Crosswalk Art for Street Safety and Community Building: 5 Best Practices

This is a guest blog by Angela Cleveland and Caitlin Thayer, with the City of Amesbury, Massachusetts. Cleveland is the Director of Community and Economic Development for the City with a passion for creating community spaces that work for everyone. Thayer is the Communications Director for the City, and while artistic creativity isn’t her strong suit, she is also the staff liaison to the Amesbury Cultural Council and supports in uplifting their work. Both are quick to note they shared an office when City Hall was under renovation.

Crosswalk murals give streets a much-needed colorful makeover. But these creative art installations are also community building tools that bring people together, showcase neighborhood pride, and promote street safety.  

In our small city of Amesbury on the North Shore of Massachusetts, aquatic plants, birds, and geometric shapes in bold colors are just some of the designs we had local artists paint on downtown crosswalks as part of an initiative we launched last summer through a Shared Streets & Spaces grant from the Massachusetts Department of Transportation. 

Our efforts to bring more vibrancy to our streets is paying off. Business owners and residents have shown an outpouring of support on social media and shared how much they value the City’s appreciation for public art. But it was a challenging undertaking that required strategic planning, good communication, stakeholder buy-in, and of course, very talented artists. 

Here are five things to keep in mind when creating crosswalk art: 

  1. There’s no such thing as over-communicating 

The first step in any crosswalk painting process is to communicate and coordinate with stakeholders early – including the Police Department, Public Works, and local businesses. We knew that painting these crosswalks would require the closure of streets which people use to get around Amesbury, so we had to ensure we were actively communicating our plans with everyone and putting the appropriate signage in place. 

For local businesses, it meant having an alternate plan for delivery drop-off times. For traffic police, it was rerouting both pedestrian and vehicle traffic; there were times when streets were closed for an entire day to allow for the paint to dry. And while no one likes street closures, residents and business owners were extremely supportive. To help mitigate potential issues caused by street closures, some artists chose to paint overnight. 

Photo credit: Caitlin Thayer, Communications Director, Cultural Council Liaison, City of Amesbury

2. Make a call to artists with clear expectations 

Municipal officials and artists need to be on the same page about design expectations, so it’s crucial to provide each artist with detailed instructions as part of the call for submissions. In our first call for artists, the City did not provide detailed guidance on our expectations. We received submissions from artists who were extremely talented but offered drawings that we knew would be way too detailed and complicated to be completed in the timeframe and scale we needed. Our second call offered more details as to the type of designs and colors we were looking for, which resulted in much cleaner and less-detailed submissions that would fit in our timeframe and budget. In short: artists should be able to channel their creativity while having a clear sense of timing, budget, and materials at hand. 

3. When purchasing materials, think safety first and budget accordingly

As always, safety first. To ensure pedestrian safety in crosswalk painting and maintenance, it’s important to consider grit to provide a slip-resistant finish. We used a final coat of grip paint, which is more expensive than traditional paint but worth the peace of mind. We also provided safety wayfinding signs during street closure hours and ensured traffic police presence to reinforce and promote safety. 

In terms of budgeting, keep in mind that artists might not be familiar with painting on asphalt, which soaks up paint like a sponge, so purchase more paint than you think you might need. Also, ask each artist for a full list of materials and buy in bulk to avoid extra trips to the store and project delays and consider the use of stencils to make it easier (time and money-wise) to paint the crosswalk. 

4. Get the community involved 

From local businesses to residents and artists, street art is a communal masterpiece. Getting everyone involved in the process allows for successful planning and implementation and ultimately, better crosswalks and streets. In Amesbury, our Department of Public Works was quick to lend a hand and paint a light base coat to some crosswalks to save time. Our Mayor Kassandra Gove did not hesitate to get her paint on and worked with an artist and other community members until 1:30 a.m.! Not everyone is an artist, but we encourage you to explore various ways that anyone who wants to be involved has the opportunity to do so.

But for truly successful planning and implementation, it’s critical to keep accessibility and inclusivity in mind. In Amesbury, we ensured the crosswalk designs were family-friendly, digestible, and inclusive – that includes adding stamped patterns on the crosswalks’ outer lines to make crosswalks more visible for folks with visual impairment. Ultimately, keep in mind who is using these crosswalks, and how they can better serve them.  

Photo credit: Caitlin Thayer, Communications Director, Cultural Council Liaison, City of Amesbury

5. Let the crosswalk art fit into a larger vision of streets – and celebrate it! 

Now that the beautifully painted crosswalks are on display, remind people how they fit into your commitment to better streets. Pair crosswalks with other initiatives such as lower speed limits, new bike lanes and bike racks, or outdoor work and dining space to help uplift a message: roads are not just for cars, but for everybody. 

And last but not least, engage in communication efforts that showcase the art, celebrate each artist, and invite people in. Happy painting!