Public Transit Hacks

New York transit riders were surprised by a new route symbol on a 14th St. Union Square subway sign last month: a maroon circle with the number 9 3/4. Did anyone wait for the loudspeakers to announce “All aboard for Hogwarts!”? If so, they waited in vain.

The Metropolitan Transit Authority denies knowing anything about the reference to Harry Potter which coincided with the release of the latest movie in the series. A spokesman guessed it was a bit of guerrilla artwork by a fan and said he’s seen things like that before.

The story reminds me of something that happened on our LA freeways in 2002, although it wasn’t a prank and it wasn’t a marketing stunt — it was a selfless public service. Artist Richard Ankrom, tired of a confusing CalTrans sign before the Pasadena Freeway’s northbound transition to I-5, made and surreptitiously installed a better sign.

This was illegal, but with unaccustomed sanity CalTrans ratified the change with an official sign and the artist now claims public credit for his achievement on a website where he documents the whole adventure with photos and a video.

[Thanks to Andrew Porter for the story.]

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