polis: a collective blog about cities worldwide

Culture in Universal Street Signs

by Min Li Chan

The next time you stop in front of a red light at a bustling intersection, consider the remarkable state of traffic signs. Ubiquitous across cities around the world, they provide a shared experience that transcends language and culture.

If I know when a right turn is prohibited or when a full stop is mandatory while scooting around London, I'd recognize similar directions amidst the egalitarian morass of car, rickshaw, scooter and pedestrians in central Hanoi.

Source: Min Li Chan

Some cities have found ways to express local culture in the universal language of traffic signs, such as the crosswalk in Oakland's Chinatown (above) and the famous Ampelmännchen in the former East Berlin (below).

Source: icadrews

In addition to the universal language of traffic symbols, local interpretations of the rules they enforce lead to entirely different traffic dynamics. How each culture bends the rules or adheres to them partly defines the thin line between collision and collaboration among the strata of motorized and ambulatory populations.

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