Classic Brookline Street Signs
Warrant Article 17
Fall Town Meeting, 2005

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To see if Town Meeting will add to the General By-Laws of the Town of Brookline Article 7.12 Street Signs.

Article 7.12 Street Signs

The Town will maintain in place the cast aluminum signs designating the names of streets. Where these signs have been replaced by other signs designating street names, the Town will restore the original cast aluminum sign, if it still exists, or seek to replicate it with a new cast metal sign.

If state or federal law requires a different kind of street sign, the Town will seek a waiver of the requirements so that the cast metal sign can remain.

or act on anything relative thereto.


Prior to 1937, Brookline’s street signs were made of wood. In the spring of that year, cast aluminum signs were introduced to replace the wooden ones. It was felt that these signs would last longer. They have, until the DPW started replacing them several years ago. They are slowly disappearing. In this year of the town’s tricentennial, it would be nice to save something that contributes to the historical character of the town. It would also save time, labour, and money by not replacing signs that do not need to be replaced.


Article 17 is a petitioned article that would amend Town By-Laws to mandate that the Town retain the cast aluminum signs designating the names of streets. It would require the Town to restore or replicate the original cast aluminum signs in locations where they have been replaced, and mandate that the Town seek any necessary waivers of state or federal law in order to retain the cast metal signs.

It is important to mention that new federal guidelines contained in the 2003 Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD) stipulate that by 2012 all street signs will be required to have six-inch letters, be retro-reflective, and on breakaway poles. The Board agrees with the petitioner that the cast aluminum street signs located throughout the Town have a certain historic character that is not present in the new sign design outlined in the MUTCD. However, the Commissioner of Public Works has received confirmation from federal highway officials that eventually all street signs in Brookline will need to conform to this new standard. In addition, the Massachusetts Highway Department has indicated that the new sign standard will be applied on any streets involved in their projects (which includes the Beacon Street reconstruction).

The Selectmen understand that there is a strong sentiment to see the old signs preserved around Town for their historical value. Therefore, we recommend that this matter be referred to a Selectmen’s Committee to study and recommend ways to preserve this piece of Brookline’s history.

The Board of Selectmen recommends FAVORABLE ACTION, by a vote of 5-0, taken on October 25, 2005, on the vote offered by the Advisory Committee.



Article 17 seeks to maintain the town’s traditional cast aluminum street signs, as well as replace those that have been removed.

Prior to 1937, Brookline’s street signs were wooden. The town opted to replace these less durable signs with cast aluminum signs made in the town’s own foundry (the signs now can be obtained from commercial vendors). There are approximately 4,500 of these signs today. They are a silver/gray painted background with raised 4″ letters (legend) and border painted in black. Brookline’s DPW, seeking to conform to the 2003 Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD), has been replacing the older cast aluminum signs with newer, and larger, flat panel aluminum signs. These signs are fabricated by the DPW and are a retro-reflective gray paint with 6″ black letters and border meant to mimic the older style sign.

Research on older drivers conducted in the 1980s and 1990s led to an increase in minimum letter height for all signs to meet the needs of drivers with diminished vision. The concern is that the 4″ legend height may not be adequate for a portion of the driving population; that drivers with diminished vision may not be able to read a sign soon enough, leading to unexpected or dangerous driver actions at intersections.


Brookline has long grown accustom to its distinctive street signs. Many find them charming historical elements. The Massachusetts Historical Commission (MHC) notes that these unique street signs contribute to the community’s historical and architectural significance. The MHC concurs that “… the signs are eligible for listing and would constitute contributing objects in Brookline’s National Historic Register Districts, which are listed in the National Register in 1985 as part of the Brookline Multiple Resource Area (MRA).”

Balancing these issues of historical aesthetics, is cost and safety. The 2003 MUTCD states “Lettering on ground-mounted street name signs should be at least 6 inch high in capital letters or 6 inch uppercase letters with 4.5 inch lowercase letters.”

The MUTCD also states “The street name sign shall be retro-reflective or illuminated to show the same shape and similar color both day and night. The legend and background shall be of contrasting colors.”

These two sections illustrate the “should”/”shall” dilemma. The use of “should” in the first instance (rather than shall) may be to accommodate a 4.5 inch option for local roads. None the less, MUTCD lists a compliance date for letter height of January 9, 2012. It is not clear whether this applies to all signs, or only new and replaced signs. Mass Highway requires 6″ letters for new or replaced signs.

The second instance makes use of the term “shall” – a more definitive requirement. Again, the compliance date for the use of retro-reflective paint is 2012.

There is room for interpretation as to the intent and requirements of the MUTCD, and the earliest compliance date is six years away.


To come to a satisfactory resolution, the Commissioner of the Department of Public Works has agreed to a temporary moratorium on changing any of the old signs unless the old signs are beyond repair. A Selectmen’s committee of five will be established to determine how the old signs will be used. No action regarding the signs will be taken by the Department of Public Works until the committee makes a recommendation. No action is required by Town Meeting to implement this plan.

The petitioner agrees this moratorium and the establishment of a Selectmen’s committee is satisfactory.

As such, the Advisory Committee unanimously (20-0) recommends FAVORABLE ACTION on the following vote.

VOTED: That the subject matter of Article 17 be referred to a Committee to be appointed by the Board of Selectmen.

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