Curbside haiku for Christmas

Published December 5, 2011

More than 200 colourful traffic signs have appeared at New York City’s busy, high-accident hubs urging caution-in haiku . Photo: New York City DOT

Just in time for Christmas shopping and sightseeing, New York City’s Department of Transportation has a special gift for distracted cyclists and pedestrians: safety promotion with a Japanese twist.

More than 200 illustrated signs in 12 different designs, two in Spanish, have appeared at busy, high-accident hubs urging caution-not in the dull directives of traffic signage but in the 17 thought-provoking syllables of a haiku poem. Installed on light poles and in public parking lots, the poems remind drivers, pedestrians and cyclists of their interdependency on the streets.

One sign, for example, reads: “Too averse to risk / To chance the lottery, yet / Steps into traffic.” Another: “A sudden car door/ Cyclist’s story rewritten/ Fractured narrative.”

Explains John Morse, the New York- and Atlanta-based artist who designed the messages, “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.” He believes the signs will capture the attention of New Yorkers and make them look before they leap.

Morse’s two most poignant messages may be these. “Oncoming cars rush/Each a 3-ton bullet / And you, flesh and bone.” And: “Imagine a world /Where your every move matters /Welcome to that world.


  • Diana Swift

    Diana Swift is an award-winning writer and editor with 30 years’ experience in newspaper and magazine editing and production. In January 2011, she joined the Anglican Journal as a contributing editor.

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