KEBABBLE 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.
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
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.
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
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
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.
Turkey, the incidence of amusing signs is somewhat
less as most roads either have numbers or names of
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
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
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
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
The town of Intercourse, Pennsylvania, is a
frequent victim of sign theft.
The same applies for the French town of
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.