FORWARD: Issue #2: Transportation
Making Streets Safer
Coreil-Allen’s work has increasingly taken the form of public space design and exploration. Hopscotch Crosswalk Colossus is an intersection of four oversized hopscotch-court crosswalks, each featuring a specific print: a shoe, bird track, boot, and footprint, comprising an homage to the people of Baltimore. Photo courtesy Graham Coreil-Allen, grahamprojects.com.
Artists remind neighbors what they’re gaining
In American cities, streets make up more than 80 percent of public space. But despite being so ubiquitous, streets often serve a solitary purpose: letting cars move as quickly as possible. For decades, as car ownership has become more and more prevalent and sprawling development patterns have forced us to drive more and more, transportation professionals have made most of their decisions with the automobile in mind. This has led to the widening of streets, highway expansions, designing intersections so that cars can turn without stopping, and other decisions that have made our most prominent public asset dangerous to many members of the public.
Despite some new thinking about streets, the total number of miles driven by Americans has reached an all-time high, and pedestrian fatalities on our streets have continued to increase each year. Dangerous roads don’t impact everyone in the same way; people of color, people over the age of 50, and people walking in lower-income communities are hit by cars at significantly higher rates than their counterparts. Poor street design in these communities has led to these dangerous conditions.
But in recent years, the tide has begun to turn, with some of the damage previously done in the name of cars being undone. The Complete Streets approach, which says that all users of a street—people walking, bicycling, rolling in wheelchairs, riding buses, dining, playing, driving—should be considered in the street’s design, has been adopted by cities and states across the country.
Opponents of Complete Streets projects often focus on what is being taken away. For example, to make a street “complete,” travel lanes for cars and parking spaces are often removed. Artists have increasingly played a key role in meeting these objections. When they are part of a Complete Streets project team, artists often contribute aesthetically interesting and culturally relevant components to the project, which help remind neighbors that though they’re losing a few parking spaces, they’re gaining a beautiful new work of art that doubles as a guard rail or some other piece of pedestrian-safety infrastructure.
Read on for examples of one artist using art to make streets safer for all.
Integrating activism and advocacy into creating uplifting, healthy, accessible neighborhoods
Location: Baltimore, MD Artist: Graham Coreil-Allen
Baltimore-based artist Graham Coreil-Allen has been at the forefront of using art to make streets safer for all. With training in visual art and architecture, Coreil-Allen has integrated his artistic practice with his “interest in activism and advocacy, especially around creating healthy neighborhoods ultimately that are uplifting and accessible for all people, with a particular focus on rebuilding our cities and suburbs to accommodate folks who do not drive cars.” Coreil-Allen’s work has increasingly taken the form of public space design and exploration: Tinges Commons created a community garden and collaborative art space in a vacant north-central Baltimore lot, while New Public Sites walking tours creatively “explore the history, design and uses of public spaces,” inviting participants “to practice ‘radical pedestrianism’—traveling by foot through infinite sites of freedom while testing the limits of and redefining public space.” Coreil-Allen’s first experience with street safety came in the form of a series of hopscotch crosswalks, designed to create an artistic and fun experience for pedestrians in downtown Baltimore.
(The Federal Highway Administration has cracked down on artistic crosswalks that deviate from the standard zebra pattern in recent years, claiming that “the use of 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.” However, there’s no empirical evidence to support this, and in fact, reports on artistic crosswalks in Pittsburgh and Seattle prove the opposite of the FHWA’s assertion.)
Graham Projects describes the Hopscotch Crosswalk Colossus as "a playful monument to the people that make Baltimore the greatest city in America." Photo courtesy Graham Coreil-Allen, grahamprojects.com.
“I remember years ago I was wondering what’s up with all these different colorful markings on the ground that I called the mystic glyphs.”
— Graham Coreil-Allen
Coreil-Allen’s curiosity helped him overcome the steep learning curve associated with road design and civil engineering. “I remember years ago I was wondering what's up with all these different colorful markings on the ground that I called the mystic glyphs—these kind of urban utility graffiti of unknown origin. And then I looked into it and eventually I kind of memorized it all: orange is telecommunications, red is electrical, blue is water, white is just survey markings, and so on.”
Graham Coreil-Allen's Reverberations Crosswalks #2 is a pavement mural designed to enhance pedestrian safety for children and residents near Margaret Brent Elementary/Middle School in Baltimore, while celebrating the school’s art education focus. Photo courtesy Graham Coreil-Allen, grahamprojects.com.
Reverberations Crosswalks Coreil-Allen created another popular set of crosswalks in Baltimore’s Charles Village neighborhood. Intended to draw attention to the students crossing the busy one-way street on their way to school, the Reverberations crosswalks were designed in collaboration with students at Margaret Brent Elementary/Middle School and painted by neighbors, students, and passersby. Incorporating bright colors, new signage, bump-outs, flex posts, and bicycle infrastructure, the project has slowed traffic and created a new neighborhood landmark.
Graham Projects co-led a drawing workshop with students to generate visual design themes. Photo courtesy Graham Coreil-Allen, grahamprojects.com.
The final design included safety-enhancing, poured-concrete bump-outs on each corner. Photo courtesy Graham Coreil-Allen, grahamprojects.com.
The selected design was based on community feedback. Photo courtesy Graham Coreil-Allen, grahamprojects.com.
The Curbside Commons Design for Distancing project converted a parking lane into a public space for community, shopping, services, and culinary encounters. Photo courtesy Graham Coreil-Allen, grahamprojects.com.
Design for Distancing
Now co-chairing Mayor Brandon Scott's transition team's Arts and Culture committee, Coreil-Allen has shifted his work to creating safe, accessible spaces for the COVID moment. As part of the Design for Distancing initiative, he created space for outdoor dining and seating, a mid-block crosswalk, and shade structures. Using a community-based design process, Coreil-Allen and his collaborators “first started off with meeting with all the merchants along the target blocks...and everything they said really drove the design.” A hair salon wanted space for customers to safely wait for appointments, so seating was added outside their storefront. Another business wanted to be able to host outdoor events, so a locking cabinet that doubles as a bench was created and filled with games and other equipment. Others pointed to concerns about pedestrian safety, so the team embellished existing crosswalks with bright paint and artistic designs, and built colorful ADA-compliant ramps for wheelchairs and strollers.
“Everything they said really drove the design.”
— Coreil-Allen, on his meetings with store merchants
The artist notes that local businesses have reported an increase in foot traffic and sales since installing the space. Photo courtesy Graham Coreil-Allen, grahamprojects.com.
Modular stencils and footprint markings provide visual and tactile cues for visitors to maintain healthy personal space. Photo courtesy Graham Coreil-Allen, grahamprojects.com.
The Curbside Commons project created safe pedestrian space using traffic bump-outs, line striping, flex-posts,bike racks, and a first-of-its-kind midblock crosswalk with traffic island. Photo courtesy Graham Coreil-Allen, grahamprojects.com.
Sign up for our Public Art Update to receive monthly insights on what's happening at Forecast and in the fields of public art and creative placemaking.
Forecast is a nonprofit arts organization
Your investment in Forecast will allow us to continue innovating and adapting to provide caring, experienced support to artists, institutions and communities who seek to bring creativity, hope, healing, joy, and identity to public spaces across the country.
FORWARD: Issue #2
© COPYRIGHT 2021 - FORECAST PUBLIC ART ISSN 2768-4113