The Annual 2012

School of Visual Arts

Hazardous Conditions

Ron Gabriel

Striking a nerve with users of New York’s perpetually busy streets, the video component of a thesis project by recent alumnus Ron Gabriel (MFA 2011 Design) become a viral Web hit over the summer of 2011. Gabriel’s 3-Way Street is a campaign aimed at helping pedestrians, cyclists and drivers to share and share the roadways safely. The project also includes posters and a website, but the three-minute video of one particularly busy intersection, with computer graphics highlighting near-misses, proved compelling beyond its maker’s expectations.

Robert Krulwich, on the National Public Radio blog Krulwich Wonders, wrote:

City people are always pushing; if you think you won’t get caught, you keep moving. The rules don’t matter. The signs don’t matter.

But the amazing thing is, in most towns, even though people are constantly pushing their luck, taking crazy chances in traffic, they don’t die, they don’t get hurt. They get where they’re going. And that’s a miracle.

Just take a look at this video, created by New York designer (and School of Visual Arts grad student) Ron Gabriel, who went to a Manhattan intersection, 28th Street and Park Avenue, and watched cars, trucks, bicyclists and pedestrians skirting inches from each other with matter-of-fact ease.

The near misses (or the exquisite ballet between people and machines) is both maddening and thrilling, especially when Gabriel adds spatial graphics, sound effects and the theme from TV’s ‘Peter Gun’ by Art of Noise. This video will make you hate bikers.

And so it has always been. Traffic scholar Tom Vanderbilt wondered how pedestrians, chariots and carts negotiated the very narrow streets of ancient Pompeii.

The tourist wonders: Was it a one-way street? Did a lowly commoner have to reverse himself out of the way when a member of the imperial legions came trotting along in the other direction? If two chariots arrived at an intersection simultaneously, who went first?

The answer, says traffic archaeologist Eric Poehler, is Pompeiians improvised. There weren’t road signs. There were one-way streets. But, studying the ‘wear patterns at corners as well as the stepping stones set up for pedestrians,’ Poelher says people just learned to get out of each other’s way. Just like today.

Getouttamyway! (Thoughts on City Traffic)