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The Green Life: The Art of Traffic Safety

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December 05, 2011

The Art of Traffic Safety

Bike sign NYC DOTWe knew we were sensing a trend when we paired bicycle awareness with haiku for our 2010 bike-ku contest. It seems the New York City Department of Transportation (DOT) has caught the bike-ku bug too: The city recently commissioned artist John Morse to create a series of eight-inch traffic-safety signs featuring vibrant images and haiku, a 17-syllable Japanese poetry form.

Half of the signs feature a QR code (pictured above) which pedestrians can scan with their smart phones to reveal the haiku. The other half display the text with the image (pictured below).

Morse comes to the Curbside Haiku project with a backgound that includes traffic-related street art. Last year, the artist caught the attention of Atlanta's pedestrians and drivers when he tweaked "bandit" signs with progressive poetry. For the New York signs, Morse exposed the dangers of the urban traffic-scape with cautinary haikus like these:

A sudden car door,

Cyclist's story rewitten.

Fractured narrative


Oncoming cars rush

Each a 3-ton bullet.

And you, flesh and bone. 

Haiku sign NYC DOTTwelve designs — ten in English and two in Spanish — will be posted at 144 "high-crash locations" throughout the five boroughs (PDF). Funded by a state grant and drunk-driving fines (nice!), the Curbside Haiku campaign is a joint effort of the DOT and the Safe Streets Fund, a nonprofit traffic-safety group. Posters and signs from the project are also available for purchase; proceeds benefit the Safe Streets Fund.

The DOT hopes this unexpected approach to signage will catch the attention of jaded New Yorkers. And indeed, citizens do seem to be responding — the signs even inspired the ever-so-serious New York Times to break journalistic form with an article written entirely in haiku about the the new signs; readers' comments followed suit.

DOT commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan said, "New Yorkers are inoculated from messages. What we've learned is something more innovative or with a bit of humor is more eye-catching."

--Della Watson / images courtesy New York City Department of Transportation

Click below to watch a video about artist John Morse.


 h/t TreeHugger

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