Admittedly, as Traffic Engineers, the aesthetics of the things we design is not always at the forefront of our thoughts. Think of a signalized intersection. In order to power that signal, we must place a traffic signal control cabinet somewhere nearby. I personally never gave much thought to the perceived “ugliness” of these cabinets—that is, until I joined my neighborhood planning and development committee in the Clintonville neighborhood in Columbus, Ohio and learned of a project they were interested in pursuing. The project involved covering these boxes in public art. Genius, right?
Traffic signal box artwork has been popping up all over the world in recent years, and aside from contributing to community beautification, this type of project serves many other benefits, including promotion of local artists and their work, and reduction in graffiti and vandalism. In September 2020, after nearly three years of hard work, the Clintonville neighborhood was so excited to see our own traffic signal box artwork project become a reality! We achieved five installations evenly spaced along the main corridor that runs through our community. We were very proud of the fact that all artists were residents of our community and ranged from professional artists to elementary school students.
A couple tips for those considering this type of project in their own communities:
Involve city officials as early as possible.
The city will more than likely have permits and approvals that must be obtained. Additionally, many times the city will have a list of guidelines the artwork must abide by. It’s helpful to make artists aware of these guidelines before they submit their work. It’s also a good idea to make sure no streetscape or roadway improvement projects are planned for the area. The worst thing would be for you to put the time, effort, and money into getting a piece of artwork installed just for it to be removed one year (or less) later!
Consider the use of vinyl wrap instead of paint.
We worked with a company that specializes in printing any art media on a vinyl wrap material that is heat-shrunk to the boxes. It was a painless process—the company took care of formatting the art, printing the wrap, and even installing. The benefit of using vinyl wrap is that it is graffiti resistant. Any graffiti can be easily wiped off with isopropyl alcohol. The City of Columbus also preferred vinyl wrap because once the artwork reaches the end of its usable life, it can quickly and easily be removed from the boxes.
Our project specifically was 100% resident funded. It was challenging to raise money for a project that many residents had never heard of before, but through consistent publicity, we were able to reach our goal—even during a national pandemic!
While not typically thought of as essential, this type of project can be incredibly beneficial to a community. If anyone is interested in pursuing this type of project in their own community, I am happy to answer any additional questions you might have!