The Tourist Lane

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idea by Jeff Greenspan / Produced by Charlie Todd and Matt Adams / song by Tyler Walker

For our latest mission, we created separate walking lanes for tourists and New Yorkers on a Fifth Avenue sidewalk. Department of Transportation “employees” were on hand to enforce the new rules and ask pedestrians for their feedback on the initiative. Enjoy the video first and then go behind-the-scenes with the photos and report below.

Idea by: Jeff Greenspan
Shot by: Matt Adams, Jason Eppink, and Keith Haskel
Photography: Katie Sokoler and Scott Beale
DOT Workers: Dan Black, Don Fanelli, Jeff Greenspan, Cody Lindquist

Agent Greenspan came up with the idea for this project earlier this year and did some experimenting with different types of chalk and line drawing machines. When he told me about the project, I immediately fell in love with it and asked him if he would like to collaborate and turn it into an Improv Everywhere mission. To my delight, he was down.

To make it work as an IE mission, I knew we’d have to add a performance aspect to create more of a scene. We came up with the idea of having agents pose as Department of Transportation employees directing pedestrian traffic to really bring the lanes alive.

Cast and crew getting organized in Madison Square Park

Landscape Chalk

Agent Greenspan designed the stencils and ordered all of the equipment online. It was important to us to use chalk and not spray paint. For IE missions, we always attempt to leave no trace behind once we disappear. Although the chalk would still be up after the mission, it would wash away after a heavy rain. Even though we were using water-soluble chalk, we were still nervous about getting in trouble with the police. The NYPD has a history of arresting activists, artists, and even six-year-old girls for using chalk on the streets (in all cases charges were eventually dropped.)

Agent Greenspan hid his stencils in the bottom of two boxes. He definitely attracted attention from passersby when he began spraying. Fortunately, the boxes helped disguise his actions a bit, and the orange vest gave him the appearance of authority. He laid the stencils down on both sides of the block.

Agent Fanelli guards the stencils as the chalk dries

Agent Greenspan sets up the line machine

Agent Black clears the way as the line is drawn


Agent Black directs pedestrian traffic on the south end

Agent Fanelli on the north end

Clearly tourists

A group of women from Spain came by and loved the lanes. This woman posed for a photo.

One of many who stopped to take a picture

Laughing at the lanes

One dog was from out of town

iPhone listening New Yorker

After a while we figured it would be better if Agents Black and Fanelli stood together rather than on opposite ends of the block. It was hilarious watching them interact with pedestrians and riff off of each other. The video was only able to capture a small fraction of the comedy that came out of their mouths.

Agent Lindquist positioned herself about twenty feet past the stencils near the corner of 23rd Street and stopped pedestrians to ask for their feedback. She explained that she worked for the Department of Transportation, that this was a test block, and that the lanes would be painted on every block in the city by the end of the summer.

She received a wide variety of feedback. Many people thought it was hilarious and were skeptical of it being legitimate. Others bought into it, especially tourists. The most common complaint was that part of the fun of visiting New York is experiencing the hustle and bustle of the sidewalk as you walk amongst New Yorkers. Some were upset at the idea of the new lanes taking away from that experience.

Agent Lindquist’s feedback form

Several New Yorkers gave the lanes high praise, perhaps frustrated with the slow walking tourists they encounter on their daily commute. This guy loved it so much he insisted upon giving Agents Fanelli and Black high fives.

The mission lasted about an hour before we packed up and disappeared. The lanes, of course, remained on the street so the prank continued. We were very curious if the project would make it’s way to the Internet before we could edit and post our video. Three full days passed and all was quiet. But then…

New Yorker Mark Armstrong took a single photo of the project and put it on his Tumblr blog. The post was “liked” and “reblogged” nearly 500 times. It quickly attracted the attention of larger blogs like The Awl and Gothamist.

It then started popping up on blogs all over the place and spreading through twitter and facebook. The next morning, both the New York Post and the New York Daily News had stories in their paper and online.

The Post even produced a video:

As more local TV and radio media started picking up the story that day, Mayor Bloomberg was asked about it at a press conference. The mayor chose to spin the tourist lane positively, saying it was clear that it was a “nice thing to do” for tourists and that he thought it was “very cute.” He went on to say that anyone who saw an anti-tourist message in the chalk had to be a “sick person.”

As the media tried to figure out who the anonymous artist was, The New York Times City Room blog wondered out loud, “Maybe it’s Banksy.”

The project even got the remix treatment.

Later that day, the real Department of Transportation buffed the chalk clean. It stayed up for four days, but ultimately could not survive the media attention.

New York Magazine put the project in their weekly Approval Matrix graphic. They classified it both “brilliant” and “highbrow.” Though we shouldn’t toot our horn too much, as the same graphic shows our Ghostbusters mission in the “despicable” and “lowbrow” section! I mean, I get that guys running around in silly costumes is pretty lowbrow, but despicable? Lighten up Approval Matrix!

The whole thing was a very unique experience for us. Typically our missions don’t get blog and press coverage until after we post them on our site. It was fun to watch people speculate as to who was responsible and what his motives were. In the end, The Tourist Lane is not a pro-tourist or anti-tourist project. It just is.

Agents Black, Fanelli, and Tourist Lane creator Jeff Greenspan

Mission Accomplished


Agent Sokoler’s Flickr Set
Agent Beale’s Flickr Set
– Similar Projects: Joey Skagg’s Walk Right, Banksy’s Fat Lane, Joshua Kinberg’s Bikes Against Bush

I debuted the video at the Mashable Media Summit in NY:

Agent Greenspan put together a video that shows the evolution of the project:

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86 Responses to The Tourist Lane

  1. Kula says:

    I ? NY Tourist Lane.

  2. Kula says:

    That “?” should be a |heart symbol|

  3. Jason Eppink says:

    Agent Black and Fanelli were HILARIOUS. Great job, fellas!

  4. Tommy says:

    Great idea. The reactions of people were great.

    Wish the idea would stay. I’m a NYer and it’s a hassle for me to get to places when I’m in a hurry. Basically have to dodge people.

  5. Jason Eppink says:

    Also, the Bikes Against Bush project was such a brilliant project and amazing prior art. What’s infuriating (besides the fact that the rig was confiscated before it could be properly used during the RNC protests) is that the NYPD “lost” the guy’s bike!!!

  6. Jackie says:

    We defintely need those in Boston!

  7. cybercita says:

    crap! how did i miss this — it’s right around the corner from my office!

  8. TPRJones says:

    I knew it! I remember seeing that, and as you guys are about the only thing I know about New York I immediately thought y’all were involved. I was right!

  9. the yellow tooth hawk says:

    when is the start date for this to take effect?

  10. Rachael says:

    Brilliant. I love how ONE photo sparked everything before you could even post a video.

  11. T says:

    I work on 34th btwn 8 and 9 Ave. where there is a clear view of the Empire State Bldg and a block from Macys, when can we get these installed?

  12. Mary says:

    Really funny Charlie and everyone else! Our family participated in the 2009 Roosevelt Island gig and we can’t get enough of this funny stuff. We live near D.C. Anything coming up there soon?

  13. Anthony says:

    I think this would be an interesting idea and is very funny but as an upstate NY resident I only wish we could come up with something for when tourist from the city come up here and are blown away when they see animals like deer and how beautiful nature is. Then they are the ones that drive 10 mph and point and take pictures.

    • Mari says:

      I live near Valley Forge park, and it is the same thing. I have to drive through it to get to work, and there are always people driving so slow.

  14. SR says:

    I saw this on CBS2 about a week ago…never thought it was Improv Everywhere! It makes perfect sense now, of course.

  15. Heidi says:

    Brilliant! Come to Chicago and do this on Michigan Avenue!!

  16. ENFD240 says:

    if this isn’t a reason to vote charlie todd in as mayor, i don’t know what is… and mr. greenspan as minister of tourism

  17. IE Junkie says:

    Funny, & actually not a bad idea! If it were real, NYC pickpockets and hustlers could save a lot of time by not messing with people in the left lane.

  18. joe says:

    ha I remember hearing about it on the news and thinking that it was very funny

  19. k says:

    was totally there!! some guy asked me if i was a nyc resident.. as a typical nyer… i blew right by him.. lol!

  20. theglenburnie says:

    I hope the mayor sent you the bill for the cleanup.

    • Emily says:

      It was chalk! How expensive could it be to clean it up?

      • really? says:

        More importantly, it would have cleaned itself up if the people in charge weren’t so impatient. It’s not a matter of how expensive it was to clean, it’s whether the situation would have resolved itself had the city not been impatient and taken action(it would have).

  21. Suzanne says:

    That’s so great! I saw a short news bit about it out here in SEATTLE, WA. They reported it as a piece of public art by an artist. Gotta admit – I like thinking of IE as artists.

  22. Ashkir says:

    I’m not from New York, I’m just a Californian. But this is a brilliant idea! Traffic here doesn’t get that bad, but still, an amusing idea from what I’ve seen traffic is like there.

  23. Chenners says:

    HA! That was YOU GUYS??

    I live on 5th. I stuck to the rule. Thanks for improving the neighborhood.

    pretentious asshole.

  24. Liza says:

    This is actually a brilliant idea to be used in real life.

    No matter how nice, how many times, and how loud you say “excuse me” tourists will not move.

    So I just say excuse me as I walk through them. Sorry but I’ve got to get to work!

  25. mouse says:

    Anywhere that has a high tourist flow desperately needs this. Waited tables for a year in an “old town” district where the bloody tourists would push us employees out of the way to get to their next sight seeing adventure while we were trying to get to work. Ridiculous.

  26. Janet says:

    I work in SoHo and summer evenings I used to play “dodge tourist” on two block walk to the subway up Broadway. The object of the game was to walk as quickly as possible to the subway without touching anyone. Rarely accomplished. Don’t worry, I didn’t mow down anyone, and can’t walk slowly down Broadway without touching anyone in the summer,either!

  27. excalipoor says:

    Being a New Yorker, it’s always frustrating when you see a pack of tourist just suddenly stop walking and become a roadblock. Especially I’ve been around Time Square often because I’ve been on a Broadway crazed. I’m trying to go from one block from another, but there are just so many people walking so damn slow. I think I should start taking pictures of tourists taking pictures.

    As for the mission, great job guys. This is one of the more subtle but yet became a huge thing in the media. You definitely cause a scene. =) Hopefully, you guys can start to do more of these things again. I wanna participate!!!

  28. Barbara says:

    Semplicemente geniale! Siete il vero unico motivo per cui varrebbe la pena trasferirsi per un po’ a NY.
    Pure genius! You are the only real reason why it would be worth moving for a while to NY.

  29. joan says:

    agent fanelli is hot!

  30. david says:

    nice idea! even the biggest german news station wrote about it:

  31. Anas Imtiaz says:

    Haha i love the idea.. good going guyz..

  32. Richard N says:

    There are several cities in the United Kingdom that would benefit from that being done permanently, and for real.

    I live close to Bath, and it’s pretty much impossible to use the city as a ‘local’ during tourist season as coach-parties congregate in groups of 50 or so every few yards making normal movement impossible.

    Maybe what we need is some sort of ‘parking restriction’ for pedestrians, where groups of over a given size can only stop in certain marked places.

    I wonder how much pavement-chalk costs? >;-)

  33. Michelle says:

    England needs some of your lightheartedness, really.

    Please come and save us from ourselves with your witty pranks.

  34. Agent Garrett says:

    Loved it!!! Brilliant, thanks guys!

  35. the silver fox says:

    the best one ever. i live in litchfield beach sc.any chance you would come to the grand strand one day and do a prank? we have a team of would be agents ready to participate.

  36. Leni says:

    I don’t think you can say you’re from the Department of Education when you’re not…

  37. Eoin says:

    Glad to see a new idea. It was starting to seem like all the new missions were re-workings of old ones.

  38. Victoria says:

    uuhm … isn’t this kind of discriminating and a bit arrogant?
    “you’re in a hurry or you look artsy so you’re definitely a nyer” … I don’t know … it seems like the message is dat nyers are way cooler because they are always being busy and tourists are just blocking the way and are basically just a pain in the ass. While almost no nyer is actually from ny.
    I’m sure you didn’t mean it that way, but I think it is never cool to label people like that …

    • Rebecca says:

      “Pretentious A-hole” doesn’t sound like discrimination in favor of New Yorkers to me… just saying ;)

    • MinnieNYC says:

      Go Victoria…You are so right, nice and polite the way you pose your opinion as a question. The fact is the arrogance and snobbiness of this isn’t half as considerate as your comment. My NY’er stomach was turning at the arrogance of this. NYC may be one of the premier cities on earth but you better remember without tourists we’re just a bunch of people trying to make money. Yes even the artists, being one of them I can say so. How I wish I was there that day!

    • Richard Rabinowitz says:

      I’m a New Jerseyan who’s actually from New York. What does that make me? :)

    • Victoria says:

      Well Richard … I’m not sure what that makes you … maybe “an exception’? ;)

      Thanks MinnieNYC … I was actually a bit shocked by the reactions here, because people (from NYC) are seriously thinking this is a good idea. :s

      Hi Rebecca, I didn’t see that remix when I put up that reaction, but you’re right :)

  39. Alex says:

    I loved this! It was so funny! Why can’t anything like this happen when I’m actually in NY?

  40. Tom B. says:

    What rubs me is that the media assumed it was art or a prank. I guess city hall would inform them no such project was official, but still… It would have been nice for SOMEONE in media to bite and think it was real.

    I tell you, we need this for some of our roads here in Orlando, FL.

  41. Melissa says:

    Love it, love it, love it! So fun that you got so much press on this one…but definitely bummed about NY Mags diss on Ghostbusters.

  42. Lindsey says:

    This is great. I love that the Post took it and ran with it as a statement on tourism. Lots of fun, great idea.

    “Statistically, you walk slow.” Totally brilliant, kudos to these two agents. Love it.

  43. Hooger158 says:

    Epic. Oh how I wish this was in Times Square where I work.

  44. Mcsimilian says:

    Love this idea, but sorry NYers
    this is SOOO ZURICH 2007!

    no, was great to watch!

  45. Jenny says:

    I love the guy who immediately called BS on the “On average New Yorkers walk 12mph” statement. I laughed so hard!

  46. fred says:

    I just love it, as usual! Keep on with your great job.

  47. Alexis says:

    This is the best idea EVER. I totally understand that tourism is New York’s lifeblood and that the tourists have just as much of a right to the sidewalk as natives, but it’s always such a pain when the tourists block the sidewalk. This would clear things up for the New Yorkers who actually have to get somewhere, while allowing the tourists their part of the sidewalk where they don’t have to worry about being plowed into by someone on the way to the office and already on their third Starbucks of the day. Can we petition the DOT to actually implement this idea, at least in high-traffic areas? Please???

  48. eric says:

    As someone who lived in NYC for many years I thought the idea was very funny. Out of the two videos Agent Greenspan’s was the better of the two. Great choice in music and overall design.

    • Chris says:

      The Barcelona event occured two weeks after the improv mission – looks like it was copied!

  49. Sora says:

    That’s awesome. Makes me really wish I lived in New York. (And since I keep missing my chance to comment on all the other missions, great job Improv Everywhere! I love what you’re doing!)

  50. Anschi says:

    I don’t find anything “nice and cute” about this mission. Must say I prefer the remix treatment (“lost and confused people” vs. “pretentious assholes”). After reading about the positive reactions from New Yorkers to this mission and learning about their true feelings towards all those “horribly slow walking” tourists, I agree with the creator of that remix and his new “nickname” for New Yorkers.

  51. Em says:

    Love this.
    Now, can you find a solution for the way tourists stand at a streetcorner waiting for the walk light to change? Unlike New Yorkers (who hang back from the curb a bit to let those in a rush stand in the front), the tourists just block the corner so you can’t get past ’em.

    I also thought we NYers should just triage a big chunk of Manhattan, centered around 42nd street and Rockefeller center: Although new Yorkers can’t go in there, the tourists won’t be allowed out.

  52. Oscar says:

    The funny part about this mission is that a lot of people think it should be applied seriously. ^_^

    The Approval Matrix needs to walk the “Pretentious” lane. I don’t see how it could put the Ghostbusters mission under descpicable!

    • Edana says:

      Hah, I almost commented on it saying that they’re the reason the New Yorkers lane was changed to Pretentious Assholes. For that very reason, too. The ghostbusters thing was hilarious!

  53. Fernando says:

    The NYPD does *not* have a history of arresting six-year-old girls for chalking sidewalks. Please read your own link and then correct that paragraph.

  54. Andrew says:

    You SO need to come to D.C. and do this on the Metro escalators.

  55. Richard Rabinowitz says:

    If I had encountered that lane, I would’ve straddled it, having been born in NYC and also being much of a tourist. But nice prank anyhow. =)

  56. tamara says:

    This is genius. Y’all are awesome.

  57. Edana says:

    I want these everywhere in Boston, too. Sure, it was a joke, but I seriously think it could improve city life by a million. I hate when a group of tourists makes me late for class!

  58. laanba says:

    “I don’t have a gun on me, today.”

    I love you guys!

  59. { kat } says:

    as a recent ex-NYCer, i loved this project – wish it would be implemented! – but would add a third lane for people with strollers or dogs. the only thing more frustrating than a NYer with a stroller is a tourist with a stroller :P

  60. Mike says:

    This is amazing. I dont have a gun today. that guy is hilarious. i would love to see the cut footage.

  61. Jame says:

    Very great idea…

  62. Spanky says:

    Fan’ Freakin-tasitc… I live in NYC and the tourist are on a different clock than New Yorkers’… they are often walking slowly, meandering and looking upward… I don’t have time for this crap…and don’t get me started on the umbrella group followers!!!!… get out of my way I have important things to do…

  63. Pete says:

    There’s the exact same thing on the north side of Houston east of Avenue B. It was there before this one. Who made it?

  64. Cami says:

    I heard a national radio station announce this on their news with the street name. They didn’t know who did it. And I can’t remember the street name. But whatever, way to go!