Signal Spotlight: Traffic Signal Cabinet Art

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Signal Spotlight: Traffic Signal Cabinet Art

Installing public art on traffic signal cabinets can enhance the beauty and sense of place in a community. Artwork depicted on the cabinets often reflects the unique characteristics of the neighborhood, especially when local artists and students get involved in the project. According to Forbes Magazine, painting colorful murals on surfaces also reduces vandalism by up to 95%. In areas hard-hit by graffiti, keeping surfaces clean requires significant resources and staff time. Some vandals do still target surfaces painted with murals, but the time and effort required for graffiti removal is reduced.

There are several options for applying images to a traffic signal cabinet. The first is painting, which typically consists of a layer of primer, paint, several coats of a UV-filtering clear coat to protect the art from sun fading and a layer of wax or other treatment to allow for successful graffiti removal without damaging the clear coat. Painted artworks typically last five to six years.

Another option is to use a layer of thin, adhesive vinyl to wrap the cabinet. The artwork is submitted as a high-resolution digital image which is then printed onto the specialty vinyl wrap material. The material is applied to the exterior of the traffic signal cabinet and typically has a useful life of five to ten years.

Many cities have an ongoing traffic signal cabinet art program, often sponsored by a local or regional art commission. The art is typically funded through grants, private contributions and business sponsorships. The cost to apply artwork to a cabinet typically ranges from $800 to $2,000, including materials and an optional honorarium payment made to the artist for their time.

Before soliciting artists to decorate signal cabinets, there are a few items that should be considered. The first is that only town-owned equipment may be painted or wrapped. The Connecticut Department of Transportation (CTDOT) does not allow artwork on state-owned traffic signal cabinets. Agencies should establish a clear process for accepting, processing and voting on applications. Guidelines should be provided for imagery that is acceptable and unacceptable in a public space. For example, text can be distracting to drivers, so a best practice is to keep it to a minimum or place it on the side of the cabinet facing away from traffic.

Maintenance responsibilities should be determined ahead of time, and guidelines should be provided for ensuring long-lasting art installations. Low-quality paints, interior paints and paints of different brands mixed together tend to produce inferior results. Commercial or industrial grade materials should be specified. It is also important to communicate to the artist that hinges, door handles and vents should not be painted over and need to remain fully operational. Finally, it is helpful to determine what will happen when the art installation reaches the end of its useful life, whether that means returning the cabinet to its original state or commissioning a new mural for the cabinet. For an example of a cabinet art program in Connecticut, check out the Norwalk Traffic Graphic Program.

About Connecticut T2 Center

The Training & Technical Assistance Center at UCONN provides education and technical assistance to members of Connecticut's Transportation and Public Safety Community, including municipal public works directors, street and road maintenance superintendents and staff, city and town engineers, Connecticut Department of Transportation employees, transportation planners and law enforcement professionals serving as legal traffic authorities. We are Connecticut's LTAP Center
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