Walking on rainbows

Now we’re walking on rainbows in downtown Gainesville. How cool is that?

Listen, Gainesville is no stranger to public art. We’ve got the French Fries From Hell and that evil Jay Leno lookalike moon with the glowing eyes.

And we’re busting out all over in wall murals. Tom Petty, dragons and apes, Me Too and true romance…our walls have a thousand stories to tell.

But, really, why stop there when we’ve got perfectly good public streets for canvas?

Gainesville launched its Art In The Crosswalks initiative last month with three rainbow crosswalks on 1st Street – next to city hall, at Bo Diddley Plaza and in front of the Hipp. The rainbows celebrate National Coming Out day. And what a colorful way to display our collective pride in being a welcoming city.

And those rainbows will do double duty. For art’s sake, and for safety’s sake.

Anything we can do to get cars to slow down and pay attention is to the public good. And the rainbows are certainly attention-getters.

We’re not alone in that regard. All over the country, and around the world, cities are laying down imaginative street designs to celebrate their creativity – and to get cars to slow down. Crosswalks are being dressed up as zippers, keyboards, kaleidoscopes, optical illusions and, yes, rainbows.

“Bright colors and unique designs in crosswalks can create a sense of community while keeping pedestrians safer and drawing drivers’ attention to them” argues the online news service Smart Cities Drive. “Brightly colored crosswalks are popping up in a variety of designs from geometric patterns to symbols that represent a city’s history and culture…”

Hey, who doesn’t love creative crosswalks?

Well, the Federal Highway Administration for one. Seems the traffic “professionals” have been trying to get cities to desist from being artsy at street level. FHA prefers the standard, white, by-the-book crosswalks that have been so successful in protecting pedestrians.

Of which 6,227 were killed last year alone. And that number keeps rising.

According to the feds “crosswalk art is actually contrary to the goal of increased safety and most likely could be a contributing factor to a false sense of security for both motorists and pedestrians” reports the New York Times.

To which objections some cities are responding with a polite but firm “bunk.”

“With the system of federalism in the United States, the federal government does not have jurisdiction over everything,” states a written response Ames City, Iowa, which has decided to keep its rainbows despite a “sharply worded” federal request to remove them.

My personal favorite rebuke comes from Doug Turnbull, aka the “Gridlock Guy” an Atlanta traffic watcher. “A pencil-pushing bureaucrat a thousand miles away shouldn’t affect policy of this kind on this level,” he wrote recently in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “Rainbow crosswalks are a good thing…forbidding them for being unsafe is laughable — and probably makes people want to jaywalk even more.”

So here’s to walking on rainbows in Gainesville. And perhaps that’s only the beginning.

Assistant City Manager Dan Hoffman says to look for one or two additional creative crosswalk projects in the near term. And more later on if the city commission decides to keep funding Art In Crosswalks.

“One of the reasons we have to look at these kind of solutions is because the federal government has for years failed” to protect the walking public, Hoffman said.

So how about something really creative – and eye opening – at University and Main? Or University and 13th?

All the better to see us by.

Ron Cunningham is former editorial page editor of The Sun.

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