Signs used to look different at night. Here's why.

Imagine it’s the 1990s. “Read my lips…” A new 1993 Ford Taurus wagon bounces along an off-ramp to your right. Overhead in the night sky, an illuminated roadway guidance sign.

Road signs used to have a funny look to them at night. These green-painted signs would look black, despite being lit from underneath. In the day, text would be shaped by solid white lines. At night, text would appear as a bunch of shiny dots.

These old signs are mostly gone. Replaced with a new type of sign making called retroreflectivity. But the change is not 100% improvement. Retroreflective signs wear out. The old way built signs that would last forever.

Road Guy Rob

A 12-year veteran public radio reporter and producer. Rob covered transportation and urban issues. He earned a graduate degree in Civil Engineering (MS) in 2018.

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