The new crosswalks Downtown at 11th Street and Penn Avenue are undeniably eye-catching.
In white paint, there are arrows, lines and arches that bring to mind the Fort Duquesne and 16th Street bridges. The green bike lanes on Penn are continued through the intersection, accented with designs that recall the Sister Bridges.
But the new crossings are meant to do more than turn heads, according to Sean Luther, executive director of Envision Downtown.
The organization — created by Mayor Bill Peduto’s office and the Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership — has been working to “deploy really fast, really cheap, really high impact projects Downtown,” Luther said. There’s also a priority to improve safety, experience and accessibility for pedestrians and cyclists.
The crosswalk project began as an effort to narrow and realign traffic lanes on 11th Street in order to slow drivers. Envision Downtown was also “able to include this more visual piece for pedestrians to make sure they know it’s a priority,” Luther said. That includes painting four new crosswalks, green buffer lanes in the intersection for cyclists and a median on 11th Street.
The vivid designs are meant to send the message to drivers: Pedestrians and cyclists use these streets. Pay attention and give them space. Painted curb cuts give pedestrians more room to stand and shorten the distance to cross. Overall, the markings clearly indicate where there’s space for drivers, pedestrians and cyclists.
The designs were created with North Side firm Wall-to-Wall Studios. Luther said they wanted the crosswalks to have a “little bit of a Pittsburgh flair to it,” which is expressed in the bridge motif.
The project was fast (crews began and completed the project Saturday night), and while it was more expensive than an average crosswalk, Luther said, it was relatively inexpensive for a traffic calming measure ($15,000 for design and implementation).
As for the impact, Luther said the organization is in the process of “trying to figure out how to monitor progress.” While the group didn’t get data on how fast people were driving through the area before the project, they will try to capture that info going forward.
They’ll also be seeking input from people who use the intersection to see if the designs are making them safer and to ensure that the paint treatment isn’t reducing bike safety by making the road slippery.
Luther said crews used a water-based paint for the project, meaning the new elements will only last for around a year. By this time in 2017, stakeholders will decide if they want this to be permanent or to tweak the design.
It’s also possible the designs could be washed away for good and replaced with a standard crosswalk. Enjoy them while you can.