There is a sign near the outskirts of Downtown Brooklyn which reads "Brooklyn Bridge", and directs the reader straight.
The bridge is in the opposite direction.
October 11, 2003
Following New York Signs Is Long Way to Nowhere
By MICHAEL BRICK
New York street signs often point to routes that are circuitous, confusing, counterintuitive, outdated, illegal, or just plain odd.
The seasoned motorist or indefatigable road-tripper, even the operator of a taximeter cabriolet, must at some point face that dark, despairing moment of hapless reckoning, staring dumbfounded at some of New York City's street signs.
The moment often comes when the time is wrong for contemplation, when the driver is late and harried and cursing at the windshield. But the motorist is not to blame. It is an open secret that many street signs here point to routes that are circuitous, confusing, counterintuitive, outdated, illegal or just plain strange.
There is, for instance, a sign on the northbound Franklin D. Roosevelt Drive near the Brooklyn Bridge exit that says "Flushing Meadows Corona Park." Options for reaching that destination, where tennis players bring glory upon themselves in the United States Open and where the Mets also play, are paralyzingly numerous from this starting point. The choices include, among others, crossing the Brooklyn Bridge and taking the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway to connect with the Long Island Expressway, a roughly 12-mile, somewhat-less-than-direct jaunt.
And because the choice is yours, the sign amounts to little more than a blithely encouraging reminder: You're in the right city, Pumpkin, just keep on driving.
The same can be said of the nearby sign marked "Yankee Stadium." This one points north. Now, it is an incontrovertible fact that Yankee Stadium is north of Lower Manhattan, but having absorbed that little piece of information, you would still have some navigating ahead of you. This sign seems to serve no purpose other than to be equitable to both baseball teams.
"To a New Yorker, you'll sit there and go, `What is this about?' " said Thomas Cocola, a spokesman for the city's Department of Transportation. "But if you think about it from the perspective of a guy from New Jersey, or who is staying in a hotel in New Jersey and now is going to his first Yankee game, those signs are reassuring."
Reassuring though they may be to the Jersey Guy, the signs pointing to destinations miles away in other boroughs are not of much help. And besides, that explanation does not clear up the reason for all the signs that lead to dead ends or point in the opposite direction of the destinations they promise.
It certainly does not settle the question of why, again near the Brooklyn Bridge, some of the most thorough signage on this planet points the way to the Ari Halberstam Memorial Ramp, the piece of roadway named in memory of the young Hasidic student who was slain on the bridge in 1994. Some people believe that scientists will one day invent a supercomputer to estimate the number of signs marking the way to the Ari Halberstam Memorial Ramp. There may be people in far-flung countries who can recite flawless directions to the Ari Halberstam Memorial Ramp, so well marked is its approach.
These curiosities come to inhabit their lamppost perches by dint of good intentions tempered by negotiation and time. Of the hundreds of thousands of street signs in New York, there are close to 1,000 that are meant to point the way to stadiums and museums and the like, and scores more for hospitals, Mr. Cocola said.
These signs are known as trailblazers, a somewhat excessively macho term for the job performed even by the helpfully accurate ones.
People who study this issue (Yes, there are people who study this issue. Ah, New York.) say that the odd placement of these signs is in many cases a result of long chains of compromises between the places that wish to be found by drivers and the various city agencies charged with obliging them.
"You start thinking about the groups that have a claim to signage — cultural institutions, hospitals — and you're dealing with an agency that doesn't have the money or frankly the real estate to put up all the signs everyone wants," said John Kaehny, the executive director of Transportation Alternatives, an advocacy group for pedestrians and bicyclists. "The signs end up in some nonsensical places."
The city does have an official Policy and Guidelines statement for the posting of trailblazer signs. This states that such signs are installed "only if it is determined that the sign supplements the existing street information and diminishes uncertainty or confusion on the part of the driver." To explore the disconnect between that policy statement and the reality encountered every day by lost New York drivers, this newspaper attempted to travel to a variety of destinations in several boroughs, using only the trailblazer signs for guidance.
Supplied with a half tank of gas, sunglasses, a bag of beef jerky and enough Blow Pops to sustain a photographer and reporter who are no longer chain smokers through some frustrating driving, The New York Times set out for the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center in Manhattan, Fordham University in the Bronx and the Brooklyn Children's Museum and SUNY Downstate Medical Center in Brooklyn.
Readers get to come along — spared, of course, the actual driving. It's for the best.
The journey to the Javits Center begins on Second Avenue at 57th Street, where a cheerful sign with a picture of an apple says Javits Center and points north. As Second Avenue is a one-way thoroughfare where traffic flows south, and as midday traffic would seem to promise a quick and painful death to anyone trying to follow that sign, you assume the sign has been turned by a vandal or the wind, and instead you head west on 57th Street.
There should be a left turn here somewhere. This is cheating, but you already know where the Javits Center is, at 34th Street and 11th Avenue, so you are looking for that next sign, one to point you a little ways downtown, but it never comes. By the time the West Side of Manhattan slopes down into the land of car dealerships, the Hudson River comes into view. Here your journey ends, because cars are expensive and you can't just go driving them into a river every time some sign tells you that the Javits Center is coming up.
To Fordham you go. Tooling up the Major Deegan Expressway, you are guided to Exit 11. This deposits you on Van Cortlandt Park South, where you are directed in a loop around the university.
This route seems strange, but a little patience bears out the sign hanger's intent. Had you left two exits earlier, you could have driven straight east on Fordham Road. Driving back to the expressway that way, though, the wisdom of this route becomes apparent. Fordham Road has lots of traffic lights, it is a busy pedestrian shopping district, and you can see things that might discomfit a nervous suburban parent, starting with funky stores like Liquer's and Millenium 2000 Jewelry and Bang Bang Leather.
These confusing sign-following experiences, though, pale next to the travails of navigating Brooklyn, where there is, in just one excruciating example, a tangled web of signs that could be called the Gowanus Expressway Overpass Trap.
Start at the intersection of McDonald Avenue and 20th Street, at the corner of Green-Wood Cemetery. Signs pointing down 20th Street promise to take you to the Brooklyn Children's Museum. But you pass Sixth and Seventh Avenues and never see a sign. You pass businesses that can build a skateboard ramp for you and places that can repair your forklift, but you do not see another sign for the museum, and your journey ends under the Gowanus Expressway.
A similar thing happens when you follow the sign on Coney Island Avenue near Caton Avenue for SUNY Downstate Medical Center. This one guides you into an endless loop. Deciding to maintain the direction that the sign indicates, you find yourself under the Gowanus Expressway, again. "God forbid you have an emergency and you're out in the middle of nowhere and you want to follow those little blue and white signs," said Mr. Cocola of the Transportation Department. SUNY Downstate Medical Center does exist, but if you can make it there, boys, you'll make it . . . oh, forget it.
Paul S. Pearson, a vice president of the Brooklyn Children's Museum, said that the museum's sign on 20th Street was intended to guide motorists leaving the Prospect Expressway to another set of signs for cultural institutions.
"That particular one is always a puzzling one," Mr. Pearson said.
Placing the signs, he said, was a $300,000 project that took four years, involved the Economic Development Commission and a design firm, and required approvals from the city's Parks Department, Department of Transportation and Art Commission, as well as the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, New York City Transit and the office of the Brooklyn borough president.
"It seems fairly straightforward," Mr. Pearson said. "You pull out a map and say where you want to go. From there on out, it's a lot of negotiations and approvals."
There is another way, but this would probably lead to chaos if everyone tried it. A block from the sign for SUNY Downstate, at the corner of Coney Island Avenue and Caton Place, there is a piece of white cardboard, no bigger than a dish towel and fashioned into the shape of an arrow. It says "Calvary Cathedral of Praise."
Right down the block, just where the arrow says it will be, is a building marked "Calvary Cathedral of Praise." It's an unusual moment of absolute clarity.
"The people that really come out ahead," said Mr. Kaehny of Transportation Alternatives, "are the ones that make their own signs and put them up."
GO NORTH: A sign marked "Yankee Stadium" sits on a median below Houston Street in Lower Manhattan.
Copyright 2003 The New York Times Company
There is a sign near the outskirts of Downtown Brooklyn which reads "Brooklyn Bridge", and directs the reader straight.
The bridge is in the opposite direction.
How to Find the Bridge? First, Pay Your Respects
By SAM ROBERTS
The metal signs are impossible to miss. They are oversize, in a bold blue usually found on signs directing drivers to the nearest hospital. And there are lots of them — 13 in all, according to the city’s count — along a quarter-mile stretch of roadway and its approaches.
In fact, probably no thoroughfare in New York City is better identified than the ramp connecting the southbound Franklin D. Roosevelt Drive to the Brooklyn Bridge. The signs all say the same thing: “Ari Halberstam Memorial Ramp.”
Many drivers no doubt have no idea who that is. And that’s precisely why the signs are there.
On March 1, 1994, Ari Halberstam was shot on the ramp as he and other yeshiva students were returning to Brooklyn in a van from a vigil for the ailing Lubavitcher rebbe, Menachem Mendel Schneerson. Ari died five days later. He was 16.
The shooting was considered an act of terrorism. Prosecutors said the gunman, Rashid Baz, a Lebanese immigrant who is serving a 141-year prison sentence for the attack, was retaliating for the massacre several days earlier of Muslim worshippers in the West Bank by a Jewish settler from Brooklyn.
Ari’s mother, Devorah Halberstam, was intent on keeping her son’s legacy alive, even as his killing has receded from memory.
In 1995, the City Council, sympathetic to her loss and to the larger symbolism of the killing and mindful of the political clout of the Hasidic community, formally named the ramp in Ari Halberstam’s memory. But the tribute went far beyond the usual street namings that honor fallen police officers, veterans, victims of 9/11 and others who usually get a green-and-white ceremonial street sign below the one with the original name.
While nobody questions Miss Halberstam’s motivation, the unusual scope of the sign tribute has raised questions from some city officials and, occasionally, the curiosity of passing motorists. When several of the signs were removed a few years ago to make room for warnings that the bridge was under police surveillance, the ensuing outcry prompted City Hall to back down.
Kenneth K. Fisher was one of the councilmen who introduced the name-change bill, which passed, 49 to 0.
“It was real statement by the Council and by the mayor that this was not simply a case of road rage,” he said. Ari’s mother, he said, “was a very effective advocate for the notion that her son’s murder should be recognized, and she happened to come from a particularly politically active sect. Do there need to be quite as many markers indicating where the incident occurred? That was done by the transportation commissioner at the time. The legislation didn’t specify that.”
Christine C. Quinn, the Council speaker, said 13 signs might be excessive, “but at some point you need to get the message out.”
Christopher R. Lynn, the city’s transportation commissioner at the time, said the signs were a compromise.
“You couldn’t rename the bridge,” he said.
The deal was engineered, in part, by Randy M. Mastro, who was Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani’s chief of staff. “The least the city could do is to honor his memory with a few signs where that tragedy occurred so we never forget,” Mr. Mastro said. Mr. Lynn said he made the final decision. “I remember telling Rudy, ‘When you take that curve, you don’t see the sign,’ ” he recalled. “He said, ‘I trust your instinct.’ So I put up around seven.”
The seven signs are on the ramp itself, he said; others are on the approaches to the ramp.
Miss Halberstam said that “the number and where they were placed was decided not by me.”
But since the signs were put in place, she has been quite protective. A few years ago, outraged after she noticed that some signs were missing, apparently replaced by the police surveillance signs, she sent an e-mail message to Deputy Mayor Patricia E. Harris.
“I just crossed the bridge and there are three signs missing on the ramp,” she wrote in the message, a copy of which was obtained through a Freedom of Information request. “Who did this? Who dishonored my son’s memory? What is going on? Who would do this? Who would stab a knife in my heart like this? Patti, please look into this a.s.a.p. because I will not have a second of peace until this is corrected and restored.”
Whether and how Ms. Harris responded is unclear, but soon after Miss Halberstam’s plea, City Hall ordered the signs restored.
“Once the signs are put up,” Miss Halberstam said in an interview, “they should not be taken down.”
From time to time, Miss Halberstam, who was divorced from her husband after their son’s death, said she gets complaints about the signs.
“You hear some negative comments: ‘Why was it done for Ari?’ ” she said. “The reason I wanted this wasn’t just because he was my child. Ari represented an innocent victim of terrorism. He was murdered as an American citizen and because he was clearly identified as a Jew.”
Besides her role in the signs and a Web site, arihalberstam.com, Miss Halberstam works for the Jewish Children’s Museum in Brooklyn, which opened in 2005 and whose focus is tolerance and understanding; it is dedicated in her son’s memory. She has also worked with law enforcement officials on gun control and combating terrorism.
“She has taken a tragedy — the most horrible tragedy a parent can go through,” and turned it into something meaningful, said David M. Pollock, associate executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of New York.
Councilman Lewis A. Fidler, a Brooklyn Democrat and a friend of Miss Halberstam, said: “Most people under those circumstances retreat into hate, anger, bitterness or loss of faith. This woman has built a children’s museum.”
The signs leading to the bridge will always remain precious to Miss Halberstam, though she realizes that the shooting is largely forgotten, particularly after 9/11.
“The first years everybody remembered,” she said. “We’re up to the second and third generation, and people are saying, ‘Who was Ari Halberstam?’ ” Perhaps, she mused, another sign, with more details about what happened, could be put up on the bridge itself.
In the meantime, work on the ramp is scheduled to begin in a few months. City officials vow that not a single sign will be touched.
The "message" is wasted since most people do not know the story.
This is just kissing arse and paying homage to win favor of a RELIGIOUS GROUP, exactly what our government should not be doing.
You want to name it in memoriam? Fine, but don't go spending thousands of dollars a shot at putting signs up all over naming a ramp.
^ Gotta keep that voting bloc on the team.
This is one of my all-time button pushers...a blight on common sense and my senses. An utterly disgusting display of political toadyism.
The Ari Halberstam Memorial Ramp? Really? One discrete sign would have been in good taste. This feces overkill has the exact opposite effect on me as what was intended...I hate Ari Halberstam. Are you happy, City Council? Good job.
^ Don't hate him. He had nothing to do with this. Hate the system, hate his mother, hate the politicians but don't hate the poor guy.
I agree with everything else. Such a waste of money in a city where every dollar could be put to so much better use.
To tell you the truth, I wish the city did more to mark the places where incidents like these have happened. No one remembers Yusef Hawkins or Michael Griffith anymore. They should.
AAMOF, I am sick of how many people have to prove they are so "proud" of themselves they need a parade. :P
You can toll them if you want, but that deference was also in place because they:They cost a ton of money in clean-up and security. How about no meter parking on sundays in deference to the christian church?
1. Could not get enough people to give tickets
2. They ARE, afetr all, supposed to representing the town (what is teh purpose of the meters again? Oh yeah, to make it so people do not leave their cars and make it so that people cannot get to the local buisnesses, most of which were closed on Sunday.... etc etc).
3. Don't start with the "Well what about everything that was done for..." as if that somehow makes arse kissing ANOTHER group more acceptable.
The key is, as was mentioned by others. MEMORIALIZE, do NOT Diefy. 1 plaque or sign on the ramp, not 15.To tell you the truth, I wish the city did more to mark the places where incidents like these have happened. No one remembers Yusef Hawkins or Michael Griffith anymore. They should.
Parades and such are claimed to bring in folks who spend money.
^^^^No, I don't hate Ari Halberstam...unfortunately, he got caught in the crossfire of my seething resentment of this particular overbaked response to an interest group. I know there are more important things to be pissed at, but for some reason, the Ari Halberstam Ramp just sets me off. Why not the Roebling Ramp, or 9/11 Ramp? Ok, you want an AH Ramp? One tasteful plaque and I'm on board and this is a non-event and even empathize.
NH, I really disagree with you on this. The first point is silly, the city finds people to police the streets, run the trains, answer 311 calls and do a zillion other things on Sundays.
I don't understand your second point. However, the vast majority of the local businesses in my neighborhood are open on Sunday.
Your third point is the crux of the issue for me. I love the texture of this city. The fact that as many different kinds of people can live here together in relative peace with one and other is incredible to me. Our shared experiences are important. I hope we don't only mention them in passing, but rather highlight them. Also, I like the parades.
Lastly, I think categorizing the extra signs that have been hung as deification (with plenty of ALL CAPS)is a tad hyperbolic, don't you? In my opinion, the most accurate description one could offer of the AH ramp's signage is closer to "it's a bit much".
Blue Laws are still in effect in Bergen County NJ, and while some say that is being religiously discriminate, most (including many Jews) really do not mind having a bit of reprieve from the mall traffic (although I would bet many Jewish shoppers would prefer Saturday closure than Sunday.... except those that own the shops in a predominantly catholic/Christan neighborhood! )
Religion has faded from many of the rules, but they kept them from their inception. So are you saying we should start activating the meters on Sunday now?
Were they when the law was written?I don't understand your second point. However, the vast majority of the local businesses in my neighborhood are open on Sunday.
I hate over aggrandizing of a group. The highlighting of a difference to the extent that it keeps itself separate.Your third point is the crux of the issue for me. I love the texture of this city. The fact that as many different kinds of people can live here together in relative peace with one and other is incredible to me. Our shared experiences are important. I hope we don't only mention them in passing, but rather highlight them. Also, I like the parades.
I do not mind cultural expression, but I have never really liked parades for whatever reason, from Rose Bowl to Gay Pride, I just find it a bunch of blowing ones own horn(s).
It is a bit of an exaggeration in appellation, but 15 signs of that size when we are also having budget problems? How much do each of those signs cost?Lastly, I think categorizing the extra signs that have been hung as deification (with plenty of ALL CAPS)is a tad hyperbolic, don't you? In my opinion, the most accurate description one could offer of the AH ramp's signage is closer to "it's a bit much".
You wanna pull the trump card? How many people could that have fed? And what was the reason for them OTHER than to appease a secular group? Maybe not Deification, but definite over-zealous martyrdom!
DS, do not get me wrong, there are many rules that do not make any sense and were once based on religion or other factors, but I doubt there would be many kids out there willing to point out that schools were usually let out in the summer to let the kids out to help work on the farm and beg to have schools open all year round! (As well as pointing out that things like meter suspension were probably originally secular as well, and realization of that would only bring the activation of them all week long, not the removal of Saturday from the list... Although I am sure many parking regulations are suspended on saturday in Hasidic neighborhoods....)
I think all caps is better. $27m is a lot of money.
$27 million to change NYC signs from all-caps
By JEREMY OLSHAN
The Capital of the World is going lower-case. Federal copy editors are demanding the city change its 250,900 street signs -- such as these for Perry Avenue in The Bronx -- from the all-caps style used for more than a century to ones that capitalize only the first letters.
Changing BROADWAY to Broadway will save lives, the Federal Highway Administration contends in its updated Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices, citing improved readability.
At $110 per sign, it will also cost the state $27.6 million, city officials said.
"We have already started replacing the signs in The Bronx," city Transportation Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan told The Post. 'We will have 11,000 done by the end of this fiscal year, and the rest finished by 2018."
$27 million to turn PERRY AV into Perry Av
It appears e.e. cummings was right to eschew capital letters, federal officials explain.
Studies have shown that it is harder to read all-caps signs, and those extra milliseconds spent staring away from the road have been shown to increase the likelihood of accidents, particularly among older drivers, federal documents say.
The new regulations also require a change in font from the standard highway typeface to Clearview, which was specially developed for this purpose.
As a result, even numbered street signs will have to be replaced.
"Safety is this department's top priority," Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said last year, in support of the new guidelines. "These new and updated standards will help make our nation's roads and bridges safer for drivers, construction workers and pedestrians alike."
The Highway Administration acknowledged that New York and other states "opposed the change, and suggested that the use of all upper-case letters remain an option," noting that "while the mixed-case words might be easier to read, the amount of improvement in legibility did not justify the cost."
To compensate for those concerns, in 2003, the administration allowed for a 15-year phase-in period ending in 2018.
Although the city did not begin replacing the signs until earlier this year, Sadik-Khan said they will have no trouble meeting the deadline, as some 8,000 signs a year are replaced annually simply due to wear and tear.
The new diminutive signs, which will also feature new reflective sheeting, may also reflect a kinder, gentler New York, she said.
"On the Internet, writing in all caps means you are shouting," she said. "Our new signs can quiet down, as well."