Friend of the site Matt Parker recently made headlines because of his UK Government Petition to correct the heinous geometrical oddity that is the UK Tourist sign for a football ground. In the standard sign, somehow a sheet of tessellating hexagons is depicted as wrapping around a sphere in a highly improbable (and provably impossible) way.
The petition has achieved a modicum of success, in that it’s passed the 10,000 signatures required to elicit a response from the government. Sadly, the response isn’t quite what you’d like to hear.
Quotes from the official government response include:
“The purpose of a traffic sign is not to raise public appreciation and awareness of geometry which is better dealt with in other ways.”
Numberphile maestro Brady Haran has pointed out on Twitter that road signs are also not supposed to increase public appreciation of literacy, but that doesn’t mean they are allowed to contain massive spelling errors. Also: what other ways are they suggesting? Maybe, cutting funding for maths promotion?
“If the correct geometry were put onto a sign, it would only be visible close up and not from the distance at which drivers will see the sign. The detail of the geometry would also not be taken in by most drivers who were merely looking at the sign for direction. The higher level of attention needed to understand the geometry could distract a driver’s view away from the road for longer than necessary which could therefore increase the risk of an incident.”
As has been capably expressed by sometime Aperiodical guest author Andrew Taylor on Twitter, if you don’t want nerds to be distracted by road signs, maybe don’t put subtle/egregious errors of geometry in them?
“Additionally the public funding required to change every football sign nationally would place an unreasonable financial burden on local authorities. The Department could not justify the spending needed as an exercise to increase public awareness and appreciation of geometry.”
The petition specifically states it’s not interested in changing the existing signage, but merely to correct all future signs going forward, so this betrays a complete lack of attention on the part of the author.
“For the reasons given, we will not be changing the football symbol used on a traffic sign.”
I’m sure you’ll all agree this is literally the worst thing the UK government has done in the recent past, but there’s a chink of hope – if we can reach the 100,000 signatures mark the petition will have to be considered for debate in parliament, and we have six months to get to that stage – so if you haven’t signed yet (as of now, it’s almost on 19,000) get your name on there, and spread the word to all your friends so they can sign too – send them to mathsballs.com, which Matt has set up to redirect to the petition page. It’s up to us!
Update the UK Traffic Signs Regulations to a geometrically correct football, on the UK Parliament Petitions website