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Artist Takes a Crack at Improving Crosswalk Safety With Piñata Bump-Outs

04 Susan Krueger-Barber Pinatas in place in crosswalk at Drake and Milwaukee as traffic calmers 080716
Krueger-Barber used pinatas on construction bollards to create temporary curb bump-outs at Milwaukee/Drake. Photo: Corner gallery

You might not think that someone from Provo, Utah (population 116,288), would have much to tell Chicagoans about pedestrian safety issues, but artist Susan Krueger-Barber is bringing a fresh approach to tactical urbanism to our city to highlight the dangers to people on foot.

As an MFA student at the Art Institute of Chicago, this month Krueger-Barber is doing residency at Avondale’s Corner gallery, 2912 North Milwaukee, focusing on crosswalk dynamics in cities with a project called “Stripes Aren’t Enough.” She’s studying driver behaviors that endanger pedestrians at the adjacent Milwaukee/Drake intersection, and testing out fun strategies for safety interventions, while dressed in the costume of her comedic alter ego Art Grrrl. At the end of her residency, she’ll present a formal proposal for changes to the intersection to the Chicago Department of Transportation.

art grrrl
Kreuger-Barber pushes responsible shoveling during an intervention in Provo, Utah. Photo: Susan Krueger-Barber.

Lynn Basa, the owner of Corner gallery, said the residency is a perfect fit. “We’re this friendly neighborhood gallery, but you look out the window and see all this, mean egregious behavior,” referring to drivers who fail to stop for pedestrians in the zebra-striped crosswalk at the southeast leg of the T-shaped Milwaukee/Drake junction. “It’s surprising that people in cars would do that to their fellow citizens in crosswalks.”

According to the Chicago Crash Browser, created by Streetsblog Chicago's Steven Vance, there were four pedestrian crashes and one bike crash near the intersection between 2009 and 2014. In 2013 Ronald Lee Hubert, 51, was fatally struck by a hit-and-run driver at Milwaukee and Ridgeway, a few blocks northwest of the gallery. Basa is excited to see if Krueger-Barber’s outside-the-box ideas can help improve safety on the corridor.

The artist first became interested in using art to raise awareness of the dangers posed to vulnerable road users after one of one of her Provo neighbors was fatally struck by a driver. Rosa Merino, 42, was crossing a street in the crosswalk with the right of way at 6:30 a.m. when she was run over by a pick-up truck driver who disregarded a red light. Authorities initially blamed the victim for causing the crash because she was wearing dark clothing.

Since then, Krueger-Barber has done several pedestrian- and bike-safety interventions and stunts in Provo. These range from serving as a crossing guard with a gigantic orange flag to creating a PSA against speeding featuring herself in a Sasquatch costume being struck by a driver, in a frighteningly realistic manner. One project, temporarily installing sharrows and traffic diverters on a roadway, proved so successful that city officials plan to create a permanent bike boulevard on the street.

So far in Chicago, Krueger-Barber has created a memorial wall within corner gallery with tributes to the 22 pedestrians and cyclists who have lost their lives to traffic violence in Chicago this year (by CDOT’s count), with info on the incidents and the victims partly based on Streetsblog Chicago’s Fatality Tracker posts. But she’s also created a “Wall of Solutions” to improve safety, including literally wallpapering the gallery with pages from the Chicago Pedestrian Plan.

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The Wall of Solutions, papered with pages from the Chicago Pedestrian Plan. Photo: Corner gallery

During August Krueger-Barber will meet with local officials and advocates to discuss pedestrian safety ideas, which will inform her final work. This week she’s meeting with CDOT’s Vanessa Irizarry, who is coordinating the city’s Make Way for People placemaking initiatives. The artist will also talk this week with Katherine Darnstadt from the firm Latent Design, which recently won a contract with the city to create vendor kiosks in public plazas. Entrepreneurs will be able to rent the spaces for a month to create pop-up shops. One of the first locations will be Woodard Plaza, a couple blocks southeast of Corner Gallery.

Best of all, every Sunday from noon to 5 p.m. this month, Krueger-Barber will be hosting meet-and-greet sessions at the gallery while clad in her Art Grrrl outfit, highlighting a different playful crosswalk intervention. Each intervention will be documented on video.

Last Sunday she set-up temporary curb bump-outs at Milwaukee/Drake using construction bollards topped with candy-filled piñatas from a nearby Mexican grocery store. Although she didn’t get permission from the authorities in advance, she didn’t get any grief from the police during the afternoon test.

“It went pretty well,” Krueger-Barber said. “It slowed down some traffic, but there were still some outliers who sped through the intersection.” The bump-outs extended the curbs by 6.5 feet, leaving 14-foot-wide travel lanes. “I wanted to make sure there was enough room for bicyclists to pass through, since Milwaukee is a very busy bike route.”

None of the piñatas were struck by cars. “But if they had been, that would have been amazing – the candy would have been a festive stand-in for guts,” Krueger-Barber said. No passers-by tried to break the piñatas, but lots of them took selfies with the papier mache critters.

Krueger-Barber has a few potential ideas for next Sunday. She may try to create an entire papier mache bump-out that doubles as a piñata, or she might make a life-size crossing guard piñata. She’s also interested in creating some on-street mini parks and installations in parking spaces along the block.

“I was also thinking about creating a lizard skin the size of a car and placing it in one of the spaces, then performing as an actual lizard inspired by Donald Shoup's theory,” she said referencing a quote from the famed parking guru that "thinking about parking seems to take place in the reptilian cortex." Show up next Sunday to find out what her next unconventional safety intervention will be.

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