While on vacation, I was driving south on Route 35 in New Jersey, when I came upon a stretch of road with so many pedestrian crossing signs, that I thought surely this must be an art installation. Some sign artist must've gotten the powers that be in Ocean County to agree to this art piece. I was so distracted as I approached this dizzying group of signs, that I have no idea if there were any pedestrians stopped at any of the crosswalks!
I asked my sister who had also made the same journey, if she noticed anything odd about the road. She said she thought it was a joke when she traveled through this tunnel of signs last week. She had gone to a concert in Newark, NJ and came home at 1:00 A.M. When she hit that section of the road, she thought she'd entered a not-so-fun, funhouse. It was unnerving. She didn't know where to look!
I went back to the scene of the crime; I think it is criminal that the local government spent thousands of dollars on signs on that road. According to Wikipedia, a street sign costs between $100 and $500. That means some government official authorized, at a minimum of $3200 and maximum $16,000, the purchase and installation of these signs. I wanted to see if I was imagining the psychedelic tunnel. Nope. I counted at least thirty-two pedestrian signs, along a three-tenths of a mile strip of road, between Monterey and Ocean Beach. At a possible $16,000, I'd say that's an art installation!
This visual got me thinking about Street Sign Hackers. These are artists who make funny and creative changes and sometimes improvements, to electronic or regular street signs. I'd never seen this kind of art until last year when I was traveling through Wyoming and noticed some of the elk crossing signs had been enhanced to include rodeo riders on the backs of the jumping elks. I think these thirty-two signs in New Jersey present the perfect "canvas" for a street sign artist.
The artist that comes to mind to do the job would be Clet Abraham. I wonder if he would be interested in making the journey across the Atlantic to work his magic on this stretch of road. Abraham is a classically trained French artist, currently living in Italy and traveling around Europe changing street signs in a dastardly, clever way! Here is a lofty quote by Mr. Abraham that I pulled out of an article about him:
"The omnipresence of street signs, other than being a sign of the [Italian] culture of "anti-responsibility", can verge on the absurd. The message is very poor (sometimes I feel like I'm being treated like an idiot by them) and yet they have a highly invasive aesthetic. As a professional in the world of visual space, I feel called to intervene, both to notify the public of the absurdity of the situation, and to propose a constructive and respectful alternative. The final objective? That traffic keeps flowing without us feeling spoken down to!" He is using his art to bring about awareness and change of silly street signs.
Streets were meant for cars and I have a huge issue with the current trend of allowing pedestrians to have the run of the roads. This development has manifested itself in the proliferation of pedestrian crossing signage. The constant expectation for cars to stop is dangerous and unfair to drivers.
Apparently in 2004, the US Department of Transportation's Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) decided to attack the problem of pedestrian deaths. In 2004, there were 4,675 pedestrian deaths and in 2013 there were 4,743. Clearly allowing pedestrians to literally run wild over our streets has not paid off. I can't even imagine the cost to taxpayers all over the country for those signs! The yield signs you see in the middle of crosswalks cost over $300! The "pedestrians have the right of way" trend has ventured into the surreal. People step off curbs without looking both in and out of cross walks. They have been emboldened by these laws to also jaywalk without exercising caution.
I found the following information on the New Jersey Traffic Safety website: "New Jersey experiences a disproportionate number of pedestrian injury crashes and fatalities compared to the nation as a whole. To combat the problem, the Division of Highway Traffic Safety assists local and county agencies in the development of comprehensive pedestrian safety programs involving Education, Enforcement, and Engineering."
In New Jersey, motorists are told to always yield to pedestrians at any marked or unmarked cross walk. The only time a car has a right of way is on an area of road that has no cross walks. Pedestrians never have a responsibility to yield to a car in a crosswalk. No wonder they are getting killed at a higher rate than the rest of the country! These are their responsibilities:
Always cross at corners, within marked crosswalks where available.
If crossing in other locations, yield the right of way to vehicles. Failure to obey the law carries a $54 fine (court costs additional; C.39:4-32, 33)
Look left, right and left again before crossing. Watch for turning cars.
Always walk facing traffic.
Obey traffic signals, especially "Walk/Don't Walk."
Remain alert! Don't assume that cars are going to stop.
Wear reflective clothing when walking at night.
Stay sober. Walking while impaired greatly increases your chances of being struck.
Perhaps if New Jersey took a line out of Illinois crosswalk laws they might improve their safety record:
(b) No pedestrian shall suddenly leave a curb or other place of safety and walk or run into the path of a moving vehicle which is so close as to constitute an immediate hazard.
Even though the lawmakers in Illinois made this helpful addition to the safety laws, they do not post it at the crosswalks. So many pedestrians, like in New Jersey, feel invincible as they step into the crosswalk, with say my 6,000-pound Suburban bearing down on them. If they were jaywalking in the days that crosswalks were thoughtfully placed, they would never be so foolish. I am so upset by the irresponsible execution of these laws that I created my own pedestrian sign that I will be putting at crosswalks around the western suburbs.
I am no longer in New Jersey, so I can only fantasize about an art piece for Route 35 South in Ocean Beach. It would be a performance piece,entitled Crosswalkgate. During rush hour, sixteen pedestrians would stand at each crosswalk. As the cars came barreling down the road at 35 mph, the "pedestrians" would step into the road at varying times, causing a traffic snarl reminiscent of the now famous Bridgegate.
Kathleen Thometz is an artist and writer. She lives with her husband, kids and three doodle dogs. You can experience more about her at www.kathleenthometz.com