Sign of Relief for Lower Merion's Cast-Iron Street Signs

While saying good-bye to one historical icon, the deadline on Pa.'s street sign conversion plans was lifted.

Lower Merion Township this year has fought several battles to maintain their sense of historic pride and community. One of the bigger battles, for  may have been lost, but in the shadows there has been one victory.

Back in January the township, like other small communities across Pennsylvania, was given a deadline to change all street signs to a standard sign issued by PennDOT.  reported that by 2018 all streets—everything from major intersections to meandering one-way neighborhoods—would have to begin using the issued signs, which feature a highly reflective coating and very, very large lettering. One thing that perplexed Lower Merion and other communities was the fact the state was not giving municipalities the money to fund the switch.

“It literally affects every corner in the township.” —Christian Busch, chairman, L.M. Historical Commission

 the Board of Commissioners voted unanimously to apply for an exemption waiver to the federal regulations due to the impending costs that would fall onto the township. There is also a section of the township that feels the street names signs are a pivotal historical representation of Lower Merion.

“They are sense of our community and some of them have been here for a hundred years,” explained Christian Busch, Chairman of the Historical Commission. “We deal with one building at a time on the Historical Commission, but think of these—there is one on every block, on every corner in the township.

“There’s thousands of them, and to me that’s more important that a single building. It literally affects every corner in the township.”

With the impending removal of the street signs slowly becoming a reality, the Historical Commission took aim to find a way to protect them under local historical preservation measures. The problem was Lower Merion’s historical preservation umbrella did not protect “things”—only buildings, structures, or sites.

According to Busch, during a street-widening project on Montgomery Avenue about two years ago, PennDot had removed and “lost” 18 of the historical street name signs. He continued to explain that if the signs had been protected, community advocates such as the Historical Commission and the Lower Merion Conservancy would have been consulted to develop a plan to prevent the loss of the signs.

The cast-iron signs also hold a “green” significance. The new replacement signs are only supposed to last about ten years and then simply be thrown away and replaced. Meanwhile, historical street name signs have lasted almost a century, with minimal upkeep. Busch said some of the most recent “touch-ups” were done about 15 years ago.

“We have what is a green or sustainable street sign as it is, and we don’t want to use these new ones,” said Busch.

 Lower Merion received a bit of good news. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood allowed Lower Merion to keep their “historical monuments.”  But LaHood’s letter also said, “If a community determines it needs street name signs for safety and navigational reasons, however, those signs would need to conform with (the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices).”

There had been no accidents attributed to the street name signs.

Busch and other members of the Historical Commission wanted more of an explanation of the letter. Lower Merion could keep the signs, but what did the other half mean?

To clarify the need for “safety and navigational reasons,” the Historical Commission went to the police to determine whether the visibility or any other aspect of the signs were unsafe for the community. The search found there had been absolutely no accidents attributed to the street name signs.

In early August, Republican U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey introduced a bill to repeal the federal mandate that required municipalities like Lower Merion to replace road signs. He felt the mandate was too expensive and most of the affected communities would not have the money to make the conversion.

By the end of August, the cast-iron historical street name signs were safe. For the time being.

Toomey announced the 2018 conversion deadline was lifted. Not only was this a local win, but while the state was pushing municipalities to cover the costs in their area, PennDOT was looking at a $10 million project for the entire state. It was a financial and historical victory for Lower Merion and the communities of Pennsylvania who keep one foot in the past and their eyes on the future.






Jennifer Stiller October 17, 2011 at 11:24 AM
Another view -- I wish someone could count the time wasted and the homes of friends not found because the Lower Merion street signs are illegible at night and practically impossible to read in the daytime. I had seen the new signs and thought, "At last Lower Merion is coming into the 20th Century!" (and no, that "0" is not a typo). I can navigate the winding roads of Lower Merion pretty well -- but I can't give another person directions -- because half the time I don't know the street names, and the other half of the time, the person receiving the directions wouldn't be able to follow them because they can't read the signs either. BTW, I had better-than-perfect vision until I was 55 and now the glasses work just fine, thank you! Jennifer Stiller Haverford
Dan Lamprey October 17, 2011 at 02:02 PM
While I love the look of the current street signs, I agree completely with Jennifer - they are barely functional. Unless you have a navigation system, you are certain to make a few wrong turns trying to find your way looking for street names. I feel there should be a happy medium. One thought is that the newer signs be present at the intersections of all of the major roads - e.g. Montgomery Ave., Lancaster Ave., Wynnewood Rd, etc. but not be required on the intersections of smaller streets. And on the major roads, the new signs could just be up next to traffic signals (where possible) and the old signs could be just left there. Another idea might be to see if the old signs could be repainted with reflective paint. In any case I completely agree that this should not be a priority right now. There should be a road map (no pun intended) but there are far more important things to focus on in these financially challenging times.


More »
Got a question? Something on your mind? Talk to your community, directly.
Note Article
Just a short thought to get the word out quickly about anything in your neighborhood.
Share something with your neighbors.What's on your mind?What's on your mind?Make an announcement, speak your mind, or sell somethingPost something