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Deciphering the Special Language of Caltrans

May 12, 1994|JEFF MEYERS

For motorists, highway confusion begins at the county line. Crossing over Bates Road, they drive into Ventura County around a downhill curve, the ocean raging beneath the rock seawall. For the next two miles, drivers glimpse strange arrangements of large block letters painted alongside the coastline-hugging concrete barrier. You read as best you can at 65 m.p.h.

G

N

I

K

R

A

P

O

N

Gnikrap on. Official-looking type between parallel white lines, the lettering is apparently meant as some kind of advisory. You search your dashboard for a switch to turn on your gnikrap and can't find one. Then your car flashes past another row of letters. Reading from bottom to top this time, you're able to interpret gnikrap as "no parking" spelled backward.

But numerous cars park next to the barrier. Could it be that parking is forbidden inside the parallel white lines and allowed on the rest of the shoulder? What is the meaning of the five-foot-wide lane between the no-parking zone and the freeway? Can anybody decipher this without an instruction manual?

"I've never seen upside-down words like that before," Hank Alviani of La Conchita said. "That's a very peculiar way of putting 'no parking' in there."

Designed to keep parked vehicles from endangering cyclists, the signs also seem to deter motorists who incorrectly assume the entire shoulder is off-limits. The signs were installed by Caltrans at the suggestion of Pat Larson, president of the Ventura-Oxnard Cycling Club, and representatives of the Surfrider Foundation. But Larson won't take the blame for the confusion.

"I told them to make it linear, but they spelled it backward and it looks stupid," he said.

Caltrans can't understand why anybody would be confused. "I think the markings are correct," said Bill Weldele, district chief of a Caltrans' traffic design branch. "They adhere to the vehicle code for pavement markings. Anybody who reads from the top down is reading backward."

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