Creative crosswalks are turning cities’ busy thoroughfares into works of art

“Keep Austin Weird” is not just the Texas city’s nickname, it’s a way of life. Though “weird” may be a bit of a misnomer here; instead, the city government is working to keep Austin artistic with their recent Creative Crosswalks initiative. They’re encouraging Austin businesses and citizens to come up with artistic designs for the city’s crosswalks to “break the visual monotony of the asphalt or concrete pavement and highlight crossings as an extension of the pedestrian realm,” according to their website.CreativeCrosswalk-244-o_LM8Ugb Locals can fill out a request form to the city government for design approval. The website states that the budget is limited and encourages each nominee to secure funding for their proposal on their own. The city hopes that small businesses, neighborhoods and communities will nominate crosswalks in their areas for the program to bring life and identity to the diverse personalities of each area.2

The first crosswalk in the Austin initiative was installed last week on Lake Austin Blvd and is titled “Crosswalk by the Lake.” Not surprisingly, the design is an abstracted take on flowing water, with wavy blue lines intersecting the white crosswalk bars. It’s eye-catching, modern and engaging— just what they were hoping for.3Austin’s Creative Crosswalk program is not the first of its kind; many other cities have implemented similar artistic endeavors on their streets for both aesthetic and safety reasons. Lompoc, California has held an annual Creative Crossing competition in which artists can submit designs for a chance to “win” a crosswalk to makeover, complete with a $500 honorarium. This year, Linda Powers won for her sea-inspired shell and sand dollar motif.4Never a city to be beat in the public art arena, Portland, Oregon also ushered in its own version of a Creative Crosswalk program, though the city’s own Department of Transportation came up with and installed the piece themselves. The raindrop and umbrella installation was actually printed on road-safe rubber and laid down in squares to make it durable and useable on the busy Chinatown street.5The phenomenon isn’t relegated to the US; this cute dog walking crosswalk is in the middle of the Condesa neighborhood in Mexico City. It imbues even the most mundane errands with a lightheartedness and charm that makes us wonder why every crosswalk isn’t made over with an artistic eye.6Somewhat surprisingly, China is home to at least a dozen creative crosswalks, located all over the country. From Chengdu’s romantic, heart-shaped “I love you” crosswalk to Shenyang’s whimsical barefoot hoppers, China’s streets are slowly filling with major artistic vision.7Both Warsaw, Poland and Chongqing, China have taken advantage of the organic piano motif in two of their creative crosswalks. We’re particularly into Chongqing’s shadowy hands playing the keys in mirror image of two side-by-side crosswalks.2128And speaking of taking advantage of a crosswalk’s natural shape, Zurich, Switzerland turned their yellow pedestrian crossing into a Super-super-super sized box of McDonald’s french fries! McDonald’s actually created this creative crosswalk on their own as a part of an annual art festival held in the city.8Cities like Detroit and Baltimore which are facing serious financial and economic struggles, have used creative crosswalks as a way to bolster local resident’s hope in their city and to encourage tourists to explore the streets. This zippered up crosswalk in Baltimore is an awesome example of that innovation and enthusiasm that brings extra life and awareness to that neighborhood.9