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    Middle East
     Feb 14, 2008
Turkey's costly signs of the times
By Fazile Zahir

FETHIYE, Turkey - Road signs are unexpectedly delicate objects needing regular replacement because of warping, scratching, encounters with vehicles and disappearances due to severe weather conditions. While these accidents are inconvenient they can be predicted and planned for. But what really rankles with the Turkish Highways Agency is that signs have to be substituted because they have been the victims of target practice or theft.

The Highways Agency is responsible for signs along 62,000 kilometers of road and in 2006 spent 82 million lira (US$66 million) of taxpayers' money on replacing damaged and missing signs. Almost a quarter of existing signs had to be renewed and they estimate that 15% of all road signs are stolen. Some areas

are worse hit that others; a report from Van province highway officials said that in 2004 more than half of all their road signs had been stolen, but were pleased to report that in 2005 that the figure had dropped to 50%.

The motives behind the thefts, which have escalated over the past 10 years, are varied, but foremost are economic reasons. Each stolen standard-size sign can be sold to scrapyards for around five to 10 lira and large motorway signs can fetch as much as 50 lira . The Highways Agency believes these signs are melted down and resold as saucepans.

In 2003, the head of the Highways Agency for the Kirklareli area issued a plea to scrapmerchants after his area spent 74,000 lira on new signs, "I am sending a message to all scrap merchants. Don't buy the traffic signs when they are brought to you. Let us know immediately if you are offered one, these are part of our national resources."

In Van they suspect that round signs (particularly found in forest areas) are re-utilized as lids for large casserole dishes and that square and rectangular signs end up as roofs and doors on chicken coops. The thieves derive a little monetary benefit, but the Highways Agency suffers substantial losses as a standard sign costs 75 lira to produce and a large sign between 150 and 200 lira. The aluminum from which the signs are made is imported and is especially costly.

Not every sign, though, is stolen or damaged. Some have to be replaced after practical jokers have their way with them. In 2004 in Mersin, a large road sign pointing the way to Adana, Ankara, Konya and the local Industrial Zone (Sanayi Sitesi) was uprooted after a prankster replaced the "Sa" of Sanayi with an e. The result was a sign indicating the direction to the "Enayi Sitesi" or "Idiot's Zone".

In Zonguldak on the Black Sea coast, one particular sign outside a school became the bane of the life of the governor, Mehmet Ergenoglu, in 2002. The sign read "School ahead" and had a 30 kilometers per hour speed limit displayed beneath it. Overnight, an anti-child interloper with a paintbrush changed the speed limit to 80km per hour. The governor's team duly uprooted the sign and put a new one in its place. A few weeks later, the mystery pedophobe was back and the sign read 80 again.

These graffiti artists and thieves spare little thought for the potential danger they are creating, each sign is placed for a reason and driving through a school area at 80 or a missing "sharp bend" warning can easily cause an accident. In Florida in 1997, three 20-year-olds were charged with manslaughter and sentenced to 15 years each after their removal of a stop sign led to a fatal car accident in which three teenagers died after their car was hit by an eight-ton truck.

Although an appeal court later threw out the manslaughter conviction they continued to serve sentences for grand theft.

In Europe and America, street sign theft is generally for decorative purposes and unusual or amusing signs are stolen more frequently. Street names that reference bands or famous songs such as Penny Lane in Liverpool, Abbey Road in London, Nirvana Avenue in Melbourne and Brickyard Road in Clay County have had to be either painted directly onto walls or mounted high up on local houses to deter continual theft.

In Turkey, the incidence of amusing signs is somewhat less as most roads either have numbers or names of people.

The thefts will continue to be a problem for the Turkish state and suggested solutions intended to decrease the attractiveness of theft are making the signs from fiberglass or plastic - neither of which can be remolded into cooking pans. Another solution, which is adopted in the United States, is to make the sign abductors pay for replacing them - perhaps that might put a lid on the problem here too.

Other road signs that are regularly stolen outside of Turkey include:
  • Beer Road, on the outskirts of Orange, Australia. Due to the street sign being constantly stolen, the local council has resorted to attaching name stickers to guard railings at the start of the road.
  • Ragged Ass Road, Yellowknife, Northwest Territories, Canada is popular with visitors to the area. To curb theft, the city now sells replicas.
  • In West Los Angeles, signs for Stoner Ave are stolen so frequently that the city cannot use the same street name sign template that they use for other city signs, instead keeping a reserve of generic signs to replace the ones that are stolen.
  • Leganes, Spain dedicated some streets to rock groups like AC/DC, Iron Maiden and Rosendo. The AC/DC sign was stolen days after inauguration. Leganes authorities now offer identical signs for sale.
  • Addresses popularized by television dramas, such as Coronation Street, Jump Street, Wisteria Lane, Melrose Place and Ramsay Street make their coincidental real-world locations targets for sign theft. Of the aforementioned television streets, only Melrose Place is actually named after a real location.
  • The Bong Recreation Area in Wisconsin has had signs stolen because of the cannabis connotations in the name.
  • Shades Of Death Road in Liberty Township, New Jersey, is desirable for a number of tales about the road and the name itself. Local vigilantes took matters into their own hands and put various lubricants on the pole holding the sign to make it impossible to climb. The other street signs along the road, in two other townships, are metal poles with the names of both intersecting streets in vertical type, harder to read but less attractive to thieves.
  • The town of Intercourse, Pennsylvania, is a frequent victim of sign theft.
  • The same applies for the French town of Condom.
  • And also to Dildo, Newfoundland and Labrador.

    Fazile Zahir is of Turkish descent, born and brought up in London. She moved to live in Turkey in 2005 and has been writing full time since then.

    (Copyright 2008 Fazile Zahir.)

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