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San Diego’s Crosswalks Could See Colorful Makeover

Two people walking dogs cross the intersection of Kettner Boulevard and Ash Street in the city of San Diego, June 3, 2016.
Megan Wood
Two people walking dogs cross the intersection of Kettner Boulevard and Ash Street in the city of San Diego, June 3, 2016.

The city of San Diego is paving the way for communities to add a splash of color to pedestrian crossings. City staff previously didn’t allow decorative crosswalks, because they violate federal guidelines. But this week, they presented a pilot program to a city council committee that would allow the use of solid hues.

Advocates have pushed local officials to allow decorative markings within crosswalks to commemorate their neighborhoods' identities. The Federal Highway Administration, however, has said they are distracting and unsafe.

RELATED: The Battle Over Art And Safety On San Diego’s Streets


City Councilman Chris Ward’s office spent more than a year working with staff to find a solution that still meets federal standards. Community groups in Hillcrest, which Ward represents, have called for a rainbow crossing since 2013 to mark the neighborhood's LGBT pride.

Ward said at the Active Transportation and Infrastructure Committee meeting on Wednesday that he was pleased to see his office's efforts become a citywide reality.

"Creative crosswalks are not just for rainbows," said Ward, co-chair of the committee. "With this program every council district would be able to celebrate unique aspects of their communities by utilizing crosswalks as an expression of community pride, sense of place and neighborhood history."

The pilot program establishes a permit to add colors between the white markings of crosswalks at intersections that meet certain criteria. The department plans to study the decorative crossings and report back on their impact, especially regarding safety.

Some shades that are commonly associated with other traffic devices, including the green hue used for bike lanes, would be prohibited, and only two or three creative crosswalk projects would be allowed for each council district. The permit also carries a fee of about $2,700 to $3,700.


However, not all supporters of decorative crossings were fully behind the pilot program. It currently bars the use of symbols or designs, which was upsetting news for Beryl Forman of the El Cajon Boulevard Business Improvement Association.

RELATED: How City Heights Is Trying To Protect Its Multicultural Roots

The nonprofit wants an artistic crosswalk in San Diego's City Heights community to recognize the large Vietnamese community in the area, known as Little Saigon. Forman said the restriction to colors is too limiting.

"While it is easy to assume that because the Vietnamese flag is red and yellow that this is a solution for a culturally designated Little Saigon district, this would be an awful and repeated mistake since it is highly offensive to step on anything that resembles their flag," Forman told committee members.

Councilwoman Vivian Moreno also mentioned that community members in the Barrio Logan neighborhood, which is part of her district, have expressed interest in crossings with designs.

Despite the Federal Highway Administration's opposition to artistic street crossings, several cities including San Francisco and Los Angeles already implemented crosswalk designs.

An FHWA spokeswoman said the federal agency has notified cities about potential safety problems and encouraged compliance with its rules on traffic control devices.

"Subdued decorative treatments are typically allowed, but complex artistic or graphic designs are where we have the concern," Nancy Singer wrote in a December email.

At the council committee meeting, City Engineer James Nagelvoort suggested council offices sponsor applicants who wish to add a multi-colored crosswalk and provide their names within about three months. Interested parties would have to cover the project's installation and maintenance.

A draft memo shows the city may study the impact of creative crosswalks for up to two years before deciding on a finalized process.

San Diego’s Crosswalks Could See Colorful Makeover
City staff are working on a plan to allow embellishments to pedestrian crossings, which they previously did not permit because of federal guidelines on traffic devices.

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