Audit on the Department of Transportation’s Installation and Maintenance of Street Name Signs
June 30, 2017 | MD17-063A
The objective of this audit was to determine whether the Department of Transportation (DOT or the Department) adequately tracks its maintenance efforts with respect to street name signs and maintains such signs in accordance with its own internal guidelines.
DOT’s mission is to provide for the safe, efficient, and environmentally responsible movement of people and goods in the City of New York, particularly on its streets, highways, bridges, and waterways. In connection with that mission, DOT installs both large overhead and standard street name signs. Large overhead street name signs are located at the intersections of major arterials (high capacity urban roads) and commercial districts, while standard street name signs are located at every street corner. This audit focuses on DOT’s maintenance of standard street name signs, only. DOT estimates there are approximately 250,000 standard street name signs in New York City.
DOT receives complaints for repair of street name signs from the public and elected officials both directly and from New York City’s 311 service. Repairs generally involve the replacement of street name signs. Complaints received directly by DOT are fielded by DOT’s internal customer service staff and tracked in its Agency Response Tracking System (ARTS). For ARTS complaints, DOT’s procedures require that the relevant Borough Commissioner’s office submit a written response (in the form of a letter) to complainants within 90 days. Before sending those letters, DOT conducts a survey of the area about which the complaint was made. Under DOT’s internal procedures, neither of those actions—survey or written response—is required for 311 complaints, although the Department does map them in an effort to identify areas that likely need their street name signs replaced.
According to the NYC OpenData website, in Fiscal Year 2016, the City received 4,876 service requests through 311 relating to missing, damaged, or dangling street signs. That figure represents a 54 percent increase from the 3,176 service requests received in Fiscal Year 2015, and a 151 percent increase from the 1,942 service requests in Fiscal Year 2011. In addition, according to DOT, the agency received 70 ARTS complaints related to street name signs during the period of July 1, 2015 through September 30, 2016, a period that includes Fiscal Year 2016 plus two months.
Audit Findings and Conclusion
The audit found significant deficiencies in DOT’s management of the replacement of street name signs and that the Department does not adequately track its street name signs maintenance efforts. In particular, we found that DOT does not have a complete inventory of street name signs and therefore does not know how many signs are actually required. In addition, DOT does not have a comprehensive plan to ensure that it identifies all street name signs in need of replacement. Further, DOT does not ensure that all complaints of missing or damaged signs that are received via 311 are addressed.
We also found that the Department has not established any time frames for addressing non-emergency street name sign replacements—other than for responding to ARTS complaints—once a need for replacement has been identified. Based on a sample of 1,048 work orders we reviewed that were created between July 1, 2015 and September 30, 2016, only 32 percent resulted in installations as of January 26, 2017—a period of anywhere from 4 to 18 months. Missing or damaged street name signs increase the risks that the public and emergency responders may be hindered from identifying locations in emergency situations and that traffic flow may be disrupted, leading to an increased risk of accidents.
Based on the audit we make six recommendations, including:
- DOT should take steps to (1) identify and document its complete inventory of standard street name signs throughout the City and (2) develop protocols to periodically update its records in a timely manner.
- DOT should develop a comprehensive plan for conducting surveys to identify street name signs that need to be repaired/replaced throughout the City, and regularly monitor its implementation of that plan.
- DOT should establish procedures to ensure that 311 complaints regarding street name signs are investigated and addressed in a reasonable time frame.
- DOT should establish time standards for addressing street name sign repairs/replacements once the need for repairs/replacements has been identified, and regularly monitor how well it is meeting those standards.
In its response, DOT agreed with one recommendation, partially agreed with three recommendations and disagreed with two recommendations, specifically, that it develop a comprehensive plan for conducting surveys and establish procedures to ensure that 311 street name sign complaints are investigated and addressed in a reasonable time frame.
Additionally, DOT disagreed with the report’s overall findings and methodology. However, the analysis set forth by DOT in its response is predicated on multiple misrepresentations as well as inaccurate statements of standards and facts. After carefully considering DOT’s response, we found its arguments to be without merit. DOT’s comments reflect a fundamental misunderstanding of the audit process and its failure to consider and address the agency’s significant deficiencies in its efforts to maintain the City’s street name signs. We find no basis to alter any of the audit’s findings, its conclusion, or its recommendations.
 In this audit, we did not review the work of independent contractors for DOT or DOT’s oversight of that work.