Take care in alley names, signs stolen

Thursday, July 12, 2007 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 9:10 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Recently a local newspaper carried a story about theft of Columbia street signs. The headline read: “College caper grows costly.” Vandals (read: thieves) increasingly, says the report, abscond with street signs that make it difficult for emergency vehicles to find addresses. Life and death emergencies result from missing signs.

Annually some 1,000 signs are stolen, costing the city about $150,000 to replace them. And, according to the street maintenance superintendent, the problem is worsening. Of course such activities are against the law, and the fine for sign theft is as much as $1,000. Most thieves seem to be college students since missing signs are mainly in areas where college students live. Most popular stolen signs have names like High Street, Corona Road and Rolling Rock Drive. And fewer sign thefts occur in the summer, when most college students have left town.

The mayor has suggested that replicas of the signs be sold to college students so they would not have to tear down the real signs. This might help, the mayor says, although it would not stop the “caper,” as the headline called it. Oh, Mr. Mayor, how you have forgotten the ways of youth? Buying a replica simply would not do it. No fun in that. The real thing, gotten surreptitiously, is much better. I recall the purloined watermelons from the farmer’s field: much better than any bought ones I’ve had since.

Now to the kindred subject of naming alleys in Columbia. Why not name each one after an animal? This would please the animal lovers and would not indicate any kind of political influence. I can just see alleys with such names as Cat Alley, Tiger Alley, Dog Alley, Skunk Alley and Opossum Alley. And alleys could be spruced up; they don’t have to be so unattractive. In Germany, for instance, alleys can be major streets or boulevards with honorable names, e.g. “Clay Alley.” In fact, alleys are so important that the country, it is said, gets its name “Alemania” from the Germans’ obsession with alleys.

The animal rights people would like the idea, for it would give public attention to a variety of critters. Or they might see adjectives prefacing the names of the animals. For example, Strutting Cat Alley would be more noble. And Invincible Tiger would win out over simple Tiger Alley. And think of the positive connotations of Fragrant Skunk Alley, Pungent Possum Alley and Diffident Dog Alley. We have Deer Creeks, Snake Rivers, Possum Trots and Alligator Springs. So why not alleys with animal names?

We must be careful, however, not to produce street signs like the one on U.S. 63 notifying the motorists of their approach to Broadway Street. Possum Alley Road or Strutting Cat Alley Parkway Street just wouldn’t do. Another suggestion: All north-south alleys could be red-bricked, and all east-west alleys could be asphalt. This would, of course, keep the motorist from going north on an asphalt alley.

Motorized interconnections are important for a growing city like Columbia. And much thought must be given to their names. It might be best if all animal names be restricted to a certain new subdivision (I’m sure being planned) called Zoological Gardens. But that would not solve the alley problem.

Merrill, a professor emeritus at the Missouri School of Journalism, has written and taught around the world and here in Columbia for more than 50 years.

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