Pitfall of creating places | Landscape Architecture Magazine


A group of disability rights organizations have raised concerns about a mural pedestrian crossing in London’s Bankside area. Photo courtesy of Better Bankside.

Seen by both designers and transportation departments as an inexpensive way to enhance the public realm, street murals that embellish or sometimes even replace traditional crosswalks have become staples in the city’s playbook. the creation of places. Over the past two decades, artistic crossovers have sprung up in New York; Charleston, South Carolina; Chattanooga, TN; Oakland, California; and Des Moines, Iowa; to name a few.

City transportation officials said these street murals, often funded by Bloomberg Philanthropies’ Asphalt Art Initiative, improving pedestrian safety by slowing traffic and benefiting communities by promoting public art. But according to a group of eight UK-based disability rights organizations, pedestrian crossings that deviate from standard street markings pose real dangers for people with disabilities.

In an open letter sent to the Mayor of London last September, the organisations, which included Transport for all and inclusion London, argued that the city’s ‘colored intersections’ pose safety and accessibility issues for people who are visually impaired, neurodivergent or have dementia, a population that is already at higher risk of being injured in a collision automobile. “The use of black and white in traditional crosswalks provides high contrast, which is essential for people with visual impairments,” the letter states. The groups also criticized the program for not involving the disability community and argued that the new crossings would prevent people with disabilities from using public space.

In response, the Mayor of London temporarily suspended the installation of new street murals. In the United States, however, such projects continue apace. Last September, the same month the open letter was written, Bloomberg Philanthropies announced 26 new asphalt art projects, including nine “intersection and crosswalk murals,” in places including Billings, Montana; Kodiak, Alaska; and Niagara Falls, New York.

A crosswalk designed by MIG in Sacramento, California attempts to preserve the elements of a typical sidewalk while introducing color and expanding the pedestrian realm. Photo by Billy Hustace.

These cities should think twice before modifying existing crosswalks, says Kathryn Carroll, who works as a disability training coordinator at the Association on Aging in New York and sits on the board of directors EmpowerHer Network for People with Disabilities, which matches girls with disabilities with mentors with disabilities. Carroll was born with albinism and is visually impaired. It relies on the consistency and high contrast of a traditional crosswalk to know where to cross the street safely.

“For me, when I cross a street, I’m looking for something that indicates it’s meant to be crossed,” she says. “I use my usable vision, so if there’s a change in the road surface, in my mind, I think, okay, it could be a hole, it could be a patch, it could be It could be a lot of things, so maybe I want to avoid that.In the winter, when snow often covers curbs, sometimes a painted crosswalk is the only cue Carroll has to locate a crossing sure.

Despite the experiences of people like Carroll, safety issues around artistic crosswalks tend to be ignored in the United States. In 2019, when the Federal Highway Administration requested that a rainbow-painted crosswalk in Ames, Iowa be removed, the city council voted unanimously to keep it. America’s Smart Growth Sean Doyle seemed to speak for many designers and tactical planners when he wrote, “The USDOT asserts that these ‘non-standard crosswalks’ have the ‘potential to compromise pedestrian and motorist safety’ by ‘[diminishing] the contrast between the white lines and the sidewalk.’… [But] The USDOT was unable to provide any evidence that colored pavement markings inside crosswalks could negatively impact safety.

It is true that specific research on the impact of artistic gateways on people with disabilities is lacking. Yet, in its letter to the Mayor of London, Transport for All cites the UK government’s own design standards, which warn that “bold surface patterns may be disorienting or misleading” to visually impaired people and “should therefore be avoided”.

A street mural in Asheville, North Carolina occupies the roadway without interfering with adjacent crosswalks. Photo by Justin Mitchell, Digital Visual Lab.

What happened in London when it came to engagement is “very often what happens” in other cities as well, says Alexa Vaughn, ASLA, landscape architect at MIG and the founder of Designing with people with disabilities now, an online resource for landscape architects and other design professionals. “Anything designed for access and security doesn’t really include the people it will affect the most.”

Born deaf, Vaughn has worked on creative crosswalk projects, and she sees their benefits, particularly as opportunities to tell neighborhood stories. She says cities may not need to impose a permanent moratorium on street murals, but they need to learn about their downsides and include people with disabilities in their planning processes.

One solution, Vaughn says, may be to preserve the traditional crosswalk’s most important safety features — linear stripes, high-contrast colors — in any design, as MIG did for a recent project in Sacramento. , in California. But it might also be time to completely separate street murals and crosswalks. “Maybe the crosswalk itself isn’t the best place,” Vaughn says. “There are a lot of options. Art can go anywhere.

Timothy A. Schuler, the editor of NOW, can be attached to [email protected] and on Twitter @Timothy_Schuler.


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