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Posts Tagged ‘highway’

Photo: Richard Ankrom/Brewery Art Colony.
The Freeway sign with Richard Ankrom’s correction — a stealth project to warn drivers they had to get left fast if they wanted to go north on route 5.

It may go back to leaving May Day baskets for neighbors as a child — ringing the doorbell and hiding — but I do like stealth projects. For example, when I was working on PR for a production of the musical Sunday in the Park with George about Impressionist Georges Seurat, I placed greeting cards with his famous painting around a bookshop for customers to notice or buy. I have no idea what the salespeople did when they couldn’t find a shop code.

Today’s story is about a professional sign painter and artist who saw a highway sign that badly needed fixing. He didn’t call the highway department.

As Nate Rogers writes at theLAnd magazine, “In 2001, Richard Ankrom installed a fake freeway sign in downtown L.A. in order to fix a real problem for commuters. The sign is now long gone, but 20 years later, the stunt remains etched into the soul of the city.

“In the pre-dawn hours of August 5, 2001,” Rogers reports, “Richard Ankrom got in his pick-up truck and drove out to a downtown L.A. freeway sign. He parked along an off-ramp near 4th and Beaudry Streets, stashed two large sheets of aluminum in the bushes, and took a deep breath. …

‘I was scared,’ he recalled recently, perched on an overpass, staring down at the area where this occurred two decades earlier. ‘I stood there, just to kind of calm down, you know.’

“There was no turning back now, he remembered thinking. He’d already spent the time and money to manufacture a near-undetectable replica of two pieces of freeway signage to exact industry specification. And in advance of their installation, he’d prepared a decal for his truck that read ‘Aesthetic De Construction,’ created a phony work order in case anyone approached him, and cut his shaggy blond hair to a city-worker-appropriate length. 

“He’d also already enlisted his friends from the Brewery Art Colony … to get up at the crack of dawn to document what would later become known as his infamous ‘Guerrilla Public Service’ project. … And anyway, after the signage — an Interstate 5 emblem and an accompanying green placard reading ‘NORTH’ — had been made, it had to be put up. Otherwise, what was the point? …

“For many years, if you were traveling north on the 110 in downtown Los Angeles and were intending to go north on the 5, there was no easily visible signage to prepare you for the sudden interchange. And it’s not just any interchange, either — it’s a strange corkscrew of an exit on the left side of the freeway, sneaking up on you at the end of a tunnel. Without a decent amount of warning, you would very likely miss it. …

“A sign artist by trade, Ankrom wasn’t fazed by the initial part of his project. He downloaded a Caltrans manual, cross-checking the information by assessing an easily accessible freeway sign in person. He then cut the aluminum and painted the shield and placard, essentially by hand. On the back of the shield, he signed his name. … 

“There was one part he couldn’t make himself, however, which was the circular reflectors that had to sit on top. But he was able to convince the company that made them that he needed the reflectors for a film project — which was not untrue … ‘It had to be documented,’ he said.

“Just after the sun came up on installation day, with video cameras rolling from various vantage points, Ankrom put on a hardhat and safety vest, hoisted a ladder up to the larger freeway sign apparatus, and climbed up to the plank with his work. …

“There happened to be a Caltrans crew working nearby when Ankrom was up there [but] no one questioned him. ‘They say if you’re dressed correctly and carry a clipboard around, you can get away with a lot of stuff,’ he put it. …

“Some nine months later, after he posted [the footage] on a pre-YouTube video hosting site, the story was broken simultaneously by LA Weekly and the Downtown News. (The video — a bizarre and hypnotizing behind-the-scenes look at every step of the process — is its own work of art.) Almost immediately, he had a line of media teams waiting outside his studio to set up interviews for national news programs. …

“Caltrans also weighed in after it was reached for comment by various media organizations. In a shocking moment of humility, they noted that, while they didn’t approve of Ankrom’s methods, they couldn’t deny the quality of his work. Not only would they not be pressing charges — they were going to leave his handiwork up. One Caltrans representative jokingly told ABC that they had a job application for Ankrom to fill out. …

“These days, Caltrans is less amused by Ankrom’s story than it was in 2001. When reached for comment, a representative didn’t want to talk about the specifics — instead preferring to state that they ‘very strongly discourage unauthorized persons from trespassing onto Caltrans right of way,’ and that there are ‘legal penalties and serious personal liability’ for doing so. Should you have an issue with something like signage, the representative recommends you ‘simply submit a Customer Service Request.’ ” 

More at the LAnd Magazine, here.

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Photo: National Wildlife Federation.
More people are realizing that the 17 million acres of US roadsides are vital sanctuaries for pollinators and other wildlife.

Back in the day, when my mother was active in the Rockland County Conservation Association, I learned more about preventing soil erosion using Crown vetch along the new Thruway than any normal kid should be expected to know. Today the plant is considered invasive and the vision for highway landscaping has evolved.

A recent report from the radio show Living on Earth offers the latest thinking.

“Some 17 million acres of green space line US highways and byways, and it’s vital habitat for pollinators, as well as small voles and mice and birds. Bonnie Harper-Lore, a restoration ecologist formerly with the Federal Highway Administration, tells host Steve Curwood about the value they offer to wildlife and how President Lyndon Johnson’s wife, Lady Bird, helped uplift this elongated haven for creatures and wildflowers.

“CURWOOD: Clover is a crucial source of nectar for many pollinators, especially bees. And as national pollinator week is coming up on June 21, it’s a good time to think about the many ways we can help our endangered pollinators, starting with our highways. It turns out that medians and roadsides offer miles and miles of vital habitats for many pollinators, including bees and butterflies. Bonnie Harper-Lore was a restoration ecologist for the Federal Highway Administration, and is a member of the Commission on Minnesota Resources. Welcome to Living on Earth, Bonnie. … We’re talking about those strips of vegetation along the highways. There’s often commercial or residential property right behind them. So, nationwide, just how much of this habitat is there?

“HARPER-LORE: Well, I think the listeners will be surprised to find out that the area between the pavement and the right of way fence on county, state, and interstate highways adds up to a total of 17 million acres, possibly millions of acres of conservation opportunity. … I always saw roadsides from the beginning of my career 30 years ago as an opportunity to benefit wildlife, small wildlife, small birds, small mammals, and migrating birds also use these same corridors. So if they have places to find food and cover, they are all going to do better and their populations will continue to hold where we need them to hold.

“CURWOOD: By the way, I also understand that this roadside habitat has some of the most endangered habitat in various areas – like there are parts of the original prairie that are protected alongside roads, sort of by accident. You can sometimes find real old-growth trees. I mean, how much of a treasure trove is this territory?

“HARPER-LORE: Well that’s just it: We don’t have a complete inventory of all of our roadside vegetation.

I would indeed like to see [an inventory] because I think we would be surprised at how many remnants of these old forests, old prairies, old wetlands even do exist.

“We began doing a bit of that inventory in 1993 in California – found 19 remnants within a very short time and began protecting them, managing differently, not mowing and spraying as they had in the past. So there are some of these. I mean, it’s surprising that they do exist. I know Florida has also some endangered, I believe, pitcher plants that are growing in their rights of ways and they are now watching over them differently than they have in the past. So if we know they’re there we can do differently.

“CURWOOD: So, give us the big picture as to who are the partners in these pollinator conservation efforts.

“HARPER-LORE: Well, first of all, before President Obama visited Mexico and talked to President Nieto and Prime Minister Harper from Canada and they agreed to work together to protect Monarchs – before that point, there were actually a few states that were doing pollinator-focused efforts. Wisconsin comes to mind in that the Karner Blue butterfly is an endangered species, and they actually put together, I believe, a 20-member partnership quite a few years ago to protect the Karner Blue. [That] partnership was mostly private sector, but some state and county agencies, too. … Every state Department of Transportation basically does its own thing, makes its own priorities, but now that there’s been … a reauthorization act that actually supports pollinators, all of the states will start moving in that direction, especially if they know the public is interested. So public support needs to be there.

“CURWOOD: Tell me about the multistate project known as the I-35 corridor, and what’s been done in terms of Monarch protection there? …

“HARPER-LORE: Back in 1993, a group of six states asked the Federal Highway Administration, where I worked at the time, to work together and get some funding to support their effort to actually restore prairie along the I-35 corridor and to protect any remnants that already existed there. … It runs from Minnesota through Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, Oklahoma and Texas, therefore connecting Mexico to the edge of Canada and of course that’s where the Monarchs fly.

“CURWOOD: What other wildlife uses this roadside habitat? …

“HARPER-LORE: I’ve watched hawks, all kinds of raptors, sitting on the light standards along highways and signposts just waiting for lunch to materialize down there in the vegetation on the roadside. Yes, they do well there because there are lots of mice and voles, other small things possible, plus one that actually motivated reduced mowing here in the Midwest, pheasants and other waterfowl, different kinds of ducks will nest in these rights of ways. …

“It’s because of Lady Bird Johnson that my job even existed with the Federal Highway Administration. I was working for the Minnesota Department of Transportation establishing their wildflower program back in the 1980s when I got an invitation from Mrs. Johnson to come visit with four other states who were also interested in planting wildflowers and we sat and talked with her for two days, and the thing we didn’t know she would do — because she asked us what did we need to be able to do more — within that same year, she saw to it that there was an amendment to the transportation bill that requires all states to use certain percent, not a large enough percent, but a certain percent of their budgets on native wildflowers.”

More at Living on Earth, here.

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Image: Ida Schmulowitz
Artist Ida Schmulowitz says, “I have painted landscapes outside from a pedestrian bridge overlooking a highway since 1983. I feel a very strong bond to this particular place.”

My friend and former boss Meredith Fife Day, an artist, put up an intriguing Facebook post not long ago. It was about the work of a Rhode Island artist who has been painting the view from the bridge at India Point over and over since 1983. No two paintings alike.

Meredith wrote, “Ida Schmulowitz of Providence has painted on site on a pedestrian bridge over the highway near her home and studio for more than 30 years. No camera. No sizing canvases to fit her easel. No hesitation to return again and again until the painting is finished. The paintings are on canvas and average 6-by-8 feet. …

“I had the good fortune of meeting the artist and writing about her work for Art New England 10 years ago. Here is an excerpt from that review:

“ ‘Applying paint in thin layers Schmulowitz often took a morning painting back out at sunset months after it was begun. A pale sky gone peachy-orange carries its history and alludes to color’s role in the passage of time. As highway shadows lengthened at the end of the day, their geometry became more explicit and their hue more saturated. Footprints left in the foreground from walking on the canvas to reach the upper edges mimic brushmarks. The confidence that comes with knowing a site, and developing over the years a vocabulary that expresses its essence, unleashes great intuitive force. That force explodes in these works.’ “

At her website, Schmulowitz explains, “I feel a very strong bond to this particular place (India Point). I’ve felt compelled to record it year after year in all seasons and times of the day. I struggle with trying to combine the structural essence of the place with my internal vision. Changes in the landscape itself, or shifting my vantage point just slightly, are the catalysts for creating a new series.”

I love the strong colors and shapes of the paintings on the website — and the way the shadows lengthen in views of the same scene. Choose from tabs “Bridge View,” “Park View,” “Highway,” “School View,” “Stop Sign,” and “Studio View.”

Photo: Sandor Bodo
The artist says that on the way home after work, “I lay the wet canvas flat and drag it back flat through the streets to my studio. This contributes somewhat to an imperfect surface, that I like to work with, and feel it is part of the process.” 

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Photos: Bo Zhao
Boston has put a colorful park under Interstate 93. Bright lights, art, 24-hour security, and an ever changing array of events are expected to connect communities that the highway long divided.

When I had a chunk of free time at my last job, I’d take a walk over to an artsy part of Boston called SoWa, for “South of Washington Street.” It was a place of antique dealers, a homeless shelter, art galleries, and farmers markets.

As interesting as SoWa was, it abutted a bleak wasteland under Interstate 93. People had to walk under there — I walked under there — because the highway divided the neighborhood. But it was creepy.

Saturday saw the opening of an unusual park under the highway. I wasn’t there, but a former colleague who manages to see everything of interest in the city got a kick out of it, commenting that he was surprised to find the park is so near Boston’s public Harbor Walk. He shared his photos here.

at the Daily Free Press provided the background. “National Development, the developer of Ink Block, is partnering with Reebok to make the project a reality. The park, which was originally an 8-acre underpass between South Boston and the South End, will feature a pedestrian and bicycle boardwalk, 175 parking spaces for local businesses and a mural wall, according to the release.

“Ted Tye, the managing partner at National Development, said the park was originally supposed to be a plain, normal park when the Massachusetts Department of Transportation started on the project across the street from where their Ink Block brand is located. Once National Development gained access to the project; however, the idea changed. …

“Tye said the idea behind incorporating the murals, which was curated by Street Theory, artistic duo Victor ‘Marka27’ Quiñonez and Liza Quiñonez, was to appeal to companies and younger generations looking to find their start in Boston. …

“Tye said, ‘It makes it really an exciting, new destination, a new playground in the city, and we’ll be extending that not just with our opening event [September 9] but looking into next year with some really great programming.’

“Another reason for opening the park, Tye said, is to connect the neighboring communities of South Boston and the South End and to make the area surrounding the Broadway Bridge safer to walk.

“ ‘By filling in this area with a place that’s well-lit, with a place that will have 24-hour security, with a place that will have lots of people, and activity, and music and art — it makes that gap a lot shorter,’ Tye said. ‘The people that are moving into the Ink Block area are now feeling really good about walking to South Boston, about using the Broadway T station, and it just really connects the two communities.’

“Sneha ‘IMAGINE876’ Shrestha, a Boston-based artist who is contributing to the mural wall described her style as ‘mindful mantras in [her] native language where [she meshes] the aesthetics of Sanskrit scriptures with graffiti influences.’

“Shrestha wrote in an email she wanted to give back to the Boston community as it was the first place she was exposed to the art of graffiti.

“ ‘As a kid from Nepal, I didn’t grow up seeing graffiti or much of any sort of art,’ Shrestha said. …

“Shrestha wrote the location of Underground at Ink Block excited her because it was near her first employer Artists for Humanity, a nonprofit which works to employ under-resourced urban youth interested in art and design, according to their website.

“ ‘My first job out of college was at Artists for Humanity and this is where I realized the effect of art on young people and how I can contribute to being an agent of positive change through art,’ Shrestha said. ‘It feels full circle in a lot of ways to have a mural here as my token of gratitude to this place.’ ”

Tim Logan at the Boston Globe, wondered whether getting to the park will be too challenging for people who are not going between the neighborhoods anyway.

He writes, “Drawing people to a place like this takes work, said Bob Uhlig, president of the Boston landscape architecture firm Halvorson Design. Color will help, he said; so will good lighting. Filling the place with popular, consistent programming will go a long way toward making it a destination, much as the Lawn on D has become, he added.

“ ‘That really adds another level of vibrancy, having something programmed on a regular basis,’ Uhlig said. ‘You want to get people to come back, repeatedly.’

“And, he said, you want the locals to use it. There’s a row of big buildings going up just a block away along Harrison Avenue, which will add thousands of residents to a corner of the city with relatively little park space. This is a chance to create some, even if it’s below a highway.”

More at the Free Press, here, and at the Globe, here.

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Once again, Andrew Sullivan provides me with a thought to chew on. I had heard of building tunnels under highways to let wildlife maintain their historic routes, but  an Orion magazine article on the topic includes an overpass.

Andrew Blechman wrote the article. “When the Montana Department of Transportation approached the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes about widening the portion of U.S. Highway 93 that bisects the Flathead Indian Reservation, the tribes resisted. They first wanted assurances that any highway expansion would address the spirit that defines this region of prime wildlife habitat and natural wonders. The primary goal for the tribes was to mitigate the impact of the road on wildlife.

“While people view highways as a means of getting from one place to another, to wildlife they are just the opposite: a barrier….

“Collaboration between the tribes and highway engineers, with help from Montana State University and Defenders of Wildlife, led to the creation of the most progressive and extensive wildlife-oriented road design program in the country.

“The 56-mile segment of Highway 93 now contains 41 fish and wildlife underpasses and overpasses, as well as other protective measures to avoid fatalities. As creatures become accustomed to the crossings, usage is increasing—at last count, the number was in the tens of thousands. Motion cameras have captured does teaching their young to run back and forth through the crossings, much like human mothers teach their children to safely cross a street.” More at Orion.

See the overpass below.

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Trust Vermont to figure out how to do this.

The state had a highway rest stop in Guilford that was overwhelmed with visitors. The toilets could not keep up. Portable toilets were brought in to help, and everyone hated them.

“State officials,” says the Federal Highway Administration website, “needed a solution that could be designed and built quickly for the next foliage season.

” ‘We were looking for an alternative because we couldn’t continue with that high level of frustration,’ said [Dick Foster, director of the Vermont Information Center Division of the state’s Department of Buildings and General Services.]

“To further complicate matters, the welcome center was slated to be replaced by a newer facility in 2000, so the ‘quick fix’ also needed to be low cost. Tom Leytham, an architect who had designed other rest areas in the state, suggested the concept of using a Living Machine to Foster. …

” ‘I’d heard about Living Technologies, who had come up with a very elegant, simple solution that cleaned wastewater through a natural process involving plants.’

“Leytham drove Foster to South Burlington, Vt., where Living Technologies had installed a Living Machine to treat municipal wastewater. …

“In December 1996, in response to an inquiry from state officials, Living Technologies proposed a sewage-to-reuse system to reduce flows to the leachfields by recycling treated wastewater back into the restrooms to flush toilets. The Living Machine could be installed to serve the existing facilities at the Guilford center, and because the system was a modular design, it could be moved to another rest area when the center was relocated.

“In only eight months, the system was approved by the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources, funded by the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) and Vermont Department of Buildings and General Services, and installed by Living Technologies.”

The rest of the FHWA story by Molly Farrell, Liz Van der Hoven, and Tedann Olsen is here.

Katie Zezima at the NY Times adds more: “In a wing of the building, in the glass greenhouse, visitors look down on the vegetation from a grated ledge. The room, which offers spectacular mountain views, smells like a combination of mulch and chlorine.

“The building is heated and cooled by 24 geothermal wells. A similar system lies under the sidewalks to melt snow in the winter.” More from Zezima here.

Photo: Federal Highway Administration

http://www.fhwa.dot.gov/publications/publicroads/00mayjun/vermont.cfm

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