Poetry News

How Can We Get These People To Obey Traffic Laws? Haiku!

By Harriet Staff

That's right, the New York DOT has installed Haiku traffic signs throughout the city. But, will people even look up from Angry Birds to notice them?

Crossing the street has gone from bad to verse.

City officials desperate to curb horrific traffic fatalities are shelling out thousands on a new weapon: haiku poems.

The artsy literary lectures — and accompanying stick-figure drawings — are supposed to prod the city’s plugged-in throngs to put down their smartphones and pay more attention to what they’re doing as they navigate busy streets. But try telling that to harried New Yorkers.

“It’s good, but I don’t think people will notice,” said Latasha White, one of scores of pedestrians who walked right by the signs posted on West 125th Street, part of a particularly dangerous stretch in Harlem that’s had nearly 50 crashes since 2006, including 21 fatalities.

Another passer-by, Queenie Banks, 36, suggested, “Maybe if [the sign] was a little bigger, it’d draw more attention.’

The $25,000 “Curbside Haiku” campaign was paid for by a state transportation grant funded by fines from DWI arrests.

“I can think of better ways to spend $25,000 of the state’s money — it’s a waste,’’ griped city Councilman Eric Ulrich (R-Queens).

City Councilman James Vacca, chair of the council’s Transportation Committee, added, “I think most drivers would feel safer if DOT forgot about the haikus and fixed potholes within three days instead of 10.’’

But city Department of Transportation Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan, a political pusher of bike lanes and pedestrian plazas, touted the signs, insisting, “The idea is to come up with some way to surprise people on the streets of New York.”

“She walks in beauty/Like the Night. Maybe that’s why/Drivers can’t see her,” reads one of the 12 haikus created for the DOT campaign.

Another sign about the dangers of ambling into bike lanes warns: “Cyclist writes screenplay/Plot features bike lane drama/How pedestrian.”

Some passers-by said they were inspired by the signs.

“Makes you think, definitely,” said Silver Matos, a construction worker on his break.

East Village artist John Morse designed the artwork on the 216 signs and penned the poems.

The theme of his work, he said, is to tell people to “think about the fragility of your body.

“You’re just a human. You’re nothing against these cars,” Morse said.

“Poetry underscores the harshness of this reality. That’s why it has this power.”

Originally Published: November 30th, 2011