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


Complete!


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


OTHER RESOURCES:

- 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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Comments

comments

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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!