Who Created That Sign?

Posted by – Steve Cohen, Director of Community Development

The next time you hop in your car and drive down the road, take a moment and observe that red colored sign on your right when you stop.  Take a second to look at its octogon shape, color, and reflective letters which direct you to “STOP.”  The sign’s design did not happen by accident.

William Phelps Eno is recognized for having the foresight to take action and create the first stop sign; which has evolved in color and size over time.  Mr. Eno suggested that a regulatory sign was needed to address horse and buggy accidents.  His idea gained acceptance following the first automobile traffic accident in 1895.  As a result, the nation’s first stop sign was installed in Detroit in 1915 – thanks to Mr. Eno.

Auburn Hills – EV Sign

Today a century later, the City of Auburn Hills is making history with its own new sign.  Last year, we learned that all the major automakers were scheduled to introduce plug-in electric vehicles into the market by Y2015.  People who purchase these vehicles will need places to stop and charge.

Auburn Hills found out that its role was to help make sure that these stations do not get “ICED” by a gas vehicle due to lack of identification and education.  If you buy a plug-in electric vehicle, you are counting on these stations to be reserved for only charging use.

Since this concept is so new, an identifiable sign is needed to inform people of the purpose of the space and communicate the message that you should not park there unless you are refueling your car.

When we started looking at the issue and designing a sign for our own public charging stations, we could not find a consistent standard.  We did find a lot of cutesy and confusing signs that used the “wrong” colors and symbols in the eyes of the traffic experts who create these types of visual markers for a living.  It’s so interesting, creating regulatory signs is quite the science.

After significant collaboration with the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT), the City of Auburn Hills developed the Michigan sign standard for reserving parking spaces for electric vehicle charging stations.  It uses the “correct” colors, symbols, and markings and is based on the publicly accepted handicapped sign.   The new sign was instantly recognizable, which was our goal.

Last week, I was in Los Angeles to meet with the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) and other electric vehicle leaders from across the nation.  Auburn Hills attended the conference to support our partner the Ann Arbor-based Clean Energy Coalition.  At that event, the DOE held a meeting with the 16 groups creating plug-in electric vehicle readiness plans for 24 states.  They put the sign we created up on the screen and suggested that perhaps it should be the national standard for consistency and education.  It was exciting for the City of Auburn Hills because this was our chance to make history.

Auburn Hills sign – Introduced as potential national standard last week for electric vehicle charging stations

We expect the debate over this sign design will go on for some time. We are hopeful our sign will be accepted by our peers.  Regardless of what happens, all that matters is that we took action and led.  Like Mr. Eno, the City of Auburn Hills will be remembered as one of the innovators.