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We’ve all seen them~those lovely rainbow crosswalks in cities that represent inclusivity and are often tied into  events celebrating gay, nonbinary and transgender people. Those crosswalks also just make people happy. In Peace River Alberta which has the most northern Pride Parade the city decided to paint a signalled pedestrian crosswalk in rainbow colours after examining the experience of rainbow crosswalks in Edmonton. In Edmonton’s pilot project summary  the city found that

the rainbow crosswalks did not decrease pedestrian safety. Stopping and encroaching behaviour differed at locations with and without the rainbow crosswalks. The observed motorist behaviour was consistent with the survey findings where people felt the rainbow crosswalks made intersections safer and were not a distraction.”

After over two months of observation and a survey of 3200 people, Edmonton found that motorists who drove through the rainbow crosswalks did not find them distracting. Based upon that information, Peace River painted up their own.  The city’s engineer found that the painting of crosswalks did conform to the Highway Marking Guide and to the Transportation Association of Canada standards.

But in the “you just can’t make this stuff up” department the town of  Ames Iowa (population of 65,000) received a letter from the Federal Highway Administration (FHA) saying that  the rainbow crosswalk in that city was a “safety concern, and a liability for the city”.  In the United States the FHA regulates national roadway signs and traffic signals. The letter wanted the City of Ames to remove their rainbow sidewalks.

The Ames City Council ignored the letter (by unanimous consent) after hearing the city’s lawyer respond : “Honestly, I just do not think they  (the FHA) have any jurisdiction over the roads in the city that we’re paying for with our own tax money,”

There is absolutely no reason NOT to have colourful crosswalks in any design. New York City, Seattle and Portland Oregon all have colourful crosswalks and they have not caused driver distraction or resulted in an increase of vehicular crashes. As the New York Times reports the FHA told the City of Ames that painted crosswalks:

diminishes the contrast between the white lines and the pavement, potentially decreasing the effectiveness of the crosswalk markings and the safety of pedestrian traffic. The purpose of aesthetic treatments and crosswalk art is to ‘draw the eye’ of pedestrians and drivers in direct conflict with commanding the attention of drivers and motorists to minimize the risk of collision.”

There’s no data to this odd governmental critique of a city’s colourful crosswalks, and the way it is written talks more about a bureaucrat’s pet peeve, not any actual impediment to pedestrian or vehicular behaviour.

The last word should really go to the City of Seattle’s remarkable traffic engineer Dongho Chang.  According to Kiro7 News the Seattle Department of Transportation has installed 40 artistic crosswalks, which include rainbow stripes and geometric designs created by local artists, and has started a formal program for communities to request one. They received a similar letter from the FHA five years ago which they have ignored. The best part? It turns out that Dongho Chang is actually on the committee that updates the Federal Manual on Highway Signage and Road Markings.

As Mr. Chang remarked: “We made the crosswalks  very vibrant so you can’t miss that they’re crosswalks. For these locations, we’re seeing a reduction in pedestrian collisions to the point that they’re not really happening.”

The Seattle Department of Transportation calls the performance of the colourful intersections “phenomenal”.

No word yet of the response from the Federal Government. You can take a look at the video clip from Seattle’s Kiro7  television station here.

And from Uxbridge Ontario, a group of students have created a video to show pedestrians and drivers how to navigate a rainbow crosswalk. There’s also another YouTube video of a rainbow crosswalk installed in New York City last summer.

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