The Key West Mystique

Key West Island News


Key West Island News connects Key West residents and friends of the island, fosters our One Human Family culture and advances understanding of shared goals for our island community

Don't do stupid

Key West signs | Let’s get rid of them all

By Linda Grist Cunningham, editor and proprietor

Linda Grist Cunningham is editor and proprietor of Key West Island News and KeyWestWatch Media LLC. She and her husband, a park ranger at Fort Zach, live in Key West with their Cat 5s.


Me: Lady Bird Johnson‘s dead, right?

You if you’re not my age: Who?

You if you are my age: Yeah. Long time ago. Like maybe 1994? (It was 2007, but, you know, memory has sink holes.) Why?

Me: I wanted to invite her to Key West.

On Oct. 22, 1965, Lady Bird’s presidential husband, Lyndon, signed the Highway Beautification Act, which for a few brief moments — until lobbyists for the Outdoor Advertising Association of America and Congressional allies took exception — did a great job of getting Americans to pay attention to the explosion of billboards, junkyards and assorted messes that lined the nation’s roads. An early adopter of environmental protection projects, Lady Bird was the force behind the legislation.

So, I figured, invite the former First Lady to the island and up the Keys. What with the tripod of government signs (state, federal, local) and the proliferation of commercial and private signs, our Key West signs have run amok.

We wonder why no one “obeys” the signs? Crikey, folks, no one reads them. There are so many signs — and signs announcing signs — that our brains tune ’em out. And we live here; no visitor brain on vacation can process that many signs, so they don’t.

Next time someone shouts at me out their car window something along the lines of “can’t you read,” I’m gonna shout back: I can; I don’t. Too many signs.

Mallory Square Key West Signs
Signs, signs, everywhere signs. And, Mallory Square isn’t even among the worst for Key West sign pollution.

I counted the signs

Tuesday I took Cat 1 to Stock Island for a vet visit. And, because the sign pollution along the boulevard makes me crazy, I counted. There are 146 government road signs coming into Key West from McDonald Avenue to the intersection of Eisenhower and Truman. That’s one traffic sign every 126 feet. Give or take a few.

That means processing a sign every three seconds while pretty much ignoring traffic, bicyclists, pedestrians, stop lights and the cat protesting in the back seat. Heaven help you when you have to read ganged up signs; you’ll miss the sign saying “no turn.”

The 146 do not include stop lights, painted pavement instructions or the ones I missed because trees and bushes hide them. It does not include private or commercial signs.

It feels like about 25 percent of the signs reassure me bikes can use the full lane or that the promenade is a bike path. Another 10 percent are signs alerting me to signs. I.e., pedestrian crossing ahead. There are red signs and white signs and blue signs and green signs and brown signs and yellow signs. The colors mean things; look it up if you’re taking the state driving test anytime soon.

Lawsuits, bureaucrats and one-uppers created this sign swamp. Heck, we can’t even say “sign” anymore; it has to be “signage,” as though a four-letter word isn’t big enough.

How come all these Key West signs?

Lawsuits because someone sued somewhere because they did something and now we need a sign to tell them to do something or not do something.

Bureaucrats because if we have a sign, we need rules. And, we needs signs to tell folks to read all the signs, how to register a complaint and under what governmental authority said sign exists. By the time all that gets on the sign for the sign, the print is small and we need two signs.

And, then there are the one-uppers. My sign is bigger than your sign. My sign is curbside. My sign has lights. My sign soars over the sidewalk. There are rules (see bureaucrats and lawsuits above) about what private and commercial signs are allowed in Key West and up the Keys. If anyone still actually pays attention, I’ll eat my hat. (I won’t eat my hat; that’s a cliche, so don’t ask for fulfillment.)

Signs copulate in the dark. Like coat hangers and those twisty tie things off bread wraps. They don’t die either. Doubt me? Take a look at store fronts and the bulletin board at work. There’s not a darn thing to be done; hence my Lady Bird thing.

Maybe we ought abandon all signs except this one: Don’t do stupid.

But then we’d need implementation rules and exceptions and another sign to say we didn’t mean to be insensitive if we offended you. Oh heck. Let’s just go to Fantasy Fest tonight. They’ve got lots of signs with lots of rules in small print. And, yeah, no one’s reading them either.


  1. Fred & Judy Bowen

    But bureaucrats would need to add a huge sign to tell folks what is or isn’t stupid according to fed, state or local definitions with endless discussion on what qualifies for the sign, which is impossible to read as you’re driving by. Yep, no solution there either.

    • Linda Grist Cunningham

      LOL. So true!

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