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PAIN IN THE "A"

Holland Tunnel is driving commuters nuts with very obviously misplaced holiday decorations

Reuters/Eduardo Munoz
Road rage.
  • Anne Quito
By Anne Quito

Design and architecture reporter

Something is very wrong with Holland Tunnel. The 91-year-old conduit between New York and New Jersey is garnering a lot of attention this week because, of all things, its holiday décor.

In the spirit of the season, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which oversees transportation infrastructure in the two states, has festooned two wreaths and a Christmas tree over the the tunnel’s marquee. The lighted decorations are unremarkable and inoffensive—even purposely devoid of religious symbolism. It’s the placement of the three ornaments that has people riled up.

Ignoring the huge capital letters “HOLLAND TUNNEL” on the structure, the Port Authority hung the ornaments symmetrically over the tunnel’s facade, and the resulting graphic effect is driving some design sophisticates up the wall. “For some reason the tree is over the letter N in the word Holland instead of the letter A where it would fit perfectly,” writes Cory Windelspecht, a medical supplies sales manager who is petitioning the Port Authority to fix the atrocity. “This one small thing triggers anyone with the slightest hint of OCD every time they enter the city,” he reasons.

Riding the wave of internet ridicule, some have also noticed how the second wreath makes the word “TUNNEL” read like “TONNEL.” So far, Windelspecht’s petition has garnered over 2,300 signatures as of this writing. Even Budweiser—in a feat of opportunistic social marketing—has expressed its support and started the hashtag campaigns #MoveThatTree and #TunnelNotTonnel.

Heeding public outcry, the Port Authority is now asking people to vote among four scenarios to address the situation. “This season is no time for discourse and debate, but for festive holiday cheer,” writes Port Authority executive director Rick Cotton. “In the spirit of the holidays, what matters most to us is customer experience and what our faithful travelers expect when they use our facilities. So without further delay, we’ll listen to what they have to say and their opinions will guide how we proceed.”

The Port Authority sent Quartz the public call to vote written in verse:

The results shall be honored; we’re delighted to note:
commuters everywhere are encouraged to vote!

The four (bad) options offered:

  • Leave the decorations as they are
  • Move the tree to hang over the “A” in the word “HOLLAND”
  • Move the tree to hang over the “A” and remove the second wreath that’s now over the “U” in the world “TUNNEL”
  • Add a tree to hang over the “A”, but keep and adjust the existing tree to make the decorations symmetrical

There is no option to write in a suggestion or reject all four. The voting closes this Sunday, Dec 16.

Design vote.

Professional design advice

Port Authority declined to answer Quartz’s query about who designs its decorations.

But Pentagram partner Paula Scher, who is a master of environmental graphics, offers free design advice. ”One thing you could do is cover the whole thing with all kinds of Christmas stuff. Take it all off or put it all on. It’s this middle ground that’s terrible,” she says, amused by the blunder. “Less is more and more is more.”

Stop using the OCD cliché

There is one more group who is incensed by the matter. Creative agency founder Aaron Harvey, who has actually been diagnosed with obsessive compulsive disorder, clarifies the gravity of the mental health condition. Having OCD isn’t just being detail-oriented or fussy, despite how it’s used in common parlance.

“As an OCD sufferer, I experience hundreds of intrusive thoughts every day. Unwanted, repetitive thoughts about violence, suicide, sex, pedophilia. You name it. These obsessions lead to debilitating compulsions and higher rates of substance use disorder, self-harm and suicide,” explains Harvey, who co-founded an online support resource called Intrusive Thoughts. “Despite its horrors, OCD remains to be one of the most widely mischaracterized mental health disorders.”

Harvey says that he appreciates that Windelspecht prefaced his petition on behalf of OCD sufferers, but he needs to get his facts straight. “This is exactly the type of mischaracterization that infuriates the OCD community because it perpetuates a myth about what the disorder actually is,” he tells Quartz. “I don’t blame the petitioner for the fact that he is not aware of the realities of the disorder. That said, I want the petitioner to update the petition to include an accurate description of the symptoms of OCD.”

Port Authority of New York and New Jersey
A-plus placement.

The Port Authority, for its part, is clearly enjoying all the attention. In addition to the verse, it updated the Holland Tunnel’s official Twitter account so that the avatar is one of the offensive wreaths, and a Christmas tree symbol is right where it very obviously should be.

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