In a creative attempt to combat Red Hook’s mushrooming traffic problems, a seven-foot-tall, self-proclaimed “Traffic Stopper” was covertly installed in the intersection of Van Brunt and Dikeman streets early Saturday.
Speculation is rife as to the identity of the artist, but the intention of the sculpture seems clear.
“They wanted to test the authorities and see if they were even paying attention,” said Audrey Reynolds, who lives in an apartment that overlooks the intersection.
“Traffic has become so bad here, and nobody pays attention. They wanted to see if anybody would even bother to take it away.”
The cynicism was ill-founded.
The sculpture was erected somewhere around 3 am on Saturday, and police and the Department of Sanitation managed to remove the cider-block structure by 3 pm, allowing Fairway shoppers to browse for prosciutto and figs without further delay.
But there was a message to the guerilla artist’s madness.
Traffic on Van Brunt has increased dramatically since the Fairway supermarket opened in March. In July, the death of a pedestrian at Walcott and Van Brunt — one block from the sculpture and directly in front of a local public school — led to a series of neighborhood protests.
Recently, a Department of Transportation study recommended a stop light for Sullivan and Van Brunt streets. But while the city moves slowly towards installation, accidents on the 15-block Van Brunt straightaway occur regularly.
And with further development coming, many residents feel that things will only get worse.
“The traffic is terrible and it needs to be addressed,” said Stephen Merola, who came across the sculpture while getting his morning coffee.
He said the recent installation of “No standing zones” near key intersections has helped, “but you still see accidents every week and near accidents almost daily. It wasn’t like this even a year ago.”
When asked about the effectiveness of the sculpture, Merola smiled. “It would have slowed me down,” he said.
A source who knows the artist said he is planning future installations. But a police spokesman said that those artworks would have as short a run as the “Traffic Stopper.”
“It was an illegal structure, and it had to be removed,” the spokesman said.
— with Dana Rubinstein