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Most of the signs feature edited photos taken around St. Paul. They are the same size as regular street signs. This one was at the intersection of Hamline and Edmund avenues.

Bruce Bisping, Star Tribune

An art gallery along the curb

  • Article by: CHRIS HAVENS
  • Star Tribune
  • August 5, 2008 - 7:56 PM

There are some curious street signs in part of the Hamline-Midway neighborhood.

A picture of a man peering over his glasses and wagging his finger. A sign that says "birds" but has a silhouette of cats. A yellow background with smushed rectangles outlined in black.

You won't find a speed limit on any of these 37 signs, but their intent is to slow drivers down. It's an experiment/exhibit by St. Paul Public Works, thought up by former artist-in-residence Steven Woodward.

"We're acting like the curator," said Public Works spokeswoman Shannon Tyree.

The signs are posted on Hamline Avenue from Charles to Blair and along Thomas Avenue from Pascal to Griggs. They will be in the neighborhood for eight to 10 weeks, and halfway through will switch sides of the street. After that time, the signs will be moved to another neighborhood that could use fewer leadfoots.

A few blocks away, at the intersection of Albert Street and Blair Avenue, and along a section of Van Buren, the street is brightly painted. It's another effort to calm drivers and create a sense of place for neighbors.

Woodward said it has taken about 2 1/2 years to bring the project to fruition. Each sign has gone through 10 to 20 iterations, and the majority are photographs that were edited.

"It gives a sense of place," Woodward said. About a third of the signs were pictures of people taken in St. Paul neighborhoods. "I thought after you see a few, you'd see a stop sign very differently."

The signs are 18 inches by 30 inches, just like regular street signs. They're made of standard street sign materials. To be clear, though, the art signs do not replace regulatory street signs.

The signs aren't meant as commands, Woodward said, but as questions. They will mean 10 different things to 10 different people, he said.

Still, public works officials and Woodward don't want people hitting the brakes or pulling over all the time.

"The goal is to make people more aware of their surroundings, not to be a disturbance," Tyree said.

The project cost $50,000; half is being paid for by Public Art St. Paul and half from the half-cent sales tax known as STAR funds.

"This isn't a silver bullet," Woodward said. "It may influence traffic habits, but mostly it increases the dialogue."

Chris Havens • 651-298-1542

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