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North Adams Taking Another Look at 'Aesthetic' Crosswalks
By Tammy Daniels, iBerkshires Staff
05:24AM / Thursday, February 15, 2024
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City Councilor Andrew Fitch is resurrecting the idea of painting crosswalks to make them more visible along with other safety measures.

NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — The city rejected artistic crosswalks two years ago but a new councilor has again raised the idea.
This time, the federal government looks to be on his side. 
"My purpose here is to produce street crossings for pedestrians which are safe, visible and beautiful for our residents, students and guests, no matter how they get around the city, so that goes for drivers just as much as it goes for pedestrians," said Councilor Andrew Fitch, who gave a short presentation at Tuesday's council meeting.
"Some potential solutions could be using technological advancements using bright or reflective paint or some other type of material that makes them a little more visible and involving the creativity and leveraging the creativity that we have here in the city."
Several pedestrian rights-of-way had been painted in by volunteers with the group Art About Town more than a decade ago but the project was dropped over concerns about crossing the state Department of Transportation.
Then in 2022 the Traffic Commission unanimously recommended against such crosswalk painting based on state and federal standards, citing studies that found them distracting to drivers and possible hazards for pedestrians if they are not recognizable as crosswalks.
But the first update to the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices for Streets and Highways in more than a decade is taking a different stance on street "aesthetics," finding it could very well create safer crossings. 
The new federal guide states that agencies have the flexibility — within applicable laws — to employ "surface treatments." The primary caveat is that crosswalks are not obscured in a way that they are not easily recognized. 
"This includes the use of aesthetic surface treatments between the transverse lines within a crosswalk, in islands, in medians, in shoulders, within sidewalk extensions designated by pavement markings, or in other areas outside of the traveled way provided that the aesthetic surface treatment does not mimic, obscure, or otherwise adversely impact the effectiveness of other traffic control devices, such as other pavement markings in that location."
Bloomberg Philanthropies' Asphalt Art Initiative has been funding artistic pavement projects for some years. A study completed in 2022 on 17 of its projects found a 50 percent decrease in crashes involving pedestrians and an overall rise in positive behaviors in both drivers and pedestrians.
Fitch provided some images from other communities including a crosswalk painting that looked 3-dimensional. He also suggested reflective paint or street reflectors, and more technological safety measures such as solar-powered flashing lights used along Williamstown's Main Street.  
Some crosswalks lack visibility, he said, or are in disrepair and "underbeautified, frankly some of them are just a little ugly right now."
He also advocated for adding crosswalks though Councilor Keith Bona noted that the city had to remove two crosswalks from downtown because of federal regulations on proximity and slope.
Diane O'Donnell of West Main Street, who spoke at hearing of visitors and open forum, said twice she'd had bad experiences in crosswalks, including nearly being hit by a car, because they were not well marked.
"I thought he saw us and he didn't and I think one of the issues is the crosswalk isn't really, it's not marked in any way that you can see in broad daylight," she said. "I couldn't see it coming here tonight. ...
 "I think really well marked crosswalks are a really good first step in that in conjunction with stop signs and maybe a flashing light, whatever is needed whatever is affordable for the town, whatever you can do with a traffic study."
 Ben Westbrook of East Main echoed her concerns, particularly with the crosswalks and traffic around the downtown. It's not simply crosswalks, he said, but controlling traffic to make the downtown "accessible and friendly and welcoming."
"I speak openly and eagerly to lots of visitors who come to town about how this is an incredibly walkable city. Lots of things are easy to access," he said. "The flip side of that, which I don't tend to tell guests unless they have kids, is that it's also really dangerous to walk around downtown. Because traffic hauls through there as if they have somewhere to go."
Councilor Ashley Shade said "as somebody who walks everywhere, I definitely recognize the need for more crosswalk and sidewalk safety." But she wondered what exactly Fitch wanted the council to commit to — to research lighting, new points for crossing, sidewalks? 
Painting crosswalks seemed more Public Arts Commission than Public Safety Committee, she said. "We want to make sure that whatever is being sent to these committees comes back with something that is actionable."
Councilor Keith Bona said he was OK with referring to Traffic and Public Arts and seeing what they had to say.
Mayor Jennifer Macksey asked that it be referred first to her office and that she could work with Fitch on some his ideas. 
"We can do some research within the administration as to what's reasonable for us and what's financial," she said. "Then at that point, I'd be happy to refer to Traffic and Public Arts. But I'd like to have further discussion within the administration."
The council referred to the matter to Macksey's office along with Fitch's proposal for painting electrical boxes, as had been done in Pittsfield, as something that was not really within the council's purview.
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