How far do the road signs mark the distance anyway? – Longmont Times-Call

Dear readers: Johnnie took a few days off last week. Here’s a column from July 2012 for anyone looking to fill up their gas tank for a road trip this summer. Watch for a new Q&A next Monday.

Dear Johnnie: A few questions I’ve wondered about on road trips — Question 1: You are passing a road sign showing the mileage to the next town or town. Does the sign show the distance to the nearest city limits, or to the “center” of the city, or to what other point in the city? Question 2: You are passing a road sign indicating the elevation of a town or city. Where in the city is this altitude measured? – Road warrior

Dear Road Warrior: I posed these questions to the Colorado Department of Transportation and spokeswoman Stacey Stegman responded.

“The signs you are referring to are called city control signs or ‘distance signs,’ she answered regarding question 1. “The CDOT determines reference points and distances from/to towns indicated on the signs. Distance points refer to the city or downtown, which is usually the downtown post office, and are based on the usual route to get to that point if that highway didn’t go directly to the downtown.

It made sense to me, but just to be sure, I thought I’d test it out by taking a Saturday afternoon drive around the area. I found the following:

The “Erie 2” sign on Interstate 25 southbound near exit 232. Two miles past this sign, I found myself not far from the exit at the “Welcome to Erie” sign. A second sign indicates that it is still 3.5 miles from downtown.

The “Lyons 1” sign on Colorado Highway 66 heading west toward the city. A mile after that sign I was at the east end of downtown.

The “Longmont 7” sign on Colo Highway 66 eastbound just outside Lyons. When my odometer reached mile 7, I was on Highway 66 between Spencer and Francis streets. When I got to Main Street I was exactly 8 miles past the sign. So I walked across town to the Coffman Street post office. The distance from the “Longmont 7” sign: 11 miles exactly.

Zero for three. (The distance to Lyon brought me to the outskirts of the city center, but not to the post office or the exact center of the city.)

But what Stegman said matches the Uniform Traffic Control Devices Handbook’s guideline for such signs: “The distance displayed should be selected on a case-by-case basis by the jurisdiction owning the road or by policy at the statewide. A well-defined central area or central business district should be used where one exists. In other cases, the layout of the community should be considered relative to the signaled highway and the decision based on where it appears most drivers would feel central to the community in question.

“Distances are reassessed when we sign replacement projects,” Stegman wrote, “so there are times when the distance ‘changes’ when a highway changes, such as a realignment.”

As for the elevation markers, “we install them, but we get this information from the city itself. They use their own references for their elevation, usually City Hall.

In Longmont’s case, a brass marker on a step on the north side of the city’s Development Services Center, 385 Kimbark St., formerly City Hall, denotes the city’s official elevation of 4,979 feet.

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