Rebecca Bernard
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The Feds Aren’t Fans of Fun Crosswalks

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unique crosswalk
Photo: Bill Henry

In recent years, fun crosswalks have started popping up around the nation. From 3D crosswalks that try to get drivers to slow down in school zones to rainbows celebrating LGBTQ+ pride and zippers in Baltimore, cities are taking more ownership of their pavement. That might sound cool, but the federal government is not amused.

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According to an October Wired article, it has all come to head in Ames, Iowa. Home to Iowa State University, the town voted to paint crosswalks the colors of different Pride flags to celebrate its Pridefest. Either someone tattled to the Federal Highway Administration or the nearby agency discovered the idea on its own, but either way, they were not happy. The office sent the city council of Ames a warning to suggest they look for other ways to show its support for residents and students.

The United States has standards for road markings to make sure that drivers can easily understand the laws from state to state. We all know not to cross a double-yellow line, and a strong white line in an intersection is where your car needs to stop. The federal government is afraid that if they keep letting fun crosswalks pop up, it won’t be too long before purple squiggles mark turn lanes in Ohio but passing zones in Indiana. All of that makes sense, but deciding to take a stand on Pride crosswalks instead of one of the other wacky designs seems like a poor public relations decision.

To be fair to the federal government, pedestrian deaths in the U.S. have risen more than fifty percent in the last decade, so the pressure is on them to do everything possible to protect pedestrians. Driving assistance technologies, the precursors to self-driving cars, rely on clear road markings to know when to stop and how to offer us guidance behind the wheel.

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Special crosswalks can help build community connections, or help visitors figure out where they are if the designs are tied to nearby landmarks. Instead of just pushing back against character and celebration, we hope that someone at the Federal Highway Administration can figure out how to work with these cities to create works of art that are both fun and safe.