At bustling intersections where fast-walking, rapid-texting New Yorkers come together with cars, cabs, carriage horses and daredevil bicycle messengers, the city is trying to slip in an emphatic message: LOOK!
That word is being stenciled onto the crosswalks of 110 of the city's most dangerous intersections, where officials hope it will catch the eyes of pedestrians who walk with their heads buried in their smartphones.
"New Yorkers are driven to distraction with their smartphones, and the simple act of looking can prevent thousands of crashes and injuries every year," said city Department of Transportation Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan, who borrowed the idea from crosswalk signs in London that warn tourists to "Look Right" for traffic coming in a direction they may not expect.
But she gave New York's signs some in-your-face twists: the exclamation mark and little eyeballs peering from the Os in the direction of oncoming traffic.
It's the most visible part of a $1 million campaign aimed solving a chronic problem. More than 9,000 New York pedestrians were injured and 41 killed in 2010, the last year for which detailed traffic crash data is available.
"It won't make any difference to me," 58-year-old Patrick Egan said after stepping over a "LOOK!" sign at Second Avenue and 42nd Street, an intersection where 75 pedestrians were injured between 2006 and 2010.
Egan, who works in video production and lives on the Upper East Side, says he walks around the area frequently and is always very careful. "I tell my wife to step back even when she's standing and waiting, because you never know where a car will come from."
Looking at the white letters, he added, "If you're looking down at this, you're not looking at the traffic and paying attention."
But Seema Seembersad, 37, a nanny from Queens cautiously taking a toddler and a 3-year-old across the street, said the "LOOK!" is eye-catching. "It's a good idea. It makes you pay attention; it makes you more careful, because suddenly, you see this word!"
Sadik-Khan says progress will be tracked, comparing injuries at each targeted intersection.
In addition, the transportation department is putting ads on bus shelters, telephone kiosks and subway entrances. One ad says: "Mom was right. Look before you cross the street."