Say goodbye to the decorated fleur-de-lis and rainbow crosswalks that grace some intersections in St. Louis.
The city now prohibits such crosswalk art projects, and the ones that exist will be left to fade away.
The federal government cautions against decorated crosswalks. In 2011, the Federal Highway Administration said that “crosswalk art is actually contrary to the goal of increased safety and most likely could be a contributing factor to a false sense of security for both motorists and pedestrians.”
The reasoning is that the art inside a crosswalk could distract from the outer white lines that show a pedestrian where the crosswalk is. Or, a pedestrian could potentially stop in the middle of the street to gaze at the painted crosswalk, said Jamie Wilson, St. Louis’ bike/pedestrian coordinator.
But Wilson himself has no evidence or reason to believe that people’s safety has actually been endangered by these crosswalks, yet.
He argues that the federal code only states that the crossings could pose a danger, so he says the city won’t go about spending money to tear out all the current painted crosswalks unless he learns they are actually causing problems.
“I don’t honestly believe someone’s going to trip over a fleur-de-lis crosswalk, but at the same time we want to be consistent with the memo the feds put out,” he said. “It’s probably an ultra-conservative approach when it comes to safety, which is fine.”
Wilson, who started his city position in October, said the federal prohibition on decorated crosswalks “wasn’t common knowledge to the City of St. Louis” until he joined a national webinar in November with other transportation officials in which it was clarified that decorated crosswalks could cross the line when it comes to safety.
Some of St. Louis’ best-known decorated crosswalks were painted long after the feds came down with their 2011 ruling.
The fleur-de-lis one at Tower Grove and Magnolia Avenues was painted in August 2014, and the rainbow one at Tower Grove and Manchester avenue was painted last June to celebrate the legalization of gay marriage. The “Historic Shaw Saint Louis” one with a brick pattern on Shaw Boulevard was just put in this past fall.
The projects were generally hailed as a way to beautify, brand and unify neighborhoods.
“I do think that, aesthetically, they’re nice and exciting. After we painted them, it was one of the most positive reactions with any public art project that we’ve ever done with the neighborhood,” said Matt Green, administrator for the Grove Community Improvement District. “But obviously, safety is the most important thing.”
The city will let some crosswalks simply fade away, because the paint used to decorate them deteriorates within a couple of years anyway, Wilson said.
Others, such as the ones on Shaw Boulevard, will take much longer to go away. They were imprinted into the asphalt with heating technology to make them last for five to 10 years — an investment of several thousand dollars, said Dana Gray, outreach coordinator for the Tower Grove Community Development Corporation.
Wilson said those crosswalks did violate federal guidelines, but again, he won’t tear them out until he hears they actually decrease safety.
Neighborhood improvement groups said that they were going to focus on other public art projects to beautify their areas but that they’d miss the iconic crosswalks.
Some groups, such as Tower Grove, still plan to put in more crosswalk art projects that fit within federal guidelines. That means using patterns with more “natural” ground colors that distract less from the traditional white crosswalk lines.
Like all construction and street projects, they’ll need to be approved by the city first.
“People were excited about the project,” Gray said of fleur-de-lis one on Tower Grove. “We had lots of volunteers come out to participate, and they felt like it was drawing attention to the neighborhood.”