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Bilingual Signs

Ministry of Transportation Bilingual Signing Policy Q's & A's

What is the Ministry of Transportation’s (MTO) Bilingual Signing Policy?

MTO’s Bilingual Signing Policy was developed in accordance with the French Language Services Act, R.S.O. 1990. Under the Act, provincial highways located in French-designated areas require bilingual signs. The policy sets guidelines to provide uniformity and consistency of signs along provincial highway routes that are located in French-designated areas.

Why are signs on municipal roads in French-designated areas not bilingual?

The decision to post bilingual signs is a municipal one. Municipalities with a bilingual designation may pass a by-law providing that all, or specified, municipal services to the public are made available in both English and French. If municipalities choose to implement bilingual signing, they are encouraged to follow the bilingual signing guidelines and standards outlined in MTO’s Bilingual Signing Policy.

Why are the signs on the Gardiner Expressway unilingual while the QEW has bilingual signage in designated areas?

The Gardiner Expressway is not a provincial highway and, therefore, the decision to post bilingual signs is a municipal one. Municipalities are not required to provide bilingual services in areas designated under the French Language Services Act, but may choose to pass a by-law requiring the use of bilingual signing.

The MTO is supposed to obey the French Language Services Act. In French-designated areas, why are municipal street names on provincial highway signs not bilingual?

MTO must use official wording for road names as identified by municipalities. Only when these names are bilingual, as identified by municipal resolution/by-law, and installed on municipal roads, are bilingual road names provided on provincial highway signs. Other information (e.g. – cardinal directions, “Next Exit”, etc.) on the provincial highway sign is bilingual.

Why aren’t construction signs on provincial highways in French-designated areas always bilingual?

The Bilingual Signing Policy states that every attempt possible will be made to install bilingual temporary condition signs; however, certain situations may arise when it may not be feasible to install bilingual signs. These situations are:

  1. When worker and motorist safety may be jeopardized due to restrictions in visibility and increased proliferation of signs in confined areas.
  2. When physical space limitations in confined areas of construction and maintenance work zones are present.

In such cases consideration should be given to posting a bilingual warning sign in advance of the construction, warning motorists in both languages that they are entering a construction zone ahead.

Why don’t all variable message signs (VMS) display French Messages?

Permanent Variable Message signs:

Currently, MTO has more than 65 variable message signs across the province with the ability to display bilingual messages and/or colour graphic symbols. Within the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area, there are currently 38 signs and they are regularly displaying bilingual guide sign or traffic safety messages in French designated areas. The remaining legacy signs ( approx. 40 located primarily in the GTA) are not currently capable of displaying French accents and/or colour graphic symbols. Pending funding approvals, they will be gradually upgraded to full matrix, colour signs as they reach end of life. All new permanent variable message signs will have the capability to display bilingual messages.

Portable Variable Message signs:

Portable variable message signs are used for short duration needs, frequently used during construction. MTO policy ensures that when a construction zone is located within a designated area, two portable variable message signs are installed (one in English and one in French) provided physical space on the roadside exists in the area where the signs are required.

Why doesn’t the Ministry use proper French sentence structure/grammar on highway signs?

Highway signs, both English and French, take into account driver limitations and are designed to be read quickly as drivers often have only a second or two to read the entire message, interpret it and respond to the information. Highway signs are designed using the minimum number of words required to provide the key message to motorists while trying to reduce driver distraction.