‘Baby Yoda uses the force but still needs a car seat’: Why Calgary added jokes, pop culture to traffic signs

Traffic got you down? Look at the signs. 

The City of Calgary has been adding a little zest to its digital traffic signs with jokes and pop culture references.

Every Tuesday, expect to see something different on routes downtown, along Stoney Trail and Deerfoot, adding a bit of levity to that mundane commute.

Watch | What’s behind these sassy road signs in Calgary?

“The idea behind it is that, you know, a happy driver is a safer driver,” roads department spokesperson Tara Norton-Merrin said. “We know when people are on the road and they are maybe in a bad mood, they tend to be a little bit more aggressive.”

The initiative started on May 4 with a Star Wars reference: “Baby Yoda uses the force but still needs a car seat.”

The City of Calgary is broadcasting witty traffic signs, like this one, at select locations on Tuesdays. (City of Calgary)

The idea came from Iowa. One of Calgary’s engineers heard about their “Message Monday” digital signs at a virtual conference. The state has been doing this for nearly a decade and has learned a lot through the process about what works, what doesn’t and what kinds of messages to avoid.

18 locations

For Calgary’s pilot, there are 18 locations across the city that broadcast a handful of relatable quips on Tuesdays. 

Typically they fall into three categories: pop culture references, messages that align with local events and, of course, pet peeves on the road.

For the younger crowd, Rachel Maxwell said the signs might help.

The signs have both pop culture references and relatable public service announcements. (City of Calgary)

“Especially with young people and millennials who are out driving, who are arguably a lot of the problem,” Maxwell said. “Sometimes, you know, they might be the ones who it’s like directed towards the jokes. So I think I’d definitely be more useful to have pop culture references.” 

Recently, to get slow moving traffic out of the fast lane, the city went with: “Camp in the Rockies, not the left lane.”  Fitting ahead of a long weekend. 

“We did get a lot of response from that,” Norton-Merrin said. “Not only people saying that they like our messages, but also commenting on, you know, the fact that a lot of people tend to drive slowly in the left lane … thanks for reminding people.”

Some say they think the signs will appeal to a younger audience. (City of Calgary)

Of course, for some the message doesn’t click right away — Lyndsey Paterson said it took a few minutes to have that ‘aha’ moment. 

“It took me a while to think, was that a joke?” Paterson said. “I think it was a joke, which was cute. So I think it’s a good idea. Why not?”

The City of Calgary says they are looking for input from citizens to help come up with more messages. (City of Calgary)

Slow drivers are the worst — Rebecca Kehl said sometimes they need a little reminder.

“I’m a driver that wants to get going,” she said. 

Now, the city is hoping Calgarians can put their noggins together to contribute to the fun. If you have an idea for a sign — and want to see your joke in lights — head to the city’s website to submit. 

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