Painted Crosswalks Don't Pass Feds' Eyeball Test in St. Louis

St. Louis will end a program that allows groups to decorate crosswalks for the purposes of beautifying and branding neighborhoods. Currently decorated crosswalks can stay, for now.

2 minute read

February 9, 2016, 10:00 AM PST

By James Brasuell @CasualBrasuell

St. Louis Rainbow Crosswalk

Paul Sableman / Flickr

"Say goodbye to the decorated fleur-de-lis and rainbow crosswalks that grace some intersections in St. Louis," reports Kristen Taketa. "The city now prohibits such crosswalk art projects, and the ones that exist will be left to fade away."

The sudden resistance to the city's painted crosswalks is credited to a 2011 Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) policy that says colorful crosswalks pose a danger. Taketa quotes directly from the policy, which says "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." According to the FHWA, problems could arise from misidentifying the borders of a crosswalk or from pedestrians who pause to gaze at the crosswalk.

Jamie Wilson, St. Louis bike/pedestrian coordinator, is also quoted in the article, assuring that none of the city's existing painted crosswalks will be removed "unless he learns they are actually causing problems." Wilson in quoted directly explaining the city's decision: "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….It’s probably an ultra-conservative approach when it comes to safety, which is fine."

The reaction of the neighborhood groups that have already painted their crosswalks was disappointment—one in particular notes the unprecedented popularity of the crosswalks when compared to other forms of public art. According to Taketa, "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."

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