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Drivers need to slow down. Traffic deaths are a serious problem across the United States, with pedestrian fatalities increasing in past years. One effort to keep eyes on the road is the use of colorful street art — painted right on the streets.
“Over the past decade, communities across the nation have taken to beautifying their roads and intersections with hand-painted murals, slowing drivers as they go,” says Peter Brewitt of Orion Magazine in an audio slideshow (embedded below), brought to our attention by Next City.
Murals, along with other public art, are a growing mode of “traffic calming” design. You’ve probably experienced some traffic calming methods, from speed bumps to curb extensions at pedestrian crossings, to “refuge islands” in the center of busy avenues to shelter walkers who get caught between lights. Public art programs are also incorporating traffic calming into their initiatives, such as Paint the Pavement in Saint Paul, Minnesota, highlighted in the Orion Magazine video. Similarly to Groundswell in New York City (which has also done some traffic calming work), Paint the Pavement involves neighborhoods in community-minded art projects, focusing on sprawling murals across intersections.
The colorful street art gets drivers’ attention and hopefully gives them a moment of pause, pushing them to be more alert to the urban landscape around them. Art could be detrimentally distracting in some situations, but well-considered murals in places where people should be driving slowly anyway (near schools and parks, in residential neighborhoods) could be effective in reducing pedestrian deaths. Art — and murals specifically — are part of New York City’s pedestrian and safety studies and action plans, and the city is seriously focused on pedestrian fatalities right now (WNYC is tracking them all this year), with Mayor Bill de Blasio signing new bills aimed at reduction. It’s not realistic to put giant paintings all over the city, but when considering the most deadly intersections, it would be worth looking at the success of other cities in using art as a vehicle for pedestrian safety.