Traffic Tuesdays: Brightening Calgarians days and hope to change drivers mindsets with clever messages

One of the safety messages read, "You're not a bee, don't drive buzzed". Photo from City of Calgary's website

Insert punny traffic safety message here.

Every Tuesday, the City of Calgary is displaying a new humorous or topical traffic safety message on select roadways.

The City is encouraging Calgarians to get involved with the project by submitting their punny traffic safety messages to be considered for the Electronic Message Boards (EMB) and Dynamic Message Signs (DMS) on major roadways throughout Calgary.

On May 4, a Star Wars-themed message kicked off the project, “baby Yoda uses the force but still needs the car seat”, was the first message featured on the 18 signs along busy traffic routes – such as Deerfoot, Stoney Trail and Downtown.

Without any marketing done for the program at the beginning, it gained attention on different social media platforms simply by word of mouth, including 800 people visiting the web page, Tara Norton-Merrin, spokesperson for the roads business unit with the City of Calgary, said.

Now, the City has posted on their social media accounts asking for Calgarians input, which has been well received, Norton-Merrin said.

The project is an effort to help reduce the number of fatalities on the roadways by making the messages more memorable and help drivers change their mindsets, which came from a traffic engineer attending a webinar about a similar successful program in Iowa.

The majority of EMB and DMS signs continue to highlight important information for drivers – traffic tie-ups, congestion and alternate routes when there are major delays or road closures.

The Program

The message boards only take about 30 seconds to program, which is done remotely from the traffic management centre – with no cost associated apart from the “little bit” of staff time it takes to come up with creative messages.

While the project is still in it’s pilot stages, the City may add more message boards in the future, Norton-Merrin said.

“We’re very focused on the traffic safety part of the messaging which is, which is obviously really important, but what we’ve found is that there are certain messages that resonate more with people than others,” she said.

Right now, the City is looking for Stampede-themed safety messages, as holiday and event-themed signs seem to be one of the most impactful ways to communicate with drivers – next to pop culture references and highlighting pet peeves.

“The intention behind the program is to hopefully put drivers in a better mood. We know that there have been studies that show people who are upset tend to drive more aggressively and they’ll cut people off, that sort of thing. [Or] speed,” Norton-Merrin said.

“If we can get people to have a little chuckle, or even think about the messaging after they’ve seen it, maybe they’ll just slow down a bit or kind of get out of that negative headspace and and have a have a better drive and a better day. But awareness is really our biggest goal and all of our messages do have traffic safety messaging attached.”

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