Creative crosswalks: blunder or boon?
Keeping pedestrians safe continues to be a top concern for urban planners. On one hand, we want to encourage people to walk to places they need to go; on the other hand, pedestrians represent an increased safety risk. I’ve written in the past on this subject. While intersections have tended toward a fairly standard design for decades, we’ve seen a recent trend toward creative solutions incorporated into city streets and crosswalks to keep pedestrians safe.
There are multiple examples cropping up across the country in recent years:
- Painted keys in Rochester, NY
In Rochester, several crosswalks and intersections double as street art. Locals say the colorful crosswalks and engaging sidewalks make people safer, neighborhoods stronger, and overall lead to better public health. According to the intersection designer, the new intersections are meant to make the space “somewhere people want to be, instead of just get through.”
- Road paintings in Portland, OR
These vibrant road-painting projects in Portland aim to bring the community together and improve road safety. Cars slow down, and more children play outside, enjoying the space. The paintings become a valued part of the community, creating a sense of pride of place. Local volunteers get together periodically for re-painting sessions.
- Rainbow path to Stonewall Inn in New York City
A crosswalk leading to the historic Stonewall Inn in New York City was painted with rainbow colors for pride month, to honor 50 years since the riots that happened there which inspired the LGBTQ rights movement. This example weaves something relatively mundane—a crosswalk—into the area’s history, creating a connection to the past.
- 3D crosswalk in Massachusetts
A pair of 4th graders in Massachusetts designed a “3D” crosswalk to encourage drivers to slow down after a brother of one of the students almost got hit by a car. The crosswalk is an optical illusion—to drivers, it appears to be 3D while walkers can tell it’s flat. This is a great example of community members themselves taking responsibility for their community.
These solutions encourage more people to walk around outside, fostering a sense of neighborhood pride and community. But they could also lead to a false sense of security or distract motorists. Are the benefits worth the potential risk? Ultimately, every situation is different. As traffic professionals, we must assess potential risks and benefits within the context we’re working in. As trends develop around us, one thing remains the same: the health and safety of our communities is always at the forefront.
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