Road Signs

Transportation Nation

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

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

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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Transportation Nation

Feds Stop, Yield To Cash-Strapped States on Road Sign Requirements

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

(photo by Abby flat coat via Flickr)

States will be able to squeeze a little more life out of their existing road signs, rather than replace the majority of them by 2018 to comply with government requirements.

U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said Tuesday that "a specific deadline for replacing street signs makes no sense and would have cost communities across America millions of dollars in unnecessary expenses."

LaHood was referring to a 2009 decision by the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), which publishes the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD) -- the national book of road sign standards -- which would have required states and municipalities to upgrade existing road signs to make them more legible.

But then the feedback began rolling in -- and the DOT began backing away.

Last year, U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said “I believe that this regulation makes no sense. It does not properly take into account the high costs that local governments would have to bear.  States, cities, and towns should not be required to spend money that they don’t have to replace perfectly good traffic signs."

Some state DOTs had delivered sober assessments of how much the regulations would cost to implement. "Based on Caltrans' limited assessment, it could cost between $500 million to $1 billion to implement the FHWA 2009 MUTCD requirements," said one. Another featured excited exhortations about typeface: "ALL CAPS signs are easier to read then mixed case signs! And mixed case signs are uglier too!" And many of them conveyed the same theme, summed up by a Tennessee official: "this... estimated cost for reflective sign replacement with the current time restrictions will further devastate an already strained budget."

Some changes, however, are non-negotiable. Ray LaHood wrote on his blog that "DOT has retained 12 deadlines for sign upgrades that are critical to public safety. These include installing “ONE WAY” signs at intersections with divided highways or one-way streets and requiring STOP or YIELD signs to be added at all railroad crossings that don’t have train-activated automatic gates or flashing lights."


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