Streams

New York DOT / Uses Haiku with Graphics / to Tame City Streets

Tuesday, November 29, 2011 - 03:28 PM

New York City has fought speeding with "slow zones" and digital images of skeletons. It has turned Times Square into a pedestrian zone. It has installed hundreds of miles of bike lanes and will implement a bike share program next year. And now its campaign to remake city streets has turned to... haiku.

Curbside haiku (image courtesy of NYC DOT)

The New York City Department of Transportation will be posting hundreds of signs around the city as part of a new safety education campaign called "Curbside Haiku." The signs were created by New York/Atlanta artist John Morse and feature twelve designs accompanied by a haiku poem.

The DOT has installed the 8”x8” signs at locations it says are "based on a citywide analysis of crashes near various cultural institutions and schools," including near Brooklyn’s Transit Museum and the Brooklyn Museum; the Bronx  Hub, Bronx Museum/Grand Concourse and Bronx Zoo and New York Botanical Garden; Manhattan’s Studio Museum of Harlem and MoMA/International Center for Photography; Queens’s Jamaica Center for the Arts and the Staten Island Museum. The DOT says the signs are too small to distract drivers and will face the sidewalk so that they catch the attention of pedestrians.

Morse said this was inspired by black-clad New Yorkers crossing the streets after dark. (image courtesy of NYC DOT)

In an emailed statement, DOT Ccmmissioner Janette Sadik-Khan said: "We’re putting poetry into motion with public art to make New York City’s streets even safer. These signs complement our engineering and education efforts to create a steady rhythm for safer streets in all five boroughs.”

(Note: Observant transit riders will note the reference to Poetry in Motion, the city's now-defunct campaign that put poetry placards in subway cars.)

Morse created the images through paper collage and authored the haiku, which he said was a whimsical take on a deadly serious subject.  “It's like a Grimm’s fairy tale. You’re delivering a dark message in a way that’s rather delightful." He said the challenge was to find a new way to deliver an old message. "We have this thought of 'walk/don't walk. Look both ways.' I get that, I understand that," he said. "The goal here is to say 'how can I reach people who have heard that message a million times but need to hear it again?'"

He added that the poetry "underscores the reality here, the harshness of, what is the brutality of traffic. That's a very significant thing."

Morse is no stranger to the marriage of road sign to artwork. In 2010, Morse installed "Roadside Haiku" in Atlanta, a project inspired by ubiquitous signs promising weight loss or easy money.

You can see the haiku, as well as a map of where they are located, here (pdf).

 

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Comments [3]

John Z Wetmore

This follows the tradition of The Honku Poet, who posted Haiku poems about (honking) traffic in Brooklyn a decade ago.

Dec. 22 2011 01:49 AM
Mike Licht

Poetic street signs
Distract fewer drivers than
Young girls in bike pants

See http://wp.me/p6sb6-bJJ

Dec. 04 2011 10:51 PM
Allison Thomas

THANK YOU for posting this and the link to Mr. Morse's Atlanta project. Hats off to NYC DOT for thinking outside the box. Kudos to Mr. Morse for weaving art into our daily lives.

Nov. 30 2011 10:22 AM

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