April 2015, South Boston

street signs

intersection, south boston  (sonya kovacic)

intersection, south boston (sonya kovacic)

Have you ever wondered why street signs are green? I called the Massachusetts Department of Transportation (DOT) to find out. Green has been the standard color for directional signs since the mid 1960's. Although federal standards allow for other colors for street signs, like blue and brown, it has been Mass DOT's policy to use green because it is the best color for uniformity among directional signs.

The naming of signs though is determined by the local municipality, and Boston has had a frustrating history. Here is a March 29, 1890 Boston Evening Transcript article  by Thomas Addison writing that, "Boston, no doubt, distances her sister cities in many departments of intellectual effort, but there is one in which she is signally deficient- the science of street nomenclature. Indeed, she is so far behind other great cities of the world in this respect that one is at a loss to account for it."

He goes on to write, "that, of the (in round numbers) 2600 streets comprised within the limits of Boston, some 455 streets, or nearly a tenth of the entire number, are duplicates in name of a large percentage of the remaining 2145 streets. To be more explicit there are 325 streets in the city that are multiplied in name from one to six times...in Boston there are twice as many genuine duplicates of street names as can be found put together in the four great representative cities of London, Paris, New York, and Chicago, with fifteen times the number of streets contained in Boston!"

Who did it effect the most? The Post Office. "The Post office authorities, in particular are loud and bitter in complaint against the ridiculous confusion of street names, and have been forced to compile a directory, or "Scheme of Separation," as it is entitled for the assistance of the perplexed "sorters."


Think you know what the most popular street name in Massachusetts is? Go here to find out.

Boston.gov has a street book where you can search through a list of Boston's streets, avenues, courts, and other public locations.