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7th February 2011 | Draft

Being in the Flow on Strategic Highways and Byways

Enabling sustainable self-governance through traffic signage

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Introduction
Signage for sustainable self-organization?
Insights into "flood navigation" from road signs?
Danger warning signs for traffic
Traffic priority signs
Prohibitory or restrictive traffic signs
Mandatory traffic signs
Special traffic regulation signs
Information signs for traffic
Direction signs for traffic
Hazardous condition of drivers
References

Annex to Disastrous Floods as Indicators of Systemic Risk Neglect


Introduction

The main paper explores the systemic imbalances described metaphorically in terms of "floods" and "flooding". The suggestion made there was that "flood control" could be usefully explored in the light of the degree of self-governance and self-organization associated with road traffic.

Rather than consider metaphors based on the control of flooding by water -- even though this requires very concrete measures -- of potentially greater relevance is the understanding to be derived from the control of a "flood" of traffic. This involves forms of "governance" with which many are personally extremely familiar on a daily basis. It also implies a higher degree of self-organization and self-governance. The degree of personal resonsibility and engagement in the face of risk "on the ground" is strikingly contrasted with that articulated through abstract representation in complex systems diagrams.

As discussed separately (System Dynamics, Hypercycles and Psychosocial Self-organization, 2010), the more complex the map of a system, the less likely it is to be widely comprehended and used, and the greater the potential for unremarked errors. This is relevant to mapping the current strategic issues in Afghanistan (Dion Nissenbaum, Graphic Shows Complexity of US Counterinsurgency in Afghanistan, The Huffington Post, 22 December 2009; Dion Nissenbaum, The Great Afghan Spaghetti Monster, Checkpoint Kabul, 20 December 2009).

It is understandable that people find it difficult to identify with the dynamics indicated by such systemic representations. These can be usefully recognized as offering a "false" sense of perspective dissociated from that which people require to navigate within a flood of traffic.

Signage for sustainable self-organization?

Road and traffic signs are widely accepted as a necessary and valuable indication of risk, whether or not neglect of their information is subject to legal penalties. The emergence and standardization of such signs has been a response to the increasing "flood" of traffic and to the need for a succinct (often pictorial) indication of risk. Curiously there is as yet little acceptance of the need for equivalent indication for many other forms kinds of risk.

Sets of road signs can therefore be creatively "mined" for indications as to the kinds of comprehensible signs that might be of value with respect to various other classes of risk. Such "mining" -- effectively a form of "research" -- follows from the argument of Susantha Goonatilake (Toward a Global Science: mining civilizational knowledge, 1999).

Whilst suggesting systemic parallels in navigating risky flow situations --"floods" -- this Annex raises the questions:

Given the number of road traffic signs people are called upon to recognize within the flow of traffic, how many "signs" might be required to enable navigation of the dynamics of other systems and their associated forms of flood?

A variant of this question is a feature of the theory of signage systems, namely the design of a comprehensive set of signs for a facility or for an environment. This is illustrated by the study of Ravi Poovaiah (Graphic Symbols for Environmental Signage: a Design Perspective, 1995) who argues:

'Symbols' conceived in the context of environmental directional signage, and one that is specifically intended as a public service facility, is being seen here as having the potentials for constructing an effective graphical interface between the user and the intended facility; the objective is to facilitate the activities of locating, identifying, informing and directing the user through the various gamut of activities of a given service facility.

Such a perspective raises the question as to how it might be applied more generally to elicit the signs and symbols of requisite scope for sustainable governance of the global environment -- as a "public service facility". Appropriately an international review of this approach uses a descriptor of strategic significance (Philipp Meuser and Daniela Pogade, Wayfinding and Signage: Construction and Design Manual, 2010).

Framed in terms of a "theory of signs", a recent study by Priscila Farias and João Queiroz (A diagrammatic approach to Peirce's classifications of signs, S.E.E.D. Journal (Semiotics, Evolution, Energy, and Development), 2007) reviews the trichotomies of signs of Charles Peirce. As with other approaches, such as that of Charles Morris (Writings on the General Theory of Signs, 1971), the concern with respect to the above argument is the extent to which (from a theoretical perspective) it is able to take account of the vital experience of "being in the flow" -- even though traffic signs may be cited as examples.

With respect to strategic relevance, the question for any "theory of signage" is the extent to which the full set of processes in decision-making "in the flow" is appropriately elicited through that theory. Whilst the set of symbols may be coherent as a set from a graphic design perspective, the question is how that set reflects the systemic options necessary to appropriate management of risk whilst "in the flow". This calls for a degree of recognition of strategic design, notably in relation to the work of Christopher Alexander on pattern language and the nature of order, as separately discussed (Designing Global Self-governance for the Future, 2010).

Also of interest with respect to the comprehensibility and coherence of any set of symbols for those "in the flow" in the present is the possible relevance of traditional preoccupation with sets of symbols and their integrated relationship. This has been explicated as a "postmodern theory for a pre-modern practice" by Patrick Dunn (Magic, Power, Language, Symbol: a magician's exploration of linguistics, 2008). Dunn focuses on the web of symbols and language with which magical operations are associated, examining the role that semiotics and linguistics play in that process. Of relevance to strategic governance, this web calls for new insights into the theoretical realm of the sign, the signified, and the changeable perceptions of a slippery reality with which all have to deal on a daily basis.

Insights into "flood navigation" from road signs?

The emphasis on flow, and "being in the flow", recalls the arguments on learnings to be derived from water (Enabling Governance through the Dynamics of Nature: exemplified by cognitive implication of vortices and helicoidal flow, 2010). This certainly holds the "freedom" which people value in being empowered to explore highway and freeways. Does framing the collective challenge in this individualistic way offer a vital key in the elusive quest for sustainable governance?

An extensive summary of road traffic signs, variously clustered, is provided in Wikipedia entries. In the entry on traffic signs, Wikipedia notes that Annexe 1 of the Vienna Convention on Road Signs and Signals (1968) defines eight categories of signs:

A comparison of European traffic signs is also provided. In the case of Australia (the primary example of the main paper), the road signs also typically include warnings regarding the current level of fire danger or the potential dangers in the event of flooding. Other road signs are listed in the following:

tests ***

As an exercise, the commentary below endeavours to highlight the systemic relevance of the traffic signs with respect to the "self-governance" of:

The exercise raises the question as to the number and nature of signs required to enable sustainable flow through a degree of self-governance on the strategic highways and byways. Does any theory of signage or symbols focus reflection on this systemic issue of what amounts to "participatory flow management"?

The question can also be framed in relation to classic sets of injunctions: "do's and don'ts", taboos, or commandments. It is somewhat ironic that, in defining eight categories of traffic signs, the Vienna Convention on Road Signs and Signals (1968) is effectively defining an "eightfold way". The limitation on the number of categories distinguished within such sets is intimately related to issues of memorability entangled with what can be meaningfully distinguished (Representation, Comprehension and Communication of Sets: the role of number, 1978; Examples of Integrated, Multi-set Concept Schemes, 1984).

In contrast with efforts at textual articulation of indicators for systemic governance, whether classical injunctions or contemporary regulations, the effort to embody these indications into signage -- a system of signage -- is especially intriguing in illustrating the vital role that succinct graphic symbols appear to play. As a system of signs, it also recalls the importance traditionally attached to the "esoteric" implications of such comprehensive systems -- as mentioned above with respect to the explorations of Patrick Dunn (2008).

It is of course the case that sets of signs are used in defining systems and the flows in them, as in the case of:

As noted above, the focus here on traffic signs recognizes the need to reflect the perspective of those navigating "in the flow" in contrast with that of those external to the flow. It is of course this contrast which holds the essential dilemma of governance (much challenged by "flooding" beyond its competence or expectations) and individual freedom (obliged to navigate flows in the moment, however unpredictable and poorly signed).

Danger warning signs for traffic

A traffic warning sign is a sign indicating a hazard ahead on the road that may not be readily apparent to a driver.

These include:

Warning signs for traffic
Divided road ahead Pass either side

***

Advisory signs
curve left Dangerous curves and winding road
intersections
   
***
Traffic hazard signs
   
   

Traffic priority signs

Priority traffic signs indicate the order in which vehicles should pass intersection points

Prohibitory or restrictive traffic signs

Prohibitory signs are used to prohibit certain types of manoeuvres or some types of traffic. They include restrictions: on entry (No entry), on speed (Speed limits), on parking (No parking), on overtaking (No overtaking), on turning (No right, left, or U-turn), on direction (Wrong way).

Speed restrictions
   

***

Regulatory signs: traffic flow
   

Mandatory traffic signs

Mandatory signs set the obligations of all traffic which use a specific area of road -- indicating what it must do, rather than must not do (as in the case of prohibitory or restrictive signs).

Special traffic regulation signs

Special regulation signs are used to indicate a regulation or danger warning applying to one or more traffic lanes, indicate to lanes reserved for buses, indicate the beginning or end of a built-up area or signs having zonal validity. They include one-way traffic indications and the start or end of a pedestrian zone

Information signs for traffic

Information, facilities, or service signs

Direction signs for traffic

Direction, position, or indication signs

Hazardous condition of drivers

There is a considerable body of experience regarding the engagement with risk of drivers of vehicles on roads, notably including that of Tasmania (Road Risk Reduction, 2009). This focuses on:

Studies (and remedial campaigns) have notably focused on the appreciation or denial of risk by drivers, typically through misplaced overconfidence. These issues come to a focus in the heightened risk associated with the enthusiasm for speeding. There is a natural thrill in taking risks in many driving situations -- typically associated with a degree of denial regarding the level of risk. It is in this sense that the engagement with risk may be described as "psychoactive".

The situation is relatively clear in the case of road traffic, despite such patterns of denial. It is far less clear in many of the other forms of "flooding" described above. Clearly risks are taken in those situation -- exemplified by the high risks taken in the financial speculation leading to the recent global financial crisis.

Hazardous condition of drivers
   

References

Christopher Alexander:

Patrick Dunn. Magic, Power, Language, Symbol: a magician's exploration of linguistics. Llewellyn Publications, 2008

Priscila Farias and João Queiroz. A diagrammatic approach to Peirce's classifications of signs. SEED, 2007 (1), pp. 1-18 [text]

Philipp Meuser and Daniela Pogade. Wayfinding and Signage: Construction and Design Manual. DOM Publishers, 2010

Charles Morris. Writings on the General Theory of Signs. Mouton, 1971

John W. Oller Jr. Empirical Predictions From a General Theory of Signs. Discourse Processes, Volume 40, Issue 2 September 2005, pp. 115-144

Ralf Müller. On the principles of construction and the order of Peirce's trichotomies of signs. Transactions of Charles S. Peirce Society, 30, 1993, 1, pp. 135-153.

Gary Sanders. Peirce sixty-six signs? Transactions of Charles Sanders Peirce Society 6, 1970, 1, pp. 3-16

Paul Weiss and Arthur Burks. Peirce's sixty-six signs. Journal of Philosophy 43, 1945, pp. 383-388.

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