The Portland Bureau of Transportation (PBOT) wants city residents to know that there's nothing funny about road safety.
On Thursday, transportation workers removed a "Merge Simpson" sign that had been installed earlier that week by an anonymous artist near an I-405 on-ramp in the city's downtown, reports The Oregonian. The sign featured the face of popular cartoon character Marge Simpson and was cleverly installed in foliage (or is it foilage?) resembling her characteristic beehive hairdo.
The sign attracted a flurry of interest on social media and from local news outlets. The PBOT was less amused. A bureau spokesperson told The Oregonian that while they "appreciate the sense of humor that Portlanders bring to our streets," the sign obscured a pedestrian crossing sign.
MERGE SIMPSON… have you seen this yet? Another 'Simpsons' character has appeared in @inDowntownPDX. Marge is now 'Merge Simpson' complete with tall hair, helping navigate you onto I-405 North. This is near the 'Ned Flanders Pedestrian Bridge'! #LiveOnK2 #pdxtraffic #Simpsons pic.twitter.com/srBnjq0mXn
— Mike Warner (@MikeKATU) October 14, 2021
This is not the PBOT's first crackdown on people trying to jazz up Portland's streets. It also tried to put a stop to local anarchists taking it upon themselves to patch up potholes that the bureau hadn't quite gotten to yet.
That episode is a pretty cut-and-dry case of the government shutting down the competition. The removal of the Merge Simpson sign is more of gray area, as it did replace a sign warning drivers to look out for pedestrians.
That said, a look at Google Maps suggests the existing street crossing—which cuts across the interstate on-ramp and is unmarked except for a pedestrian sign partially covered by plant matter—is already pretty dangerous.
Perhaps the PBOT could spend some time considering what additional features might make the intersection safer instead of simply removing features that at least make it funnier.
Rent Free is a weekly newsletter from Christian Britschgi on urbanism and the fight for less regulation, more housing, more property rights, and more freedom in America's cities.