A Spokane crosswalk could soon get a prismatic makeover.
The new city-funded Community Crosswalks program, as funded over the next three years, will decorate with community artwork six crosswalks on arterials or in business districts .
The first of those six will be a rainbow crosswalk to represent LGBTQ pride, while the other designs will be decided through a community outreach process that’s still taking shape. Rainbow crosswalks exist in other communities such as Seattle, San Francisco and, just recently, Yakima.
“Specifically for a rainbow crosswalk, that makes a statement that Spokane is an inclusive place that everyone here matters and everyone belongs,” said Spokane City Councilman Zack Zappone, “especially as we’re seeing LGBTQ rights being taken away across the country. Right here in our neighborhood and next door, we’re seeing instances of threats and intimidation.”
For the rainbow crosswalk, local nonprofit Spokane Pride opened a community poll on which crosswalk at the following four intersections should receive a technicolor transformation: Northwest Boulevard and Monroe Street, Spokane Falls Boulevard and Howard Street, South Perry Street and 10th Avenue, or Post Street and Garland Avenue.
The crosswalk with the most votes will first be vetted with the city’s Streets Department prior to a public announcement, Zappone said. The nonprofit Spokane Arts, which will administrate the program, eventually will take the design to the city’s Arts Commission for review and feedback.
Once that’s all said and done, Spokane Arts will work with the city, local artists and community members to paint the crosswalk.
Zappone, who championed the Community Crosswalks program through to an affirmative City Council vote last week, hopes to see the rainbow crosswalk painted sometime this summer.
And while the other five community crosswalks won’t necessarily all be rainbows, they could be. Their designs will be decided by the community.
Citing a recent Bloomberg Philanthropies study, which found asphalt art improves traffic safety partly through increased visibility for pedestrian walkways, Zappone said street art also marks a sense of identity for a neighborhood.
“It’s not just any old crosswalk,” Zappone said. “There’s economic opportunity, there’s safety improvements and then there’s just the cultural impact that public art has and provides a public good to our community.”
The Bloomberg Philanthropies study evaluated 17 asphalt art sites in Florida, Georgia, Massachusetts, New Jersey and New York.
The authors found those areas experienced a 50% decrease in crashes involving pedestrians or other vulnerable road users and a 37% decrease in crashes that resulted in injuries after the artwork was installed.
The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) has asked communities to remove rainbow crosswalks in the past, however. Federal rules in the Manual of Uniform Traffic Control Devices only permit white paint for crosswalks.
The city of Ames, Iowa, received such a request in a letter from the FHWA in 2019 and ignored it. Meanwhile, the National Association of City Transportation Officials and the Institute of Traffic Engineers have endorsed asphalt art, according to the Bloomberg study, and are seeking federal rules to allow decorated crosswalks.
Mayor Nadine Woodward declined to comment on the Community Crosswalks program.
The City Council legislation approved last week budgets $300,000 over the next three years to install two crosswalks per year.
While that breaks down to $50,000 per crosswalk on paper, that doesn’t necessarily mean the city will spend all of that. Zappone, who indicated the budget is based on Seattle prices, said he doesn’t expect Spokane’s crosswalks to reach that mark.
“This is a whole new process,” he said, “so we have to give budget authority and then go from there with the pilot program.”
The City Council legislation packaged the $300,000 for the Community Crosswalks program with another $672,750 for the separate, but similar, Residential Street Murals program. Whereas the Community Crosswalks art will be located on arterials or in business districts, the Residential Street Murals program will target namesake streets.
The Spokane City Council voted last week 5-2 to authorize the funding, with councilmen Michael Cathcart and Jonathan Bingle opposed.
Acknowledging the crosswalk and mural programs as “a cool, neat idea,” Cathcart said the $1 million budget is a lot, particularly given high inflation and the increased costs of materials and fuel.
“I feel like the best thing to do with these dollars is to put them into actual traffic calming projects in neighborhoods that people are asking for,” he said. “There really is no reason that it shouldn’t cost maybe slightly more than a crosswalk would cost, but this is a pretty steep premium that we’re paying for some paint on the asphalt.”
Citing information gleaned from the city Streets Department, Bingle said the price of a standard crosswalk in the city can range anywhere from $500 to $1,000.
Public Works spokeswoman Kirstin Davis said comparing a community art project to standard street marking is not an apples-to-apples comparison, however, as they involved different processes.
“In our district, we have people asking for stop signs and HAWK lights and those kinds of traffic calming measures,” Bingle said during last week’s council meeting; HAWK lights are high-intensity activated crosswalk beacons. “I would like to see those prioritized above this.”
The Street Murals and Community Crosswalks programs will be funded by the city’s Traffic Calming Fund of revenue collected from red light and school zone camera fines.
The Street Murals program was unanimously approved by a City Council vote in April as part of the latest annual list of citywide traffic calming projects.
Asked why he opposed last week’s legislation given the April vote, Cathcart said Friday he feels the economy “has taken a very drastic turn in the last few weeks.”
“I think it’s a great process and I would certainly just put it on pause for a while,” Cathcart said, “but I just don’t see (the need) right now when we see cost escalators on everything, and then you look at the environment we’re in with rising taxes rising fuel. Property taxes are just crushing us right now. I think we just have to focus on those core needs.”
Bingle did not return a request for comment.
While Zappone said the rainbow crosswalk is on a quicker track to align with Pride Month, the other five crosswalks through the Community Crosswalks program as well as the Residential Street Murals program will be selected more deliberately.
Zappone said program administrators will develop an application process for community groups and neighborhoods to submit design ideas for future crosswalks and street murals.
“There were neighborhoods that were competing against each other trying to market it because they wanted the crosswalk in their neighborhood,” Zappone said of the rainbow crosswalk. “People have asked, ‘Why not all four crosswalks?’ The answer is this is all community driven. It’s about what the community wants.”
Work to watch for
As part of the ongoing Thor/Freya couplet work, Third Avenue between Altamont Street and the Interstate 90 eastbound exit ramp near Greene Street has been reduced to one lane.
The intersection of Cedar and Eagle Ridge Drive will be closed for paving Monday with detours and flaggers in place.
The eastbound curb lane on Francis Avenue between G and Fotheringham streets will be closed Monday through Thursday.
Street closures for Hoopfest begin downtown at 6:30 p.m. Friday. All cars must be moved from parking spots bounded roughly by First and Mallon avenues, between Monroe and Browne streets, with some exceptions. For a complete map of court locations, visit spokanehoopfest.net.
Roads are scheduled to reopen Sunday at 10 p.m.