Saturday, March 07, 2009

Are California freeway exit numbers entering your consciousness?

Non-Californians bear with me as I look at a state-specific topic: exit numbers on the freeway.

More than a year ago, the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) starting numbering exits on highways within the state. It was a big job. I-5, for example, begins with Exit 1A in San Diego and runs to Exit 796 in Hilt at the Oregon border. Big urban areas like Los Angeles and the S.F. Bay Area often have several exits in close proximity and so exits get As, Bs, and Cs to keep them apart.  As an illustration of this, check out this map of an area east of downtown Los Angeles (the green ovals are the exits).

But are Californians starting to internalize exit numbers?  I don't think so. Just the other day, my boss e-mailed directions to my office to a potential business partner. He did not give exit number, but instead called out the street name and direction. And I must admit that I don't know which exit I take to get to my office, nor which one I take to get home from work. (However, I do know the exit numbers I use to get to my parents' house in Michigan.)

Businesses and museums don't seem to be using exit numbers.  I checked the websites of a few major attractions and hotels in Los Angeles (e.g., LACMA, the Hammer Museum) and none of them gave exit numbers, but instead gave street names.

If you drive or give driving directions in California, do you use exit numbers? Have you seen commercial establishments or other establishments giving exit numbers? 

Photo of Last exit in the USA from scottfeldstein's flickr collection, subject to a Creative Commons License.

Random link from the archive: Liking the Lichen


Vicki said...

I've noticed the numbers appearing on signs recently, but, even tho I grew up in Illinois, where they're normal, I'm not sure it'll catch on here...

Gabrielle Q. said...

I rarely, rarely use the exit number.
I had never given much thought about it 'til now. I'll have to ask around.

Ellen said...

From Illinois: Since I've lived in a state with exit numbers for my whole life, I'm very used to seeing them. But no one I know has ever referred to them in directions or used them as a guidepost. I think people develop mental maps of places in much more creative ways, and a visual landmark will probably always trump a number. I've only used exit numbers in instances where I need to tell emergency vehicles exactly where the Everlasting Ellenmobile broke down at some inconvenient hour. They come in VERY handy then!

Ryan said...

I've lived in California almost my whole life, and I've never heard of anybody who uses the exit numbers. Going to other states and seeing the mile/exit system in use, I have to admit, it does make a lot more sense. But I just don't think using the exit numbers will ever "catch on" in CA.

I think exit numbers in CA is just like the Metric System in the US: they both make a lot more sense when you think about it, but if it's not how you were raised, then it's easier to stick to the (possibly flawed) system you already know.

Rebecca said...

Another native Californian:

No one I know uses exit numbers either. I've been more focused on where I'm going than anything else while exiting the freeway, so my mnemonic technique is visual. I did try it once, when Googlemaps directed me to, but I was actually more dependent on the exit name, which was more familiar to me.

The numbers are handiest when you use many exits close together, often, I'd suppose; I guess when to delineate them visually might be too stressful? And for some reason, folks that use the NJ Parkway seem to like them a lot.

But to concur with the other Californian, yeah, I can't see them catching on here. The different geographic areas of the state are so individual. Also, the great majority of driving directions people give to other people so often tend to be fairly local directions. but in a state this size, everything's local.