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Weekly Eco-Tip (October 2/3, 2010)

Intersection Art

The Upper Green Side Weekly Eco-Tip for October 2/3, 2010
(Available at the 92nd and 82nd St Greenmarkets, and archived online.)

Art For Safety

Public art projects are usually intended to beautify. But artwork commissioned in 2006 by the city of Cambridge, MA, has a more utilitarian goal: reducing traffic speeds at a busy intersection.

The junction in question is in residential West Cambridge; 6000 cars pass through it every weekday. Susanne Rasmussen and her colleagues from the Cambridge community-development department were aware that neighborhood street murals in Portland, OR, had had the unintended consequence of slowing drivers down, and they decided to experiment. Soon the city was taking proposals for a circular mural, 20 feet in diameter, to be painted on the asphalt in the center of the intersection – a kind of artwork rotary. The objective, to reduce average speeds from 30 miles per hour to 25, seems relatively modest, but Rasmussen, citing statistics, says it’s significant: “The chance that a pedestrian would survive an accident is vastly greater at that speed.”

Residents selected the semiabstract composition of the local artist Wen-ti Tsen. Tsen says that he ended with “something like a blue pond with geometric vegetation in it.” The city paid him $10,000, a fraction of what it would spend on a more conventional speeding deterrent like a raised crosswalk.

Many residents and city officials say the mural is working. “I know I slow down,” said Lillian Hsu of the Cambridge Arts Council, which ran the mural-selection process. “There’s something in the road, so there’s a moment of confusion and you slow down. Then you see it’s flat, and you drive over it.”


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