Behind the Screens: Who Makes Witty Wisconsin Signs? | WUWM 89.7 FM

When you’re driving to work, there’s nothing worse than seeing a road sign indicating upcoming delays. But if you’re like firefighter Drew Schuster, there’s one thing you can’t wait to see: the witty safety messages.

“I travel to and from Mequon and Germantown, probably at least five or six times a week, all the way to Milwaukee, so I was walking past the signs all the time. Every week there’s something new,” he explains. -he.

Schuster describes them as “dad jokes,” and you might know some of them, like: “Camp in the Woods, Not the Left Lane” or “Life is Fra-Gee-Lay, Slow Down.” All of these messages are from the Wisconsin Department of Transportation, specifically its Traffic Management Center.

WisDOT Traffic Camera Credit

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Over the past year, there has been an influx of these fast traffic messages.

The center is responsible for managing traffic using a variety of tools, including road sensors, highway cameras, and digital traffic signs, also known as dynamic message signs. These signs offer a lot of different information to Wisconsin drivers, including travel times and weather advisories. They are also a prime place to include these safety reminders.

And over the past year, you may have noticed an influx of these fast traffic posts. This is thanks to Jon Riemann, the man who writes and edits these posts.

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The dynamic bulletin board changes after a traffic engineer types in the day’s safety reminder.

“When I started about a year ago, I started saying we could do more. We can definitely get more creative with them, do them more often and stuff, so now we’re at something leaves … around 20 to 22 days,” says Reimann.

It should be noted that this is only a small part of his work. Riemann is in charge of communications, so he doesn’t spend all day writing these posts.

Nor does it find them all on its own. It relies on a team of people from Wisconsin that includes law enforcement officials, traffic engineers, and safety engineers – the same people who interact with the traffic management center on a daily basis. There’s a hodgepodge of emails and phone calls, suggesting different messages for the monthly calendar.

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Jon Riemann reviewing an old safety message schedule at the WisDOT Traffic Management Center in Milwaukee.

Delivering these messages is both an art and a science.

“That can be a challenge because we’re dealing with a very limited number of characters. I always like to say it’s worse than Twitter, you know, where you get the 240 characters. It’s three lines of 18 characters So you’re pretty limited in trying to get a message across in a very succinct way,” Riemann says.

Wisconsin isn’t the only state trying to speed up its safety recalls. But he stands out among the crowd, in part because of the volume of posts each month.

“I actually heard about a colleague in another state and I won’t call him, but when we asked how, what’s your frequency, you know, change on it, and the email I received was something to the effect of, we’ve had the same message for about six months now,” he laughs. Compared to the 15 messages WisDOT received in January alone, that’s kind of laughable. .

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Credit Screenshot/Wisconsin Department of Transportation

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Wisconsin Department of Transportation

The 511wi.gov website lists the location of all message signs in Wisconsin. Here are the message signs in the Milwaukee area.

Many states play on local clichés. In Wisconsin, that means things like “Meet at Deer Camp, Drive Sober.” In other states, like Louisiana, Reimann says they get a bit riskier, with phrases like “Slow the herd.” And you might be wondering: when are these messages less about safety and more about entertainment?

It’s unclear how effective these panels are in Wisconsin. But it looks like the racy messages from Louisiana are having a real impact.

“They did a study on some of the posts that they had on one of their causeway bridges, and they actually noticed a reduction in accidents that were happening because they were reminding people to slow down and not tailgating and stuff. So while a lot of it may be anecdotal, there’s enough belief that there’s an impact happening with these posts,” says Riemann.

But back to Schuster’s central question about Riemann: “I wanted to know if it’s actually a father writing this because who else can come up with that kind of humor,” Schuster says.

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Jon Riemann being interviewed at the WisDOT Traffic Management Center in Milwaukee.

The answer is yes — Riemann happens to be a dad, which adds to his dad joke credentials. But her son William is only 2 years old, and Riemann says he’s barely approaching the first level of the dad joke.

Regardless of his father’s credentials, Schuster is still impressed with Riemann’s work.

“I feel like the hardest thing in the world is to think of a joke when someone says to you, ‘Hey, tell me a joke. So having that deadline every week to come up with something new, I give him credit for that,” he says.

Whether or not you like these posts, Riemann says if it makes you think about safe driving, it’s worth it.

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Updated: May 14, 2021 at 7:26 a.m. CDT

This story originally aired on January 31, 2020.

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