By Frank Brodersen, F289730
In June, July, and August of 2003 a limited trial of a new highway symbol was conducted in Oregon on a small portion of Interstate 5. The symbol, a 12-inch circle with 8-inch-high “RV” letters inside, was created to help RV travelers locate businesses that offer easy access and parking. Highway travelers and the businesses that participated in the program were overwhelmingly positive when responding to surveys conducted both during and after the trial period.
This effort was the result of frustration that I, and no doubt many others, have experienced while traveling in an RV and wondering whether there would be sufficient room to park and maneuver at stops along the way. I thought there had to be a way to know whether a location was “RV friendly.” Surely a sign would help.
The FMCA chapter I belong to, the Oregon River Ramblers, directed me to Northwest Area vice president Jim Phillips, F158824. My suggestion was forwarded to Max Durbin, F76454, International Area vice president and chairman of FMCA’s Governmental and Legislative Affairs Committee. Max responded with a message of encouragement and suggested that I contact the agency in Oregon that controls the interstate logo boards (also known as annunciator signs). Those are the blue-and-white signboards you see along freeways that notify travelers what businesses are located at the next exit. Each state or province controls such signage on highways within its borders.
With the assistance of my local state legislator, I contacted Cheryl Gribskov, executive director of the Oregon Travel Information Council (TIC), the quasi-independent state agency that regulates logo signage in Oregon. The suggested symbol to let RV travelers know that businesses were “RV Friendly” was first proposed in October 2002. Approximately two minutes into our meeting, Ms. Gribskov invited Angela Willhite, technical services coordinator and a frequent RVer, to join us. Ms. Willhite confirmed that she shared the frustrations my wife, Jil, and I had encountered while RVing.
The TIC staff reviewed the suggestion, agreed with the basics, and notified us that it would be presented to their board of directors with a request for the authority to proceed. Jim Phillips and I attended the TIC’s board meeting in December 2002, where approval was granted.
The project was assigned to TIC deputy director Jim Renner, who has had a lengthy involvement in tourism and travel-related activities. Here again we were fortunate; we couldn’t have asked for a more cooperative, hardworking, and knowledgeable person to direct this effort. A team coordinated by Angela Willhite and including other TIC staff members (one of whom is also an RVer) was created to develop the program. I was fortunate to be included in some of the meetings.
So, to be “RV Friendly,” what requirements should an establishment meet? The TIC team asked for FMCA input. Max Durbin; other members of the Governmental and Legislative Affairs Committee; and Jim Phillips and I sent e-mails back and forth. Eventually, we arrived at a consensus. We submitted our recommendations to the TIC team members, who made significant contributions. The standards included items such as roadway width and parking area size; access; egress; vertical clearance; fuel nozzle size; swing room; and so forth.
The team conducted an evaluation of the size, shape, color, etc., of the proposed signage. Actual visibility trials were made by temporarily mounting the signs and driving by both in daylight and after dark. They settled on a 10-inch-diameter circle with a reflective yellow background and 6-inch black letters “” “RV” “” above a smiling “happy face.” The design was mounted on a thin piece of aluminum that would allow it to be easily installed or removed with screws.
The final requirement was to develop a method of testing the concept. The TIC established trial locations and trial duration; participant qualification and application; traveler education and publicity; and a method of evaluation.
A request to experiment was written and submitted to the Oregon Department of Transportation, and approval was granted subject to approval also being obtained from the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA). The symbol, if ultimately approved, could become a part of what is known as the Uniform Manual of Traffic Control Devices, which is maintained and controlled by the FHWA. FHWA’s review and approval to test was conditioned by two requirements. First, lose the smile (no more “happy face”); second, increase the size to a 12-inch circle with 8-inch letters. This was the design actually used in the three-month trial.
For ease in monitoring, the trial was quite limited. The area selected was I-5 between exit 233 (Albany) and exit 278 (Aurora). Jim Renner and I personally inspected all businesses using logo signage (125 at 12 exits). Those who met the qualifying “RV Friendly” standards were mailed an application attached to a letter of explanation. Follow-up phone calls were made by TIC. Ultimately, 13 businesses participated. There were five RV parks, four fueling stations, three restaurants, and one motel in the trial.
* Road to facility must be a hard surface free of potholes. Lane widths should be 12 feet and never less than 11 feet wide.
* Facilities that offer short-term parking (lodging, food, and tourist attractions) must have two or more spaces that are 12 feet wide and 65 feet long with a swing radius of 50 feet at both ends to enter and exit the spaces. Fuel stations without restaurants are exempt from this requirement.
* Fueling stations must have a swing radius of 50 feet at both ends to enter and exit their fuel islands.
* Facilities with canopies must have a minimum clearance of 14 feet.
* Facilities selling diesel fuel to RVs must have non-commercial nozzles on pumps.
* Campgrounds must have two or more camping spaces that are 18 feet wide and 45 feet long.
News releases about the new signs were written and mailed to major RV magazines and local media outlets. A variety of publications printed articles about the test in their June and July issues (including Family Motor Coaching). Articles appeared in the Salem and Albany newspapers, and local TV news coverage was provided in Eugene, Oregon.
All participants were given comment cards to distribute to their RV patrons. Questions asked included whether the RV customers had observed the “RV Friendly” symbols; whether they knew the meaning of the symbols; and how they had learned about the symbols. Since restaurant workers do not normally see the type of vehicles their customers use, FMCA volunteers were solicited to conduct on-site surveys on the last Saturday of June, July, and August. People traveling in RVs responded favorably to the “RV Friendly” symbol concept, with 87 percent saying it was a great idea.
Participating business managers were asked whether they found the symbols to be beneficial to their business and whether they believed the symbols should become a permanent offering, and 92 percent responded favorably.
The strong and positive reactions of motorists and business managers to the “RV Friendly” symbol was instrumental in securing from the TIC Board the authority to request FHWA approval for an expanded trial.
The approval did, however, include a decision to remove RV campgrounds from the “RV Friendly” program. This decision by the board came as quite a surprise given the positive response of participating RV parks.
FMCA members have the opportunity to contribute to the continuation of refining the “RV Friendly” qualifications. The decision by the council’s Board of Directors to eliminate RV parks from the program gives us an opportunity to provide input to the TIC. Do RV travelers want campgrounds to use a highway symbol indicating that large sites that meet established standards are available? Please note that the “RV Friendly” program does not address site or park amenities; it deals with parking only. Also note that the requirement of a hard-surface road to the facility includes paved surfaces or compacted gravel, free of potholes.
Other questions have surfaced. Should two parking spaces that are end-to-end satisfy the basic standard, or must they be side-by-side? For small restaurants or businesses, can adjacent, normally vacant street parking qualify? What if a business is next to a large parking lot with considerable empty space, but 65-foot-long spaces aren’t marked? Should it still qualify? (Think of supermarket parking lots.)
We have deliberately not addressed the number of spaces that larger tourist attractions, restaurants, and other such facilities might need. A few reasons: one, we are not in a position to do volume surveys; two, we’re not on any city or county planning committee; finally, we thought that businesses participating in our survey are the best judges of the number of customers arriving in RVs.
To prepare for the expanded test in 2004 and beyond, before requesting FHWA approval, considerable work must be done. In the comment section of the survey cards, travelers frequently mentioned the need for more publicity, as did the business managers. Hence, it will be necessary to develop a more comprehensive marketing and public information plan for the expanded experiment.
We hope that the FHWA will grant Oregon the authority to proceed with this experiment. The expanded trial probably will be proposed for western Oregon only, principally all of I-5; U.S. Highway 101 along the Oregon Coast; and state connecting routes.
In the recommendation for an expanded test, tourist-oriented destination (TOD) signs will be included. By including state highways as well as I-5, we will use several different sizes of signs and symbol placements. The expanded experiment will allow a wide variety of business types and locations to participate, and will enable travelers to become knowledgeable about the symbols.
We also will need volunteers in western Oregon to help determine the qualifying eligibility and ongoing compliance of facilities claiming to be “RV Friendly.” We will not be the ones to say yes or no to applications, but merely will confirm whether those with symbols have met the qualifying criteria. In the case of a judgment call, we might be asked to comment.
If you volunteer, we will need your name, mailing address, and e-mail address to create a database that will be used exclusively for this project. The names and addresses of volunteers will not be released or used for any other purpose.
It has been a ton of fun for me to be involved in this project. The help, encouragement, and input from FMCA members have been wonderful. Maybe you’d like to help this grow into your state or province. In most cases legislation won’t be necessary; simply contact the agency that controls signage in your area. We stand a much better chance of success at the federal level if a uniform program is proposed from each jurisdiction. Simply put, a coordinated effort will bring faster and greater success.
To volunteer, contact Margaret Keen at the FMCA national office: phone (800) 543-3622 or (513) 474-3622, extension 319; e-mail [email protected]. Be sure to let your area vice president and your chapter know when you volunteer. Working together, we can make a difference. If I can help, just let me know. I can be contacted at 287 S. 68th Place, Springfield, OR 97478; (541) 726-5500; e-mail: [email protected].