By KENDRA SITTON | Downtown News
After the recent installation of the rainbow crosswalk in Hillcrest, a first for the city, many more creative crosswalks are coming to San Diego, including several in Downtown. Soon pedestrians will be able to walk across Italian flags in Little Italy, the bright pastels of the Children’s Museum outside the popular museum, and the signature blue of Columbia. The customized crosswalks are meant to boost a sense of place and bring art and color to the street.
“It‘s a unique way for the various communities of San Diego to create an identity and a marker. We have a lot of pocket neighborhoods, and each one has a different flavor and a different feel,” said Christopher Gomez, the district manager of Little Italy.
It took three years for the Normal Street walkway by the Pride flag to sport the rainbow. It only came to life because Council member Chris Ward’s office pushed past hurdles from the city and federal government. With the pilot program completed, there is now a much clearer path forward for neighborhoods trying to demonstrate their uniqueness with a splash of paint. The city has now implemented a creative crosswalk program that should mean neighborhoods do not have to wait for three years for approval.
Gomez explained that other communities have the applications used in Hillcrest. They are able to copy and paste those applications and just tweak the content, a time- and cost-saving practice.
Gomez said Little Italy is getting final bids before painting three intersections along India Street.
After initially rejecting plans to decorate the crosswalk, the city agreed to the new creative crosswalk program as long as they are continental crosswalks, meaning there is a thick white horizontal stripe between each solid colored stripe.
“Hopefully we can get more creative in the future but it‘s a great start,” said Sean Warner, San Diego Downtown Partnership’s director of community enhancement.
The contrast between the color and white helped waylay concerns the new crosswalks would be less visible and possibly contribute to vehicle versus pedestrian collisions. There were additional issues with being compliant with the Federal Highway Administration (FHA).
“[FHA has] a particular guide called a Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices and a lot of states and cities and others model many of their standards. When I say model, we still have some flexibility to draft our own standards under the guidance and approval of federal traffic engineers,” said Councilman Ward. “Our city staff, which is responsibly making sure that the city is not in a liable place, had some reservations, even though they knew that other cities were [adding rainbow crosswalks]. A lot of other cities were just snubbing the federal guidelines.”
The federal guidelines call for all crosswalks being white with particular patterns and dimensions.
“The federal government has been unhappy with a number of cities using color, using rainbow crosswalks…. Personally, I think that the federal guidelines probably need to both come into the times but also need to apply some common sense,” Ward said.
After a lot of back-and-forth, Ward was able to reach a compromise with the city staff and city engineer that allowed color between the white bars of a continental crosswalk. Ward’s staff also proactively reached out to other cities with colorful crosswalks, like Sacramento, West Hollywood and Long Beach, to ask safety questions.
“There were no more impacts. There were no more pedestrian hits or other injuries. There was no impact because there was a rainbow crosswalk installed at that intersection,” he said.
That comforted the city and allowed his team to move forward with the creative crosswalk program and launch the pilot project in Hillcrest.
Under the new creative crosswalk program, four of the six neighborhoods represented by San Diego Downtown Partnership are planning on installing their own crosswalks: East Village at 14th and J streets, Marina at Island and Front Street (across from Children’s Museum), City Center at Third and B streets (near Civic Theatre), and Columbia at B Street and Columbia. Stakeholders in each neighborhood helped develop the color scheme for each project. The City Center and Columbia crosswalks already have funding so they will likely come online first.
“Right now, you walk around Downtown San Diego, you don‘t see a lot of color,” Warner said. His job is to bring more joy and whimsy to the streets in addition to making them cleaner and safer. “We‘re advocating for a more engaging streetscape.”
Warner believes that bringing color and art to the street will enhance community identity — making people proud of where they live.
— Kendra Sitton can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.