wave of cars approaches. Bikes get their own lane on many streets and all too often, uninhibited and unticketed, dominate the sidewalk as well. And then I saw this sign:

I'm "traffic" now.

I’m “traffic” now!









I thought about the phrase “pedestrian traffic” as I plodded through the detour this “notice” required. According to the dictionary, the noun “traffic” means “vehicles moving on a road,” “dealing or trading in something illegal,” or “communications between people.” I am not a Ferrari, a drug transaction, or a text message. I am a person who travels via feet. So what does this sign really mean? If the first definition applied, I’d expect an upgrade in “pedestrian traffic” flow – lights timed to the average traveled-foot-inch per minute, for example. Nope. If the last definition applied, I’d expect the Department of Transportation to respond to the many cries for bike-free sidewalks. Nope again. So I’m choosing door number two. And I thank the DOT for banning trades of, say, one babysitter pushing a double-wide stroller for two guys with briefcases plus an oblivious texter to be named later.

Emboldened by this upgrade to “traffic” status, I went out again – and found this:

Wait where?

Wait where?









At the start of my first year as a teacher – and this is a true story – I questioned my principal about the schedule calling for me to teach two different classes at the same time on two different floors. Her answer? “Young people don’t want to face obstacles.” Oh. So too, at this corner, was I obliged to “wait” at two different places at the same time.

I won’t bother discussing the indignity of being a “ped.” It’s nice out. I’d rather take a walk.