This Street Artist Vandalized a Freeway Sign That Actually Improved Traffic

street artist “vandalizing” a freeway sign

We’ve all heard of Banksy, the mysterious street artist known for leaving his artwork in random urban locations, each with its own take on social, cultural, and political commentary. But sometimes street artists’ work can go unnoticed, and not in the way you think.

Driving in California can sometimes be an absolute nightmare. From road debris popping tires of over 30 cars, firefighters using thousands of gallons of water to put out electric vehicle fires, to street takeovers getting so out of hand that the LAPD will impound any and all cars attending these events on sight.

Back in 2001, one stealthy street artist noticed something profoundly wrong with the signs at a chaotic highway interchange in Los Angeles. The 110 freeway that runs North-South through the LA basin, from Pasadena to Long Beach, intersects with the many other freeways in Los Angeles County. Among them is I-5, a major freeway that runs the entire length of California. So it would only be logical that the signs to get off on I-5 North and I-5 South would be clearly marked, right? Wrong.

Many residents would complain about how the exit sign for I-5 North off of 110 North is barely noticeable, and that there is no other sign leading up to it informing drivers of its presence. It was just very abrupt, and thousands of drivers would end up missing it.

Street Artist to the Rescue

That was until street artist and signmaker Richard Ankrom decided to do something about it. Because the California Department of Transportation was not putting in any effort to correct this problem, Ankrom made it his mission to fix it both for himself and for everyone else that needed to get off at this exit.

“I used to live in Orange County and had gotten lost because it wasn’t adequately signed,” Ankrom told ABC7. That’s when he realized, “I’m a sign guy. I could do this.”

The mission was simple. Ankrom built his own Interstate 5 shield sign, as well as a big “NORTH” sign in the standard highway font, and climbed up the ladder to the freeway sign that has been confusing drivers for months. After successfully affixing both signs, his work went unnoticed by authorities for nine months before he informed the media of his deeds.

“I had my fifteen minutes of fame. It lasted for a couple hours,” Ankrom said after his story made national news.

Are Ankrom’s Deeds Illegal?

Even after making headlines, Ankrom’s work remained untouched for eight years. Drivers who frequently use the I-5 N/110 N interchange loved how his resolve finally helped remove the confusion about where the exit ramp is. Especially since this was during a time when turn-by-turn navigation wasn’t as advanced and sophisticated as it is today. But eight years after his work went on display, the city of Los Angeles eventually replaced the sign entirely with a clearly marked I-5 N image painted to it.

But Ankrom’s work doesn’t end here. The street artist has admitted to integrating his work in public spaces in plain sight. But because they blend so well into the public setting, they can be difficult to spot. Ankrom says that would keep his artwork secret for seven years before revealing them to the public. “I have to wait for the statute of limitations so I don’t go to jail,” Ankrom quipped.

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