Archive for February, 2013

Santa Barbara Streets

February 22, 2013

Santa Barbara St.
The city of Santa Barbara uses a rather distinctive font for its street signs. Every now and then I think about this and decide I should find out about it, but then I get lazy and forget to do anything.

But a week or two ago I actually got around to looking it up on the web. I found a discussion on the topic. But I came away with little information. Someone actually asked the city what the font was, and was told “Mission”, but unfortunately it does not match any publicly available font of that name.


When I was coming home from a run I passed the intersection of  Carrizoand Canon and I thought ‘Well, there’s a “Z” and an “Ñ”. And round the corner San Roquehas a “Q”. Why not make my own version?

So once I was home I went to google maps and looked in my neighborhood. I plotted a route. My street, Leslie, has no rare letters, so I didn’t bother with its sign. But Baldwin has a “B” and a “W”. Tallant is dull but I might as well use it, and Clinton is duller. San Onfre gives me an “F”. Hmm. “G”s aren’t common here so Alegria looks useful. Samarkand provides a “K”, and Wyola has a “Y”. Hermosa has an “H” (I’d have thought “H” would be common, but apparently not.) Then I cross State and get  Carrizo, Cañon and San Roque.

And then I take stock. I’ve got everything except “J”, “U”, “V” and “X”. Well if I take a slightly different route coming home there’s De La Vina and Junipero. But I can’t think of a street with an “X” in it.

I go out to the car for an old Thomas Brothers map and look in the street index. There’s an “X” street (nothing else, just X) out in Lompoc, but I’m not driving out there just to find a street sign. They probably use a different font anyway. Then I find there’s an online street index which I can search. And there’s a Foxen Rd not far from Carrizo.

Off I go.

I start processing my images, getting them all to a consistent size, and I realize that I forgot about street numbers. I page through my images and I find all digits except “6”, “7”, and “9”. Ump. another trip. Some street numbers have a “N/S/E/W” after them, but it just looks like the normal letters at 1/3 size.

The digits are very dull — just a conventional san-serif digit set. They don’t really match.

Are there any other accented letters in town? I don’t recall any. I’m alert now as I ride around, but I don’t see any others. Spanish can use an acute accent on any vowel and an umlaut on u. So where are they on our streets? I find another Ñ (Niños, down by the zoo), but that seems to be it.

Then there are the letters in “RD”, “DR”, “ST”, etc. The letters in these are exactly 1/3 the size of the letters in the main part of the sign. The digits for street numbers seem to match this size too. And there’s a rather odd sign for De La Vina St where some of the letters are 2/3s size. Hmm. There’s a sign for State St. where all the letters except the initial are also 2/3s. Sounds like a case of small caps.

In the Santa Barbara St sign at the top of the page I see that the letters aren’t aligned on the same baseline, they bounce around a bit. Never noticed that before. I wonder if that’s sloppiness or intentional? Hmm. The other signs all seem properly aligned, so that one is just sloppy. Then the “L” in the Tallant sign is different from the “L” in Baldwin (the base horizontal stems are of different lengths). It does appear that some of the signs use a more condensed variant of the font than others.

I have become attentive to street signs now. Mostly the use of this font stops at the city limits, but not always. On Coast Village Rd in Montecito many (but not all) of the signs use the font, and the same is true for Coronado Dr in Ellwood and Puente Dr just beyond the edge of town. And one intersection near the top of Painted Cave. And the MTD uses the font on some of their bus stands. The MTD includes a period at the end of “St.” whereas the City does not. So now I have a period — but like the digits it is very dull and doesn’t really match the rest of the font.

Oh dear. At the Coast Village roundabout there are actually two variants of the font in use.
Coast Village Comparison
I’ve scaled the two signs so that the text “Coast Village” is the same width in each, but the cap-height for letters in the bottom sign is 89% of the cap-height of the top sign. There are other differences too, the “C”, “A” and “G” are more erect below, the top stem of the “T” slants differently, etc. The bottom sign appears embossed, while the top is just painted.

Well I shall ignore the inconsistencies, and just pick some letters and get to work.

It didn’t take long to digitize my 26 (27 with “Ñ”) letters and 10 digits and period. Unfortunately the different signs seemed not use the same “point-size” of the font — so even after I’d made all the signs the same size internally I still had to adjust the letters. And then the “Q” in San Roque was much blacker than the “O” on San Onfre (or any other letter). Arg. So ignoring inconsistencies isn’t a completely valid option; I futzed with them to enforce consistency.

Then I decided I wanted to add a matching lower case alphabet. This is just fun. You look at the upper case and see how they make the shapes and then try to reproduce that in the lower case. And those digits are just too dull. I’m going to have to redo them. This proves harder than the lower case alphabet. I assume that since the digit shapes evolved independently of the alphabet shapes it’s more difficult to figure out how to make them consistent.

OK, now to fill in a few standard non-alphabetics. Oh, and space. And then… Hunh. Well, I guess I’m done for now.

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