Under cover of darkness, several cyclists late Sunday night placed eight large cartoon cutouts displaying advice about bicycle safety along portions of Massachusetts Avenue, sending a punchy visual message to drivers and city officials that more needs to be done to make roads safer for those on two wheels.
One of the cutouts, at the intersection of Massachusetts Ave. and Newbury Street, appeared to depict a cartoon version of Mayor Martin J. Walsh and actor Matt Damon.
A series of comic book-style text bubbles floating above the heads of the cartoons contained banter about bike infrastructure needs.
One bubble above the cartoon of Walsh read, “C’mon guys, you can pahk better!”
In response, the cartoon of Damon, who is holding an Oscar trophy, says, “Marty, why don’t you just put in some bollards.” Bollards are posts used to separate bike lanes from the flow of traffic.
A third text bubble shows Walsh saying, “What, I suppose you think you’re some sort of genius?”
To that, Damon replies, “Um, well, no. But I played one.”
The guerilla art project was created by architect and bike advocate Jonathan Fertig, who posted pictures of himself on Twitter installing the artistic “buffers” Sunday night with a group of friends.
“Buffers can be much more than just paint,” Fertig wrote on Twitter, using the hashtag #DemandMore.
The project was done in collaboration with local artist Bekka Wright, who designed the large character cutouts.
Wright promotes bicycle advocacy and offers safety tips through humorous drawings and editorial cartoons on her website, bikeyface.com.
A second cutout along Massachusetts Ave. was of a woman wearing a bike helmet and informing drivers to watch for cyclists when opening car doors, to avoid “dooring” incidents.
And a third cutout showed a person dancing.
“Let’s keep this area clear for swinging doors and my swinging legs!” the message above the cartoon man read
The cutouts were printed on waterproof glossy photo paper and pasted to “gatorboard,” according to organizers. They were then screwed onto metal fence posts, which were placed into buckets of cement and covered with soil and flowers. The phrase “#DemandMore” was also written in black ink on each of the white containers.
The move, which the group described as “tactical urbanism,” comes nearly a week after Walsh faced criticism for comments he made about bicyclists and pedestrians needing to pay better attention during an interview on WGBH-FM radio.
Walsh’s statements led to a small protest, in the form of a silent vigil, on City Hall Plaza last Friday.
The cartoon figures were placed next to designated bike lanes along Mass. Ave., in the Back Bay area, and did not impede traffic.
In a telephone interview, Fertig said the project had been in the works for months. He originally planned to roll out the artwork during the winter, but decided it would have a greater impact in the spring.
“I hope that people who are riding around the city see that there are people who are fighting with them,” he said of the project. “And I hope to raise the issue that there’s a couple of different ways of viewing our streets, and they can be beautiful places full of art.”
He said he hopes drivers see them and say, “that’s kind of neat.”
Officials from the Boston Transportation Department said while they appreciate efforts to educate the public about bike safety, the signs would have to come down.
“We agree that it is beneficial to circulate these important messages and we are working each day to further enhance our streets so that they are safe and welcoming for all users,” the department said in a statement. “Unfortunately, however, the cutouts will need to be removed from this busy street to maximize visibility.”
The cutouts got a mixed reaction from commuters who passed by them on their way to work.
Cathy Jacobowitz walked out of her apartment and inspected a cutout of a “Parking Coach” that was placed across from Berklee College of Music.
The coach’s message militantly advised passersby to “Line it up,” and “avoid opening your door into the bike lane.”
At first, Jacobowitz was critical of the artwork, thinking it was a city-sponsored initiative. But after learning it was the work of activists taking matters into their own hands, she admitted she was slightly impressed.
Still, she questioned the effectiveness of the messages.
“I don’t think most people speeding by will even see it,” she said. “But I’m in favor of protest art, for sure.”
Natalie, a cyclist who did not want to give her last name, said she worried that the signage could lead to crashes, since people would be riding or driving while trying to read the text.
She did agree, however, that making the streets safer for cyclists is important.
“I have gotten in a close call a lot of times,” she said, adding that she’s a triathlete. “I really don’t like biking in the city. But it’s just the most efficient way to get around.”
Cyclists Andrea O’Hearn and Robbie Finn, who were on their way to work, found humor in the artwork, and said the messages could prove to be educational.
As they stopped at a crosswalk at the intersection of Massachusetts and Commonwealth avenues, they also pondered what the reaction to the signs would be from drivers.
“There’s a bit of a divide between drivers and cyclists, for sure,” O’Hearn said. “If you have a gripe to begin with, it might amplify it.”