Kate Hinds is an Associate Producer for WNYC News. She also reports for WNYC and Transportation Nation, a public radio reporting project that combines the work of multiple newsrooms to provide coverage of how we build, rebuild and get around the nation.
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.
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.
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).