PNGie-Wingie

Since the Manual of Traffic Signs site was inaugurated as the first major website devoted to US road and highway signing back in 1996, I’ve used .gif format files for many of the sign images, as that format renders simple color images very well and offers high compression with zero loss.

However, as time has wandered onward, the .gif file format has become somewhat of a niche item, now used mostly for self-playing animations. All browsers still support rendering of .gifs, but some websites (I’m looking at you, Facebook) assume that all .gif files are movie files and can’t handle simple viewing and uploading without screwups.

But what finally moved me to belated action is my current work on D series guide signs (note: don’t bother looking – nothing new is posted yet for Ds – coming soon in due time). When I’ve been creating the large bitmap graphics for the D1s, I just can’t get smaller white on green text to look right in a 256-color palette, but it looks fine when exported as a 32-bit .png file.

But my OCD won’t allow me to have just the D series sign bitmaps in .png format and all the rest in .gif. Nope, just won’t do.

So, thanks to the twin miracles of batch conversion in Graphic Converter and fast find/replace in the HTML files, I’ve updated all the recently-revised sign pages to now use .png files for the big bitmaps. This shouldn’t affect the viewing experience, except that some browsers may render the 32-bit files with less jaggieness (yay).

But… I’m still keeping all the small sign thumbnail images (50 x 50, 100 x 100) in .gif format. Because quite a few of those are indeed animated, and I don’t want to ruin the fun.

Hoping for no bugs, and enjoy the new graphics.

Warning Signs Are Complete! And TTC Too!!

Another major achievement to announce.

The entire section on warning signs is finally complete and revamped, from the W1-1 to the W25-2. Several months of work have resulted in greatly-improved webpages, fully updated to 2009 MUTCD compliance and including user-editable PDFs for signs with user-adjustable legends. And don’t forget the “Create Your Own Warning Sign” section, too – now with four different background colors to choose from!

And since the warning sign section is now complete, I realized that if I quickly knocked out the G20 series and a few E5 signs that I could also complete the Temporary Traffic Control Signs section as well. So I did!

Much is going on around here, including a little bit of paying work, so I may be taking a break from the Manual for a bit. Once I get back to it, I’ll probably start in on school signs and emergency/incident signs, plus update some of the other information pages. Then comes the big unfinished sections on guide signs – first the Ds, then the Es, then the recreational/cultural signs.

Lots of work still left to do. We’ll see how much of it gets done before the draft of the next MUTCD comes out!

Orange you glad that the W20s & W21s are done?

I’ve been busy the last few days…

Earlier this evening, I uploaded the revised W20 & W21 series signs for work zones. And like other sections of the Manual, the PDF files incorporating distances or other varying legend are set to be user-editable (In Acrobat or Acrobat Reader).

This means I’m nearly finished with the entire section on warning signs – in fact, I think I can see the (rotating, flashing, oscillating or strobe) light at the end of the section. 🙂

The Grumbles of the W11s

I’m currently plowing through the revamp of the W11 series signs for advance warning of persons / animals / things / etc. Most of these signs use symbols to depict the object that a road user should try not to hit. As part of this revamp, I’m re-creating all the symbols from scratch, as I’ve discovered the symbols used in earlier editions of this Manual aren’t as exactly conforming to the FHWA standard symbols as I would want.

Some of the symbols, like the pedestrian and bicycle, are relatively simple. And then you get the more challenging ones, like the golf cart or horse-drawn vehicle. But I thought the old-fashioned Hoyt-Clagwell tractor on the W11-5 was going to be the toughest one to trace.

Until I met… The Moose.

The W11-21 is ridiculously complex. Goofy antlers with shadows, funny hooves, and the droopy dewlap. Plus an evil eye. Here’s a close-up of one of the antlers:

Not the simplest symbol to work on…

So, it’s going a bit slowly, but the resulting W11 signs should be excellent. If I don’t go nuts first.

(no, I don’t think there’s a W11 sign for that…)

Friday Night Sign Dump

It’s been a reasonably productive week. First, the W10 series of railroad and light rail signs is complete, so we’re over halfway done with the warning sign section.

But then I realized: with the W10s done, all I’d need to do is update a few I series signs, and I could complete the Railroad and Light Rail Signs section (the R15s were done late last year).

So I started working on the I-7, I-12, and I-13. But I didn’t want to leave the section only halfway done, so I finished up all the I series information signs.

And then I updated the Guide and Information Signs navigation page too, even though any meaningful work on the D, E, and Recreational/Cultural Signs is still lurking in the future.

So, here’s what’s new as of very late on the Ides of March:

As always, PDF files for signs with varying legends (I1-1 signal speed sign, I-2 & I-3 boundary and geographic feature signs, W10-11 series crossing storage signs, etc.) have user-editable text for convenience. And the I-2 & I-3 signs come in two different sizes!

Enjoy the updates. 🙂

Fun With Symbols

Creating all-new sign images for the new edition of the Manual of Traffic Signs has been an interesting experience. While many of the signs have retained the same layout and dimensions for decades, other signs have changed subtly or significantly in terms of dimensions, symbology, or other factors.

I’m working on the W8 series of signs, and I get to the W8-5 burnout Slippery When Wet sign. As I do for almost all signs, I look in both the 2004 FHWA Standard Highway Signs book and the 2012 Supplement, and see that the W8-5 was revised in the 2012 supplement. No problem. I open the 2012 layout, and see that there’s a revised symbol – the car is wider, the driver is wearing a seat belt, and the driver’s head is no longer a generic oval.

The page says, “See page 6-23 for symbol design”. But there’s no page 6-23 in the 2012 Supplement. So I go to page 6-23 in the 2004 Standard Highway Signs book, and I behold a slippery when wet symbol – but it’s the old one, not the new one.

I think to myself, “Will anyone notice if I follow the instructions to the letter and use the 6-23 symbol?” But then I think, “Nope, then the sign doesn’t match what’s clearly shown on the 2012 SHS Supplement page. Dang.”

So, how different are they? Take a look:

(red is the pre-2012 design, green is the current design)

Yep, that’s quite a difference.

Readers may not realize this, but every single symbol you see in my Manual of Traffic Signs website is an original vector graphic created by me on the computer based on official source material, almost always the Standard Highway Signs book. I don’t use scans or rasters in my source drawings – everything’s drawn as vectors and curves as exactly as my software will allow, and by me personally – I don’t use or purchase symbol libraries created by others, as I’ve found they can vary quite a bit from official layouts.

So now what? I need the layout details for this symbol, but the FHWA documentation doesn’t contain it, other than the symbol on the 2012 version of the W8-5 sign.

OK, if that’s what I’ve got, then that’s what I’ve got.

I made a high-resolution screen capture of the 2012 W8-5 sign, cleaned it up a bit in Graphic Converter, and then used the “trace” tool in my trusty ol’ Macromedia Freehand 7 software to trace the symbol into a vector graphic.

But even though the Freehand trace tool is rather talented (especially for a 25-year-old hunk o’ software), the results are never quite as exact as I prefer. So I zoom wayyy in and adjust the curve and line points to match the symbol as close as the resolution will allow. It’s not always easy, but I want to provide users with the best graphics I can practically provide.

I wrangled the graphic into acceptably good shape, imported it onto a standard sign blank, scaled it to the dimensions in the drawing, and then created all reasonably expected color variations (in this case, just yellow and orange). I then scaled these onto standard letter-size pages and generated .gif and PDF versions. And I’ll have to say I’m reasonably satisfied with the results.

But realizing that users might want the details for the graphic for their own use, I also created a “grid” drawing of it in a manner similar to the symbols in FHWA’s Standard Highway Signs book. I generated it as a PDF and appended it to the SHS PDF file for the W8-5 on the site. It may not be “officially blessed” by FHWA, but it can serve as a “stopgap” reference until FHWA publishes the “official” version (no, I don’t know when that might be either.) 🙂

There are a lot of W8s (31 in total, including plaques), so I’m hoping to have them done and posted by next week, as other activities (leading weekend rides for the bike club, rockets and other fun with the family, next week’s ITE/IMSA conference, etc.) will also occupy my time.

Thanks for reading, and I thought you all might be interested in the little “behind the scenes” glimpse into some of the challenges of creating and updating this website.

Marker Signs – Done!

And even though I publicized it elsewhere, I forgot to note it here:

The entire section on route marker signs is now 100% complete! With user-editable PDF files (when opened in Acrobat Reader/Acrobat)!

Warning! Progress Ahead!

As of today, the Warning Sign section is complete through the W7 (Hill) series of signs. While we’re not quite “over the hill”, substantial progress is being made. Unless there are other time-stealing complications, expect 1 to 2 Warning sections to be updated each week.

Enjoy the improved sections, and don’t forget that signs with messages that might be user-specified (percent grade, distance) have PDF files that allow users to edit those signs to say exactly what they need (when opened in Acrobat Reader or Acrobat).

Feel free to leave a comment if you have any feedback or suggestions.