It’s a sign of the times that our state administration and the federal Highway Administration cannot reach a compromise on the nonconforming signs promoting New York tourism put up around the state over the past five years by Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s administration.
There are more than 500 of these I Love NY signs, which don’t serve a practical purpose for drivers but do promote the beauty and wonder and history and food and drink of our state. They include the I Love NY logo — with a heart — and the website address, iloveny.com.
The signs do not conform with federal guidelines spelled out in the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices, which attempts to enforce uniformity and coherence on traffic rules and signs nationwide. The I Love NY signs are larger and more colorful than they are supposed to be, which could make them distracting, federal officials say. Also, they do not include any navigational information.
The signs are purely promotional, and his Republican critics are correct that Cuomo should not have spent about $8 million putting them up. But they are up, and to take them down now, all at once, would be throwing good money after bad.
The “distraction” argument is overblown. No one has produced statistics that indicate the signs are distracting drivers and causing accidents. Drivers deal with many other issues far more distracting than these signs.
Taking down the signs would be expensive and would be a distraction in itself. Crews taking down signs would attract the attention of drivers, causing traffic slowdowns at the least.
It’s not as if the federal traffic guidelines are strictly enforced. You can find evidence of this right in Glens Falls, where neighborhood intersections are splattered with a bewildering array of nonconforming stop signs. But federal officials have ignored the city’s many misplaced stop signs.
The I Love NY dispute has become, unfortunately, a head-butting contest. Cuomo proceeded with the project even though he knew the feds objected. Five years later, the feds are insisting that the signs come down — now — or they will withhold $14 million in funding for highways.
Surely, a compromise can be reached — a fine, for example, along with a schedule for a gradual phase-out of the signs. The Cuomo administration should not be rewarded for flouting federal rules, but nor should a picky insistence on rules overwhelm common sense.
The signs aren’t hurting anyone. They’re too big, according to the federal category for that type of sign, but other highway signs are just as big and bigger. They include colors, but so do the rest stop signs that sport the logos of restaurants and gas stations. They include one simple website address that is easily remembered and unlikely to inspire anyone to seek out pencil and paper to write it down.
In this era of stubborn self-righteousness, we’d love to see state and federal officials set an example of common-sense compromise on the I Love NY signs. It can be done.