Why do the road signs to Philadelphia say New York?

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Why does Philly rarely get love on I-95 signs northbound to Maryland?

A reader posed this question to Curious Philly – The Inquirer’s platform that allows people to send questions to our reporters for answers.

“Why do all the northbound signs on I-95 in Maryland say New York and not Philadelphia or Wilmington?” Very annoying for me and several million people in the Philadelphia area, ”wrote James Udell.

We set out to find the answer. Whether you or Udell are feeling less upset, well, that’s debatable.

“LEARN MORE: Do you have a question for one of our journalists? Ask us through Curious Philly.

The cities that appear on interstate highway signs are based on recommendations from the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO), says Bob Cullen, the group’s chief information officer.

AASHTO is a non-partisan, non-profit association representing the highway and transportation departments of the 50 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico. It serves as a liaison between state departments of transportation and the federal government.

AASHTO maintains a published list of “control the cities, which it updates periodically. Control cities are locations determined by each state to be major destinations on or near the interstate road network. If you look at the list, Philadelphia and Wilmington, as well as other local destinations, including Chester and Trenton, are marked “95 NB”. In other words, Philadelphia is a candidate for northbound I-95 signage.

READ MORE: Read more curious questions about Philly, answers

How did New York City become the chosen Golden Child for I-95 NB signs across Maryland? The idea is that this is the most recognizable of all the options.

“Using ‘NEW YORK’ as a guide sign destination clearly captures all northbound motorists, regardless of their final destination, without presenting information that might confuse motorists destined for an interim destination,” explains John Sales, director of public affairs for the Maryland Transportation Authority. “It also maintains consistency with signage along all approach routes and in adjacent jurisdictions.”

Federal regulations limit the number of destinations that can be marked on guidance signs to two per sign. So, if a sign shows people two directions, each can only point to one destination.

“Adding additional destinations creates confusion for motorists at a time when they are processing significant amounts of information in the course of driving,” says Sales.

READ MORE: Curiosity things we’ve learned about Philly in the past year

Once a primary control city is selected, it is repeated to create “a clear and cohesive message,” says Sales.

But fear not, if you travel from Baltimore to Philadelphia, you will at least get a little advice on City of Brotherly Love. Once you approach Delaware, signs will appear directing you to take I-95 North to “PHILADELPHIA”. It’s just enough to point you in the right direction.

A question about the region? Send them to us by Curious Philly, inquirer.com/askus.


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