Does safety have to be unsightly?
Thirty-ton garbage trucks are parked at the ends of Delray Beach’s busiest thoroughfare during packed events, acting as a barrier between crowds and drivers who might aim to plow them down.
They aren’t pretty, but the city is looking for artists who can transform these roadblocks into charming murals.
The city is offering artists up to $10,000 for two decorative dump truck covers on vinyl or canvas to drape over the trucks during more than 10 major events a year that shut down Atlantic Avenue. The artwork should reflect community and diversity, history and heritage, the city’s call to artists reads.
“We’re in a situation where we need security, but that doesn’t mean we can’t make it something wonderful, fun and artsy,” said Christina Wood, who chairs the city’s public art board.
The violent and deadly incidents have increased on a national and international scale at outdoor events or large pedestrian areas:
- In October, a terrorist in a rental truck sped down a bike-only path in Lower Manhattan, killing eight people.
- One person was killed and 19 injured in August when a car plowed into a group of protesters in downtown Charlottesville, Va. The incident came hours after police broke up violent confrontations ahead of a scheduled rally of white nationalists.
- An 18-year-old woman was killed and at least 22 people injured in May when a car plowed into pedestrians in New York’s Times Square.
- In December 2016, a truck was driven into a crowd at the Christmas market in Berlin, leaving 12 dead and 56 others injured.
The dump trucks, as well as large police vehicles, act as an added “layer of protection at city events,” said Dani Moschella, police spokeswoman. The city said using the trucks to protect events was on its radar years before attackers using large vehicles in mass killings became a far-too-common misfortune.
In 2004, shortly after a dozen people were hurt when a car drove onto a California boardwalk, a Delray Beach police officer warned his captain about insufficient security at city events.
“Banners, portable aluminum barricades, signs are (sic) single marked units are not sufficient barriers … Barriers to stop moving vehicles are needed,” wrote then-Officer Steven Hynes, who is now a police sergeant and the city’s emergency manager. “Solution: Have the City supply triple-axle dump trucks. Fill the trucks with earth and place them at key points of traffic detours.”
That memo now seems an ominous precursor to world events.
An attack on Nice, France, that left 86 people dead in July 2016 “struck a chord” with the city and police, Moschella said. A truck ran through a Bastille Day crowd.
Following the attacks, security was heightened at the annual New Year’s Eve event on Atlantic Avenue last year, police said at the time.
In neighboring Boca Raton, city leaders decided to move an annual festival that shuts down parts of Federal Highway downtown. City-sponsored Italian Fest, held near Sanborn Square park at Palmetto Park Road and Federal Highway in February, will move to Mizner Park Amphitheater in 2019. Next year is the last time the food and culture event will be held in the streets.
Boca Raton leaders had concerns about safety.
In West Palm Beach, where events often force the city to block off downtown roads, city police said they do not discuss safety decisions because of major crimes carried out throughout the world, said Sgt. Dave Lefont.
“We don’t discuss anything tactical … We don’t want anyone to know what we’re going to do,” Lefont said.
In Delray Beach, dump trucks weren’t always used, although they now are placed during all major events that shut down Atlantic Avenue, such as the Delray Affair festival and St. Patrick’s Day parade.
Most recently, the trucks were positioned at the east and west ends of East Atlantic Avenue during the 100-foot Christmas tree lighting event Nov. 30. The main street was blocked off for hours as thousands flooded the area for the annual event.
Delray will continue to roll out the dump trucks during events, but perhaps new decorative veils will make them less recognizable.
“How much better would it be to have something fun and colorful and make it a positive addition to Delray,” Wood said.
For more information about Delray Beach’s call to artists, visit the city’s website at www.mydelraybeach.com
Staff writer Tony Doris contributed to this report.