May 20 2014

Concerned Citizens Paint Crosswalks; City Removes Them


We’ve all heard the question, “But who will build the roads?” Instead, one might ask, “but who will paint the roads?” In the case of Tacoma, Washington, it was the citizens.

Crosswalks – of lack thereof – have been a big problem in Tacoma. Citizens in especially busy, downtown areas have requested crosswalks be repainted or, in some cases, created, due to safety concerns. Their pleas went unanswered for a period of years; the city cited both finances and issues with federal guidelines, because apparently local governments are not in charge of their own crosswalks. Then Citizens for a Safer Tacoma came along.

Their idea started with anecdotes of pedestrians and bicyclists getting severely hurt after being hit by cars. Supposedly, several members of the group themselves have been in collisions while attempting to cross the street.

One of the ground-out crosswalks.

One of the ground-out crosswalks.

Their first installation was a bike lane in an area frequented by both cyclists and ambulances tending to those who had been hit. Next, they grabbed paint trays and brushes to tackle crosswalks in high-traffic areas. Many citizens were pleased, but the city government was appalled.

In fact, city officials were so peeved, they not only threatened to prosecute anyone with ties to the crosswalks, but also have been spending $1000 per crosswalk in order to remove them. Ironically, this is also the exact cost of creating a new one. They state the crosswalks must be removed, as they do not comply with federal guidelines and also create a “false sense of security.” According to Kurtis Kingsolver, Interim Public Works Director, the city must consider several factors before installing a crosswalk, including traffic volume and street width. He argues that Citizens for a Safer Tacoma took none of these issues into consideration. He is calling the crosswalks acts of “vandalism.”

This all began last May, and as of December, the city still had no named suspects to prosecute – just a bunch of “rogue crosswalks.” Now, citizen petitions are demanding that the city either leave the rogue crosswalks, or paint new ones after removing them. The process to remove the crosswalks consists of grinding down the pavement, leaving it marked, uneven, and bumpy.

The threat of legal action did not deter the group. They continued their work, using watered-down paint that could be scrubbed away and only painted in areas that already had the required infrastructure for a crosswalk, such as wheelchair ramps and yellow safety lines. Still, the crosswalks only stayed on the ground for approximately two weeks before being destroyed.

The city continues to call the “rogue crosswalks” an active investigation. Officials have also started up an advisory board and new Transportation Committee. The painters are not satisfied, and are planning a new round of painting.

Other such “crosswalk vigilantes” have popped up in Pittsburgh, PA, New Haven, CT, and Northern California.

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