LiDAR Infographics Sign Inventory


It is said that the average person is exposed to more than 5,000 advertising messages a day. That’s a drastic increase from 500 in the 1970’s before social media and the Internet. So, what makes the difference in retaining one of these messages? Visual recognition. Your attention span is roughly eight seconds. Our human brain takes less than a second to interpret a single image. That leaves more than seven seconds for us to engage the message. Without visual content the message just gets lost in the clutter.

Visual communication has its roots in ancient history. The ancient Egyptians used hieroglyphics and Native Americans used pictographs and petroglyphs to bridge tribal dialect differences. The first road signs appeared in ancient Rome as actual mile stones that ticked-off the distance to the next city.

The transportation industry today uses standardized symbols to convey its message. The instant familiarity of shapes and color allow for consistent communication which in turn leads to safer, more efficient travel. But, we haven’t always been so efficient at way-finding.

We really began to develop our way finding needs with the invention of the automobile. Leonardo da Vinci created designs and models for transport vehicles in the 15th century and Germany’s Karl Benz created the first true automobile in 1885/1886. American history, however, credits Henry Ford as the inventor of the automobile in 1903 simply because he made it affordable for the consumer, thus “freeing the common people from the limitations of their geography.”


We were free, but navigation soon became an issue. In 1911, a centerline was painted on a Michigan road; in 1914, the first electric traffic signal was installed in Cleveland; and in 1915, the first STOP sign appeared in Detroit as a 2’x2’ sheet of white metal with black lettering. It wasn’t until 1935, when traffic engineers created the first uniform standards for our nation’s road signs – a national standard for traffic control devices that is still in use today. The Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD) was guided by earlier standardizing efforts in 1924 by the American Association of State Highway Officials (AASHO, the forerunner of AASHTO).

We are still refining our transportation messages. From sign legibility of the Highway Gothic Font, to nine basic shapes, 10 colors and reflectivity allowances, they all play a vital part in safer roads. As our infrastructure becomes more deteriorated managing the more than 4-million miles of roads in the US can be a daunting task. From the shortest interstate route segment of I-95 in the District of Columbia, which is 0.11-mile-long, to the longest interstate, I-90, which runs roughly 3,020 miles from Seattle to Boston, each roadway presents its own sign inventory and maintenance challenges. Collecting sign inventory is a daunting task and extremely dangerous and cumbersome if using traditional methods.

Mobile Mapping

Enter mobile mapping, a non-invasive, accurate way to capture features like signs, guardrails, bridge clearances and geography while driving along a roadway at posted traffic speeds. When coupled with a Geographic Information System (GIS), a system designed to capture, store, manipulate, analyze, manage, and present all types of geographical data, the two are a powerful combination for documenting our nation’s sign inventory.

In the spring of 2018, TREKK Design Group, headquartered in Kansas City, Missouri, documented signs along 94 interstate miles and 41 miles of ramps and cross streets using mobile LiDAR with the use of semi-automated sign identification methods coupled with HD images for FHWA/MUTCD compliance.  The sign inventory documented the location, reference point (mile station), survey date, designation (MUTCD Code), type (flat or reinforced Panel), description, size, post type and spacing, height from roadway, distance from roadway and shoulder width.

“GIS has been an excellent tool to check the data in the inventory we are creating with developing semi-automated processing,” explained TREKK Transportation Engineer, Allison Bruner. “Because everything is geo-linked, GIS allows us to look at the data fields, location, and nearest collected photo to verify that the software classified the sign correctly.”

Since 2002, TREKK has been helping clients inventory their assets, determine their current condition, identify failure modes, rate risk levels, prioritize and establish maintenance plans and develop long-term funding strategies through GIS. A more complete data base with mobile LiDAR capture leads to efficient municipal and government spending and accountability with a safer workflow.

“It’s exciting to see how machine learning technology, when partnered with LiDAR, can expedite inventory processes,“ said TREKK Project Coordinator Kristen Wenzel, who is responsible for GIS quality control and analysis. We have been able to extract and process 5177 signs with information pertaining to each sign, as well as a 360-degree photo attachment that will help the client plan sign removals, anticipate monetary budget, and develop a systematic approach to inventory the sign.”


As we continue to refine our nation’s infrastructure, asset detection and identification for highway inventory will lead the way as a first of many uses. LiDAR and semi-automated processes can be applied to railroad and airport runways because of the timely, safer manner of collection. Additionally, this data base can be shared across multi-use stakeholders as we step into the future of smarter city infrastructure inventory.


By Cyn Rene’ Whitfield

Business Development

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