Byways 2021: A project of the Scenic Byways Coalition and America’s Byways Resource Center

Byways Should Be A “Laboratory” for Innovative Communication

We all know that carefully planned signs along a byway can welcome visitors, point the way and tell the byway’s story. Communicating with byways travelers in ways that don’t add visual clutter to the byway experience is often a challenge, as both commercial and wayfinding signage tends to proliferate over time. The Walt Disney Company is experimenting with ways to communicate with its visitors by non-visual means in order to enhance visitors’ experiences and protect the visual landscape. We have successfully created a technology for pavement “grooves and ridges” which cause tires literally to hum a tune as a vehicle passes over them! In the future, this non-visual “cue” to guests could let them know they are approaching a Disney property and bring smiles to their faces.

Why not use Scenic Byways as the leading-edge “laboratory” to test creative new approaches to alerting motorists that they are approaching a wayside, a recreation opportunity or an interpretive site? Consistent throughout a byway - or all byways - these innovative cues could effectively communicate a standardized message, much like a stop sign, while helping to eliminate the need for visual clutter and creating a sense of continuity along the byway. Several unique, recognizable rhythms or tonal patterns could be used as audible invitations to pause along the byway, making visitors more receptive to “hearing” the byway stories we have to tell.

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Kym Murphy
About the author: Kym Murphy retired in 2006 from The Walt Disney Company where he held many positions, most recently as Senior Vice President of Environmental Policy. He continues to advise the company on environmental matters.

Read more about Kym Murphy

11 Responses to “Byways Should Be A “Laboratory” for Innovative Communication”

  1. Derrick Crandall Says:

    This is exactly the kind of creative thinking we need to ensure that the National Scenic Byways Program continues to evolve and grow. One of our current challenges is telling travelers about the wealth of info available on each route. Kym’s idea could also signify that a low power radio broadcast is available — although I personally prefer the emphasis on getting travellers to pull over, get out of their vehicles and go for a walk through a community or along a trail!

  2. Mark Woods Says:

    I agree with the need to experiment with creative new ways to communicate. Signs can be so helpful and necessary, but I share the concern about proliferation and saturation. Seems like everyone wants and needs “their” signs! Congratulations everyone on the 15 years! Proud and happy to be part of the program!

  3. Wyvonne P Graham Says:

    We use Oficial CDOT Signs for our Colorado’s Santa Fe Trail Scenic & Historic Byway you could use this concept to indicate the Auto Tour Route broadcasts.

    I kinda don’t like the idea simply because the groves would make a noise during the broadcast.
    If You would have to have a sign letting travelers know why those groves are there anyway which also adds more signs> comercial vehicles wouldn’t like it and it could cause Byway usage to decrease if they know it was there.

  4. Arthur Allen Says:

    Can you imagine having the “bumps & grooves” on the highway sing out the theme from Bambi or “It’s a Small, Small World” every time you pass over a portion of the highway? It would drive me nuts.

    The “bumps & grooves” have but a single purpose: To warn sleepy drivers that they are approaching a stop sign.

    Plus, it is just one step away from hearing uninvited commercials speak to you (yes, one day it will be developed to the point of hearing a voice message!) from bumps and grooves every time you head on down the highway. If this isn’t a depiction of hell on earth, I don’t know what is…..

  5. Eric J. Hamilton Says:

    At the risk of being a wet blanket to a noval idea, I want to throw in my comments. I know what rumble strips sound like to a pedestrian or cyclist outside the vehicle. Can you imagine living next door to the “bumps & grooves” humming “It’s a Small, Small World” every time a vehicle passes? I am sure this may work well in the south, but in snow country snow plows really do a job on any surface that is not smooth.

  6. Lynn Scharenbroich Says:

    The concept of communicating with byway travelers in a non-invasive and appealing way is a great mission not only for byways, but for all corridors and roadways. Making the road itself do more than provide a surface on which to travel is intriguing. Disney has always explored the mother lodes of creativity, so let’s see what they end up with from this foray. I’ve always wondered about the idea of making information controllably visible (or audible), rather than always visible, as it currently is on billboards or other signs. Maybe a chip in a cell phone or iPod or even in a dashboard could control the visibility of a ‘billboard’. Press a button; all signs within a prescribed distance appear. Press again, they all disappear from view, leaving a clear,uncluttered viewscape. Is anyone working on that?

  7. Susan Taylor Says:

    I think the “laboratory” concept is good. We should all be looking for inovative ways to communicate with our visitors all the time. However, I don’t know if “rumble stips” are a good idea. I agree with some of the above concerns. If the “tune” simply warned travelers that an interperative sign or site is approaching, that would be great. I do agree with Derrick Crandall that folks should stop and get out of the car, walk around, and visit a site. We don’t want to create a situation where technology keeps people apart but, rather, enhances their connection.

  8. Dick Haskett Says:

    Should Byways be laboratories where creative thinking and experimentation take place? Absolutely! The whole program is still an experiment. We’re working on a federal program where the federal government does not own any of the physical assets, a state transportation program where traniportation isn’t one of the essential intinsic qualities and a culture that says local folks know more about their byway and its stories than anyone else. How inovative is that? I love it!

    As for comunicating with visitors, especially wayfinding/ wayshowing, will we soon see experimentation such as replacing signs with other distinctive visual impressions? Can we mark the byway by painting or imprinting the posts that hold up existing highway signs a unique color or uniques pattern and tell visitors to “follow the purple poles” or color the pavement material itself so they “follow the yellow brick road” or add flags or banners to road signs, utility poles, fence posts or rural fire number posts?

  9. David Steele Says:

    I’ll have to spray on the blanket as well.

    I think we’re already giving the American recreationist; ala too many fatties inside SUV’s, on top of OHV’s, and encased in BMH’s (big motor homes) every reason to relax and, “Leave the Experience to Us.”

    Improvements for some are annoyances for others. Maybe it’s not PC (or relevant for that matter), but if we’d had the ADA a couple hundred years ago, all 300+ million of us would be huddled up East of the Cumberlin Gap wondering if the moon really is made out of cheese…Sorry

  10. Mark Stricherz Says:

    We at the American Bus Association ( are impressed with the Web log. It’s colorful, lively, and easy to read. Like many of the other respondents, I fear that aural clues will further pollute our byways, not to mention make it more difficult for passengers to talk with one another about the destination. But hey, give credit to Mr. Murphy and Disney for coming up with a novel idea.

  11. Rob Draper Says:

    I agree byways are laboratories!

    “Grooves and ridges” to create a melody is pure Disney. I mean it in a positive way - - guests having a Disney day!

    Disney owns the pavement and probably is less concerned about snowplows, MUTCD, etc. - - which helps overcomes some of the “wet blanket” implementation concerns raised by some bloggers.

    The non-visual “cue” is the important concept for me. Wyvonne ’s comment - - “use this concept to indicate the Auto Tour Route broadcasts” cued my thoughts …

    Do any byways incorporate a particular melody into their Broadcasts, audiotape or CD interpretative products to alert listeners about an upcoming place or activity? Could a melody be incorporated subtly, softly into exhibits along a byway when people get out of their vehicles (or, is this too Disney)?

    Should America’s Byways identify a common melody? Should each Byway have its own melody? Should using a melody or other non-visual cues be optional?

    Scores? Should I vote? How do I vote? I vote “5” for “Byways are laboratories.” I vote “5” for the “non-visual cue concept.” I vote “5” for “grooves and ridges on Disney properties.” I vote “3” for “grooves and ridges on Byways” - - Byways are laboratories; it’s up to Byways to figure out whether they think Gs&Rs might work, how to test Gs&Rs, and whether to use Gs&Rs.