Art painted on crosswalks makes streets safer, group says

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When Chris Visions started painting a floor mural in Richmond, he had no idea his street art could help save lives.

Since the painted crosswalk – which showcases the black culture and heritage of the Jackson Ward neighborhood – was completed in September, the intersection has become safer for pedestrians and motorists, with episodes of cars braking quickly to avoid pedestrians and other close calls reduced by eight incidents, a drop of more than 56%, according to the data.

The overall changes were quite small but still significant in the community, and were part of a larger study in various cities that showed significantly fewer crashes at artistic intersections compared to the previous year.

While the original purpose of the asphalt painting was to celebrate Jackson Ward’s 150th birthday, it came with an unexpected benefit: the mural encouraged pedestrians and motorists to “slow down and consider security,” said Visions, 37, a local resident. cartoonist and muralist.

The mural – which was created with a group of art students from a local non-profit arts organization – is one of three new crosswalk art projects in Richmond, all part of the initiative Asphalt Art from Bloomberg Philanthropies. The nonprofit has funded 42 street murals in 41 cities across the country since 2019, with grants of up to $25,000.

As part of the project, Bloomberg Philanthropies partnered with Sam Schwartz Engineering, a consultancy, to explore the effect of street art on safety. The results of the study, published in April, showed a drop in the number of collisions in art areas.

The study looked at collision histories at 17 asphalt art sites across the country that have at least two years of collision data. It found 83 fewer accidents at the intersections analyzed, a decrease of more than 50% compared to data prior to the painting of crosswalks.

Video footage from five recently installed art sites across the country was also used to gather information in the study. Following the installations, there was a 27% increase in the rate of motorists yielding to pedestrians and a 38% drop in the number of pedestrians crossing against the walk signal.

Crosswalk art “can improve driving behavior and protect the most vulnerable people on the road,” said Janette Sadik-Khan, director of Bloomberg Associates and former commissioner of the New York City Department of Transportation. .

This piano pedestrian crossing was painted by a group of foreigners with no training but with great harmony

According to Bloomberg Philanthropies, street art has been associated with slower vehicle speeds, which reduces the risk of conflicts and potential accidents. At one intersection in Kansas City, for example, average vehicle speeds dropped from about 25 mph before a mural was put up to just under 14 mph after.

The study aimed to determine whether brightly colored artwork could distract drivers and found that floor murals actually increase the visibility of pedestrian crossings, prompting motorists to be more careful and alert.

“Not only will these projects do no harm, but they may actually prevent the damage from happening in the first place,” Sadik-Khan explained, adding that outside of the study, there is little information about the problem. impact of street art on safety. “This data shows that safer, more sustainable streets don’t need to cost millions of dollars.”

Road deaths in the United States rose more than 10% last year from the previous year, marking the highest number of fatalities in 16 years. Last year, 42,915 people were killed on the roads.

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Sadik-Khan said she hopes the study, though small, will help inform policymakers about the benefits of crosswalk art, especially as the Federal Highway Administration updates its handbook on crosswalks. uniform traffic control devices for the first time in over 10 years.

She also said she wanted the study to inspire local communities to come together to paint their streets with color. Bloomberg Philanthropies has released a free Asphalt Art Guide, filled with tips and tricks for creating successful pavement redesigns.

“That’s what the Asphalt Art Initiative is for; turning the streets into canvases and collecting concrete data,” she said.

Mike Flynn, senior and national director of transport and planning at Sam Schwartz, said that following the increase in road deaths, it is more important than ever to find solutions.

“We have to try whatever works,” said Flynn, who worked on the Asphalt Art Safety Study.

His classmates did not sign his yearbook. The older students then intervened.

“The fact that the overall results were so positive was eye-opening,” Flynn said, adding that more research is still needed to better understand the impact of asphalt art. “It can be a very important security tool.”

Additionally, he said, there are additional benefits to the completion of street murals not measured in the safety study.

“It offers other benefits such as community building and providing a venue for local artists,” Flynn said.

Norfolk painter and muralist Mensah Bey was delighted to be able to design an asphalt art project on Bland Street in the Norview area. The 100 inch mural is painted with luminous shades of blue and red, and West African symbols of solidarity, abundance and unity.

“I wanted it to reflect the culture of the community and inspire them,” said Bey, 33, adding that he had worked on the project during the height of the pandemic and hoped it would help invigorate residents and communities. small enterprises.

As Artist-in-Residence for the City of Norfolk, Jason Akira Somma oversaw the project, which included two additional murals in the city. All three were placed in police patrol quarters, in an effort to strengthen relations between residents and law enforcement.

Community members and police painted the murals together. The three murals aim to engage local residents and make the neighborhood more lively and welcoming. The painting process physically brought the community together, and the finished pieces added color and brightness to otherwise drab city streets.

“It created a sense of trust in the community,” said Akira Somma, adding that he also believed the facilities had helped reduce crime in the area. “Community engagement has proven to be incredibly effective in reducing crime.”

Based on the success of the first two rounds of grants, Bloomberg Philanthropies is expanding the initiative to European cities with populations over 100,000.

“There is a high demand for these kinds of projects in every city,” Sadik-Khan said, adding that many murals end up becoming unique landmarks that promote community pride. “It’s exciting to see the demand.”

“It’s not just about painting roads,” she continued. “The streets really are the ultimate gallery. This is where art and life come to life.

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