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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Getting There: Colorful crosswalks, street art coming to Spokane

A shopper crosses the street at the intersection of East Pike Street and Broadway in Seattle’s Capitol Hill neighborhood in October 2021.  (Ellen M. Banner/The Seattle Times)

Colorful crosswalks are coming to Spokane.

The City Council on Oct. 24 approved a $973,000 contract with Spokane Arts to manage two three-year pilot programs for community crosswalks and residential street murals.

About $673,000 of that figure is set aside for murals, which would be painted onto roads. Up to $300,000 will pay for six crosswalks.

The first of those crosswalks will be a rainbow, representing LGBTQ pride. What the other five crosswalks will look like is up to neighborhoods, which will submit proposals to Spokane Arts.

“The sky is the limit,” said City Councilman Zack Zappone, who pushed to secure funding for the pilot programs. “The idea is to build up the community identity with public art.”

Asphalt art and motley crosswalks have become increasingly common across the country and around the world. Proponents say they give neighborhoods a chance to express their identities and improve safety by making drivers more alert.

Bloomberg Philanthropies, which has funded dozens of street art projects across the country, released a report in April that found asphalt art led to a 50% reduction in crashes involving pedestrians and cyclists.

The concept has its detractors, however.

The Federal Highway Administration in 2001 concluded that crosswalk art had “no discernible effect on safety or crash reduction.” In some instances, the agency has asked governments to remove asphalt art, including a recent request in Ames, Iowa.

City council members Michael Cathcart and Jonathan Bingle voted against the Spokane Arts contract. Both have said they believe it’s an improper use of taxpayer funds.

“It’s not as if this money was intended for art; this was money intended for traffic calming,” Bingle said.

The money for the pilot programs will come from traffic tickets paid by drivers who run red lights and speed in school zones.

Bingle said a standard crosswalk costs the city about $500. Spending as much as $50,000 on one crosswalk seems wasteful, he said, given the city’s overall need for street maintenance and traffic-calming improvements.

Zappone said the actual cost of the art and crosswalks will likely be lower than $973,000. He also pointed to the Bloomberg Philanthropies study and emphasized that the safety benefits of the art projects could be significant.

City Council President Breean Beggs said during the council’s June 13 meeting that he believes the pilot programs are worth trying.

“One of the things that neighbors have been talking to me about is they just want people to yield at crosswalks and slow down. This appears to do it,” Beggs said. “We’re going to find out and see if it really works as well as the data shows. If it does, it’s well worth the money.”

Work to watch for

Summit Boulevard will close on Tuesday to allow for paving as part of the Monroe Street grind and overlay project. Motorists are encouraged to find another route during the paving.

The intersection of 43rd Avenue and Scott Street on the South Hill will close Monday and Tuesday for work to address a water main break. Hatch Road will also be closed between 57th Avenue and High Drive, and High Drive and 43rd Avenue will be closed between Grand Boulevard and Hatch Road.

Detours will be in place. Those heading North should take 57th Avenue to Perry Street, Perry Street to 37th Avenue and 37th Avenue to Grand Boulevard. Southbound traffic should take Grand to 37th, 37th to Perry and Perry to 57th.

In the county, Columbus Street near Gleneden Park between Park Hill and Little Spokane drives will be closed Tuesday for a repaving project following a water main break.

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to reflect that the final location of the rainbow crosswalk has not been decided.