Photo: Flickr user AJP79

 While driving to New Jersey I decided to entertain my friends with some New York City trivia. When I informed them that the Outerbridge Crossing was named after a person, one friend was fairly certain that I had made up this interesting, but apparently false piece of trivia. Many streets, bridges, and highways in New York City are named after noted personalities or events. However, with the exception of places named after well-known historical figures, i.e. the George Washington Bridge or Fulton Street, only historians or those well-versed in  obscure  trivia are cognizant of the eponymous place names in New York City.

How could the city better convey New York’s rich history? Turns out, the city is in the  process  of redesigning its street signs to  facilitate  safer driving, as mandated by the Federal Highway Administration.  In 2003, the Federal Highway Administration updated its Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices prohibiting street signs from containing only  capital  letters and requiring that the signs be written in a new uniform typeface. According to the Federal Highway Administration, these changes will improve safety as drivers will be able to identify the words on street signs more quickly, allowing them to return their eyes to the road sooner.  Transportation departments across the country were given until 2018 to comply with the new requirements. New York City only began replacing its street signs last year and the New York City Department of Transportation does not plan on completing the change over until 2018. A new directive might provide the City with even more time to comply.

The current and new designs for New York City’s street signs:

(Source: New York Post)

The New York City Department of Transportation not only has an  opportunity to improve    upon the safety of current signs but also their overall design. Let’s take a look at how street signs are in Untapped sister city, Paris.  Unlike New York City street signs, many Parisian ones provide an insightful lens into the personalities that helped shaped the city or were honored by it.

The city could take a creative approach to a federal mandate, which could benefit all New Yorkers, especially history buffs. And in case you had your doubts, the Outerbridge Crossing was indeed named after a person. Eugenius Outerbridge was honored by having the crossing named after him for his work as the first chairman of the Port of New York Authority (which became the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey).


  1. Tracie Outterbridge says:

    I love my last name. Outerbridge was the original spelling but some how down the line it was changed. They say all Outterbridges are related. By blood of marriage. But I am def going to look up Eugenius Outerbridge . I have been trying to trace our history for years now.

    • benjamin waldman says:

      Good luck on your genealogical treasure hunt. I look forward to hearing if you are related to Eugenius Outerbridge, and can say for certain that a relative of yours has a bridge (crossing) named after them.

  2. David Abbey says:

    And it’s a good thing to call it a “crossing” otherwise we’d be using the Outerbridge Bridge to get to NJ from Staten Island.

  3. Gwan says:

    I live in France (not Paris) and while it’s often interesting to learn who’s who on the street signs, they do kind of drive me crazy because they’re so hard to read! I don’t even drive here and it annoys me (e.g. they’ll often only be on one side of an intersection so you have to cross to see here you are etc.), I imagine it must be a nightmare for drivers.

  4. […] article on what New York City could learn from Paris street signs reminded me of this sign I found in the 2nd Arrondisement on Rue Montmartre. It was almost van Gogh […]

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