Transportation Policy

Guerrilla Public Service

An artist surreptitiously improves L.A.'s highways.

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Credit:freeway sign (left) with additions by Richard Ankrom. Richard Ankrom, Ankrom.org

After the Los Angeles artist Richard Ankrom missed his exit off California Highway 110 one too many times, he decided to indulge in a little "guerrilla public service." Ankrom crafted three reflective sign components—a number 5, the word "North," and an arrow—and artificially aged them. He also whipped up an authentic-looking California transit authority uniform. On August 1, 2001, he shimmied out over the freeway in broad daylight and used his unique artwork to tag the tricky left exit to Interstate 5 North.

For nine months, no one noticed that the change was the work of a private citizen. Ankrom eventually leaked the story to a local paper. The sign was reviewed in the Los Angeles Times as art, and the locals enjoyed its functionality. The most unexpected reaction came from the California transit authorities: They left Ankrom's civilian sign in peace for eight more years. It's a rare day when performance art yields something useful, rarer still when public officials leave such a thing unmolested.

In November 2009, the highway authority took down the whole structure during routine maintenance, tragically destroying the signed original piece in the process. But then it paid Ankrom's work the ultimate compliment, incorporating his edits into the new, official sign.

Katherine Mangu-Ward (kmw@reason.com) is a reason senior editor.

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  1. Holy signage, Batman…bureaucrats did the right thing?? Get me a fainting couch…

    1. I kept waiting for the line about how the sign was taken down and he was arrested… but it never came! How sad is it when I’m genuinely surprised by that?

      1. Know that you weren’t waiting alone. We can only hope to be surprised like this more often.

        1. Amazing that Ankrom wasn’t arrested. He has some cajones climbing onto that structure. He could have fallen and been seriously injured.

    2. They should pay Ankrom for consulting or something.

      1. They should have given him back the sign so it could be placed in an art gallery or museum.

    3. I was absolutely stunned by this, as well.

    4. As a sign guy the rules are more like guide lines if something works then use it.

  2. DC could use this man’s services. The misleading or lack of signs in many places mean that getting around is basically trial and error. It took me years before I could consistently get from I-66 to the Rock Creek Parkway.

  3. I kept waiting for the part where they kicked in his door, shot his dog, beat his wife, and tased him until he soiled himself.

    1. I own you, mother fucker.

    2. Really, I’m surprised he didn’t get twenty years for vandalism of a government structure.

  4. Dude must have really not wanted to miss his exit! If you are even slightly familiar with the larger direction/road signs in southern California is that they razor wire the shit out of the uprights to keep people off them!

    Hats off for the display of determination alone!

  5. I kept waiting for the part where they kicked in his door, shot his dog, beat his wife, and tased him until he soiled himself.

    “They” don’t do that to their own pets. We can get him When The Revolution Comes.

  6. I can see my office building in that photo

  7. Helpful sign. That interchange is can be chaotic.

  8. By the way, although thanks are due to Ankrom for his benevolence in helping other motorists know where there exit is, it still doesn’t stop those douchebag BMW drivers from riding all the way up in the lane next to it that’s sailing and then cutting over in the line once the exit approaches. I fucking hate that and those human beings (I’m being generous to the drivers of BMWs with that remark) deserve a punishment worse than mere death. If GWB approved torture for that, I might actually go along with it.

    1. FAIL.

      helping other motorists know where there their exit is…

    2. Seriously. I can’t count how many accidents I’ve seen late at night around that turn too. And now they have those incredibly bright lane lights that hurt my eyes, too. The whole area is a disaster.

  9. I’ve been under the impression that all gadget-enthralled, direction-challenged motorists avail themselves of satellite navigation. Is that kind of aid ineffective or useless at exchanges such as this?

    1. Being one of those scum sucking BMW drivers i can tell you that the installed nav system on my car sucks.

      I usually don’t get a notice for taking an exit until a quarter mile beforehand, and even then if an exit leads to 2 or more roads it won’t tell you which one to take (example, should I take I8E or I8W?). And given that I don’t hang out in the left hand lane unless passing it means I miss a lot of turns if I’m not familiar with the area. As a matter of fact I often just write the directions down on paper.

      That’s just dealing with directiosn. I don’t want to get started on the interface and search functions. I paid 60k for this fucking car (including a 2 thousand fucking dollar option for nav/idrive) and would definately not reccomend it to anyone.

      Other than that the cars a blast.

      Though if anyone’s interested I’m selling it (2008 335 convertible) – decided I’ve better things to do with my money.

      1. It makes me all warm and fuzzy to know that you paid $60k for a status symbol and are still unhappy.
        Your Penis is still small too by the way.

        1. Or, um, maybe just he thought it would be nice to drive?

          BMW’s are really lovely cars from a driver’s perspective. Just because a lot of douches buy them doesn’t mean you can’t get them for the love of the car.

        2. Speaking of douches…

        3. How right you are; I use CraigT whenever I require a high colonic.

      2. Obviously, not all BMW drivers are Il Douchismo, however, a lot Il Douchismo happen to drive BMWs in L.A. Based on your I8 references, your a SD driver and I can understand that you’re not familiar with the intracies of our L.A. motorist matrix.

        But, i can frequently tell when someone is an out of towner or just not familiar with the specific freeway and when someone is just being a smug, “my car is better than your piece of shit ford Taurus, so I’m entitled to cut in front of you” punk.

        But since you drive a BMW, guiult by association is going to be a likely side effect from other less aware motorists.

        1. The three-series can be hard to tell. Some just belong to decent people who thought they deserved a well-engineered car. By the time you get to a seven-series, they are 99.9% douche.

          1. The three-series can be hard to tell. Some just belong to decent people who thought they deserved a well-engineered car.

            Then why would the buy a beemer?

      3. And somehow, despite knowing that the nav system sucks, it never dawned on you to look at a map or get directions some other way, but just to whine “it’s not my faaauuuuulllttt!”

        Yeah, definite douche.

        1. Actually, had you read the post, you would have noted that he mentions getting directions from alternate sources. I know, I know, you just really like putting words in other people’s mouths. Among other things.

          Douche.

      4. IMO BMWs are not a worthy investment unless you are buying an image. When you get to that price range operating costs increase geometrically with the price of a car, but it is particularly bad with BMWs since common mechanics won’t work on them. BMW owners are of course, usually proud of this fact, as if high maintenance costs are a sign of sophistication. Also the flashy gadgets can usually be bought independently for 10% of BMW’s price, and you usually get better quality. Performance is good, but they are hard to drive safely at the limit because the 50/50 weight distribution means all tires fail at the same time.

        Seriously, I can think of about 10,000 other things I’d rather waste my money on then a car as a status symbol. At least homes [usually] increase in value. I’ve got an RSX-S and I’m keeping the damn thing till it blows up.

      5. I’ll buy that… for a dollar!

  10. The bastard was stealing jobs from my brothers. He should be put in jail for endangering the public in such a way.

  11. Guerrilla sounds like Gorilla. This is just a dog whistle.

    RACIST!!

  12. “Guerrilla sounds like Gorilla”

    Not in Southern California.

  13. I think Reason should post a feel good story like this for every story Balko posts where an innocent gets shot.
    I’m kidding of course. There aren’t that many feel good stories.

    1. There ARE that many feel good stories – there just aren’t that many where the bureaucracy comes out looking this good.

  14. This might be the best thing any government entity in the entire state has pulled off in the last ten years.

    1. It won’t be when the real story breaks that some SEIU goon billed the state of California for $250,000 the morning he drove past and realized the guerilla road work had been done.

      1. You’re assuming they’re observant enough to notice.

  15. I think you mean “shinnied”, not “shimmied”.

    I too have been tempted to improve signage many times. However, my one actual job of sign modification was to sticker subway ads for Selective Service registration in 1980 or maybe 1981 or 1982, nearly seamlessly to alter their message. I stole a specimen to work on, so I could make up and photocopy stickers with the right fonts & sizes.

    The sign I think I still may do some day is to spray paint on the bike & ped path on Pelham Pkwy. where it’s close to White Plains Rd. “KEEP RIGHT” and “TENEZ LE DROIT” (just because I know French, not that it would be likely to be helpful) and, in Cyrillic, “KIP REKT” (but with the Cyrillic pi and rho; not sure whether to use the “I” or the backward “N”) as a kind of pidgin Russian/Albanian/Ukrainian/Greek, which might actually help. Bicyclists have nearby painted on the pavement directions for tours, so there’s precedent. Shouldn’t be much different from painting or staking the ground or pavement to indicate gas lines, etc.

    1. and “TENEZ LE DROIT” and, in Cyrillic, “KIP REKT”

      If i laugh harder today, it would probably kill me.

  16. Being one of those scum sucking BMW drivers i can tell you that the installed nav system on my car sucks.

    I paid 60k for this fucking car (including a 2 thousand fucking dollar option for nav/idrive) and would definately not reccomend it to anyone.

    Sucker!

    I have owned at least four BMWs, none of which were built after 1975; you couldn’t GIVE me a brand new BMW.

    1. 2002s?

      Good little cars.

  17. If a person has ever read the DSM-IV for mental health(I am a psychiatrist) you will notice that the criteria for Narcissistic Personality Disorder is also the criteria for BMW owner:
    -Has a grandiose sense of self-importance
    Is preoccupied with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty, or ideal love
    Believes that he or she is “special” and unique and can only be understood by, or should associate with, other special or high-status people (or institutions)
    Requires excessive admiration
    Has a sense of entitlement, i.e., unreasonable expectations of especially favorable treatment or automatic compliance with his or her expectations
    Is interpersonally exploitative, i.e., takes advantage of others to achieve his or her own ends
    Lacks empathy: is unwilling to recognize or identify with the feelings and needs of others
    Is often envious of others or believes that others are envious of him or her
    Shows arrogant, haughty behaviors or attitudes.

    1. Leave Barry out of this.

    2. I thought this was just a description of a jerk or jackass. Has that personality type been elevated to an honest-to-pete personality DISORDER? If so, I think Thomas Szasz may just be onto something.

    3. Sounds like the personality of your typical Apple fanboy as well.

    4. I bought mine because it was comfortable, fun to drive, and in my price range.

    5. I read an article that the diagnostic criteria also map about 85% to many venture capitalists.

      I just don’t understand why anyone over the age of 30 would want to drive a car that’s sprung so hard. At least in a Mercedes-Benz you don’t feel every cigarette butt on the road surface.

  18. A breath of fresh air.

    Someone find out where they got the guy or gal who made those decisions, and hire some more from there.

    1. The world of signs has alot of level headed people in it trying find ways to make signs that work.

      1. Oddly enough I knew that. I’ll also observe that the Japanese have some real masters of the art (and it is harder than it looks).

  19. Insert “Old News is so exciting.jpg” here.

  20. There should be no signs at all, it’s just another way for nanny government to regulate everything.

  21. Nav systems are definitely something to get independently of the car. You can get upgrades, you can take it with you, and they’re just better devices anyway. My phone has navigation, and it’s far superior to any pre-installed system I’ve ever seen (well, except for the screen size).

  22. With GPS, I don’t understand why we need signs any more.

    1. ummmm….. we can’t all afford it????

  23. I don’t even drive and I like this story. My only recent experience with highway signage is occasional car service rides home from one end of NYC to the other in one form of drunken/drugged stupor or another. I will intermittently crack open an eye and see some seriously confusing signage, and think, “Man, this 35 dollars is totally worth it.”

  24. Sometimes, the government can be pretty idiotic about such things. I am glad they weren’t this time.

    Once, I was helping some of my friends fix an old bridge on a mountain biking trail that was meant to prevent erosion. We thought we had the right permission to do so, but apparently we didn’t. The DNR found our new bridge, blasted a path for their big-ass trucks to get out there, tore up the dirt everywhere, and ripped up the new bridge.

    So in order to prevent us from helping the environment in a not-quite-fully-permitted way, they were willing to waste their afternoon, a bunch of money, our bridge, and blast a path through a state forest? *facepalm*

  25. Ripping speed bumps out of certain parking lots, or getting rid of certain handicapped parking spots probably wouldn’t be viewed as favorbly, would it?
    I’ve been tempted.

    1. Usually those things are on private property, so yeah – not a good idea.

      As for public property speed bumps, well, if y’all drivers would read the signs and slow the fuck down already, there wouldn’t be any.

  26. Back in the pre-nav dinosaur days, I was supposed to meet some people in downtown LA, but it was one of those dumb-ass left exits and I was in the right lane. It turned out that it was a whole lot easier to go to Santa Monica and fuck off all afternoon, than to figure out how to reverse course and get back downtown. It was, by far, the most pleasant time I’ve ever spent in LA.

  27. I kept waiting to read that California eventually fined him for some type of crime.

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  34. LOL what a great story!!! If you want a job done right you have to do it yourself. 🙂

  35. 110 one too many times, he decided to indulge in a little “guerrilla

  36. nd the locals enjoyed its functionality. The most unexpected reaction came from the California transit authorities

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