New York Uses Poetry to Make Roads Safer for Pedestrians

Road Safer PoetryThe New York City Transportation Department is resorting to some interesting measures to decrease risks for pedestrians – 144 of them, to be exact. Featuring 12 designs from the artist John Morse, the new signs of the Curbside Haiku campaign will remind New York City’s budding poetry lovers to watch the road when crossing it.  As one sign puts it, “Cars crossing sidewalk: / Worst New York City hotspot / To run into friends.”

The haiku, frequently ironic, focus on poetry and pedestrians.  Overbearing lyric and cliché abound. One design capitalizes on the “beauty” of walking, and the word, gleefully commenting on poetry’s occasional tendency toward, well, poeticizing.  A woman, quite literally, blends into the night.  In another, the modernist and postmodernist obsession with narrative becomes the subject of a city’s banner.

And of course there is the sign featuring a pedestrian whose head is a six-sided die (pun intended), accompanied by a poem that reads, “Too averse to risk / To chance the lottery, yet / Steps into traffic.” Says the artist, “Curbside Haiku seeks to merge public art with public awareness, to infuse a bit of beauty and joy into the public sphere with the images while underscoring the realities of the message with poetry.”

Morse first began sprinkling poetry all over the streets of Atlanta, where he lives and works when he’s not in his New York studio.  In the fall of 2010, he designed 10 posters with haiku, placing them on 500 street-corners and storefronts throughout the city.   Called “Roadside Haiku,” the initiative takes familiar advertisements for singles and weight loss and turns them into art (and by the same token, takes art and turns it into advertisements for singles and weight loss).  In “Curbside Haiku,” Morse brings his campaign to New York City, but this time the message is a bit more serious.

This curious mix of “curbside” and “haiku” tinges an eye-catching haiku design with a seriousness that emphasizes its mission.   Says City Transportation Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan, “poetry” will “make New York City’s streets even safer.”  In fact, the campaign is partially funded by fines from drunk drivers.

The signs of Curbside Haiku will be installed at locations with high crash concentrations.  Expect to see them in all five boroughs, and at cultural hotspots like the Bronx Grand Concourse, MoMA, and The New York Botanical Garden.  Some signs will even feature informational codes to direct New Yorkers to safety announcements from the city.

For images of all designs and a map of their locations, follow this link.

– R. Fogel. Research contributed by R. Sherry

Related links:
How to Deal with Slow Walkers [Core 77]