Poetry in Motion

The DOT installed artistic signs complete with haikus to alert pedestrians to cross the street safely.

Outside of the a small sign of a crash test dummy, attached to a pole near a crosswalk, attracted little attention from its intended audience: pedestrians crossing Eastern Parkway.

The colorful sign, which has a QR code that reveals a haiku when scanned with a smartphone, is part of the Department of Transportation’s new safety campaign called “Curbside Haiku” and is meant to engage pedestrians and alert them to the dangers of crossing busy streets throughout the five boroughs.

But pedestrians crossing Eastern Parkway on Tuesday didn’t seem to notice.

“In all honesty if I noticed it I would have thought it was an ad because of the QR code,” said Hayley Thornton-Kennedy after she crossed Eastern Parkway near Washington Avenue. “The problem I can see happening is that people will snap the code and read the haiku while jaywalking.” 

As of Tuesday 12 out of 216 signs, which were created by an East Village artist, John Morse, were hung in high-crash zones near cultural institutions and schools to help keep New York City’s streets as safe as they can be in the Bronx, Brooklyn, Manhattan, Staten Island and Queens.   

The campaign was paid for by a state grant funded by DWI fines. The set of 12 different eight-inch by eight-inch signs were installed by DOT’s Urban Art Program.

In the past decade New York City has seen a 25 percent drop in pedestrian fatalities. The DOT is hoping to cut the fatalities by 50 percent by 2030 through creative initiatives like this one. 

The signs will be on view from now until next fall at a dozen hubs across the five boroughs, including near Brooklyn’s Transit Museum, the Brooklyn Museum and in Downtown Brooklyn.  

After scanning one of the two signs outside of the museum the haiku below appeared on the smartphone: 

“Aggressive driver/Aggressive pedestrian/Two crash test dummies.”

About half of the signs have the haikus written on them and the others have the QR code that reveals the three lines of poetry.

“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,” said the artist, John Morse who also wrote each poem. “I’m aiming to engage, edify and inform and nothing does that better than art.”

The signs are unique and if one catches an eye, it is sure to make a pedestrian stop, but hopefully they won't stop in the middle of the road. 

“I like that it is a modern image. I think it will reach youths and help them not cross the street recklessly and help save lives,” said Taft Henderson, who jaywalked across Eastern Parkway yesterday and did not notice the sign until it was pointed out. “It’s a good location especially considering the construction. I hope the sign helps, but it should be way bigger.”


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