Logical, but not Intuitive

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Here’s a question for non-Ontarians… Imagine you are driving along the QEW (a major freeway that goes between Toronto and Buffalo) and you see the road sign in the photo above. Based on your immediate impression, tell me what you think it’s trying to tell you.

If you’re anything like me, you may have thought it was saying, “Trafalgar Road continues straight ahead and the QEW curves to the right". After all, the QEW is a major six-lane freeway, so intuitively you would think the larger bold arrows curving to the right must represent the QEW. Trafalgar is a much more minor road, represented intuitively by the smaller non-bold arrow continuing straight ahead. To reinforce this line of reasoning, the name of the street, Trafalgar Road, is on the left hand side next to the non-bold arrow. That would seem to be the intuitive interpretation based on the common conventions that most people understand… a word written on the left ought to be associated with the arrow on the left, and the more important or dominant feature should be represented in bold. And if you’re anything like me, you’d be wrong in almost every respect.

The sign is in fact saying that the street name, in this case Trafalgar Road, is represented by the bold arrows. This is despite the fact that the bold arrows curve to the right and the name of the road is located on the left. The QEW, which is the far more major road of the two, is represented by the single non-bold arrow and continues straight ahead. Now I suppose there must be some logic in that, but to my mind it is certainly not intuitive.

When we arrived in Ontario I noticed these signs and thought it must just be me, but after having driven all over eastern Canada and the United States, I have not seen the same “logic” applied anywhere else.

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