Call it a triumph of tactical urbanism. Or just a local guy with a worthy idea.
Matt Tomasulo and his Walk Raleigh signs are getting a second chance.
Taken down this month by the city, the signs – well, three of them anyway – will return to downtown as part of a short-term public awareness campaign to encourage walking.
The project brought unexpected notoriety for Tomasulo, 29, a graduate student who won praise for a timely idea as Raleigh seeks to become more pedestrian-friendly.
“It tapped into a very simple but important topic that the city is having to face,” Tomasulo said.
Each sign has an arrow, a destination and the time it takes to walk there. A scan code provides online directions for pedestrians who have smart phones.
Originally, Tomasulo posted 27 signs at three street corners. But Raleigh Planning Director Mitchell Silver pulled them down because they broke city rules.
The project drew international attention when the BBC aired TV and radio reports and Atlantic Monthly magazine discussed it online.
Tomasulo’s unorthodox approach may have worked in his favor. He hung the signs on utility poles without seeking an OK from the city.
“I kind of took the route of asking for forgiveness rather than permission,” he said.
In approving a three-month pilot program to test the signs’ effectiveness, City Council members praised Tomasulo for coming up with an innovative idea.
The city could decide to permanently leave up some or all of Tomasulo’s signs, Silver said. The signs would become part of Raleigh’s system of signs that direct visitors to landmarks.
Tomasulo founded CityFabric, an website that sells T-shirts and tote bags printed with maps of cities.
“He is a prime example of the type of young person we want to encourage to start a business here,” Councilwoman Mary-Ann Baldwin said. “Matt has really proven to be a creative person who I think has done a great thing for Raleigh.”
“It’s wonderful to see that kind of creativity,” Councilman Bonner Gaylord said.
The signs carry a larger message, Councilman Russ Stephenson said.
“It’s an opportunity for us to focus more on sustainable, livable development,” he said. “I look forward to that being more part of the conversation going forward.”