Crosswalk Art: Beautifying Cities and Saving Lives

The Beatles. Abbey Road, photo courtesy of Apple Records.

Marked crosswalks have become an essential and expected part of daily life today. The white-painted ladders connect our streets and intersections to safely guide pedestrians through cities and suburbs. It is unclear exactly when the first marked crosswalk came to be—some claim 2,000 years B.C.E. while others indicate somewhere in the mid-1930s. Nonetheless, it is true that crosswalks have been adapted over the course of a long time to ensure pedestrian safety. 

While the origin of the crosswalk is somewhat vague, there are some records that indicate how crosswalks came to be what they are today. According to Kat Eschner of The Smithsonian Magazine, on October 17, 1951, the first crosswalk was installed in Slough, England—about a decade before the Beatles popularized the crosswalk on Abbey Road. These English pedestrian crossings debuted the Zebra crosswalk (pictured above), a type of crosswalk we most commonly see today. One article from the Washington Post titled “The Death of the Crosswalk,” highlights an array of lethal incidents resulting from the lack of crosswalks over the centuries. In the end, it's clear crosswalks save lives—and have for quite some time. 

Crosswalk Types, Image courtesy of Heriman City Police Department

In order to avoid more fatal accidents, the appearance of the crosswalk continues to evolve. One new rather aesthetically pleasing evolution to the crosswalk is crosswalk art. In addition to sprucing up otherwise mundane aspects of street corners, crosswalk art promotes pedestrian safety and visibility for oncoming traffic. 

Naturally with artists and their work, crosswalk art is becoming more and more creative. The art can be seen weaving in and out of the otherwise generic-looking, white-painted ladders or placed in the center of a four-way intersection like a framed painting. In addition to its aesthetic benefits, data shows that crosswalk art increases traffic safety. One four-way intersection mural installed in Richmond, Virginia decreased motorized crashes by 56% according to data from a Washington Post article written by Sydney Page. The article goes on to say, “The study examined the crash history at 17 asphalt art sites across the country that have a minimum of two years of crash data. It found 83 fewer crashes at the analyzed intersections—more than a 50% decrease compared with data from before the crosswalks were painted.”

Because of impressive data like this, cities across America, including Philadelphia, Durham, San Antonio, and San Francisco, are investing in crosswalk art projects. In addition to safety and aesthetic aspects, crosswalk art can also promote culture, history, and present-day social matters. For instance, Long Beach, California, showcased sea life in their crosswalk art and San Francisco debuted rainbow crosswalks in support of LGBTQIA+ rights. 

Long Beach California Crosswalk mural, Image courtesy of Smartcities Dive Blog.

Crosswalk art beautifies our cities and instills extra safety measures that are quite literally saving lives. They bring creativity to street corners and safety for our civilians. As more cities catch wind of the incredible benefits of asphalt art, I will look forward to seeing more of it beautifying cities and saving lives.

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