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November 17, 2023

Crosswalk murals have been shown to reduce traffic crashes, so Fishtown just added one to a busy intersection

Eye-catching streetscapes improve pedestrian safety by making crossing locations more 'conspicuous' to drivers, research suggests

Neighborhoods Safety
Fishtown Crosswalk Mural Provided Image/FISHTOWN NEIGHBORS ASSOCIATION

Fishtown residents volunteered to help paint a crosswalk mural at Frankford and Columbia avenues. Research shows that crosswalk art can help reduce traffic crashes and improve pedestrian safety.

A new public art installation in Fishtown may do more than add a pop of color to the Philadelphia neighborhood – it might actually save lives.

Earlier this month, the Fishtown Neighbors Association unveiled a mural painted by artist Marian Bailey on the crosswalk at Frankford and Columbia avenues. The mural depicts multiple breeds of fish against a bright green background, forming a work of art that passersby – and more importantly, drivers – may have a hard time missing.

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That's exactly the point, said FNA Vice President Sarah McAnulty. The mural was painted with the intention of encouraging drivers to slow down and be more alert to pedestrians and cyclists nearby.

"Data shows that people get hit less at intersections when they have art crosswalks," said McAnulty. "It's not safe enough in Fishtown. People get hit all the time."

The project was inspired by crosswalk streetscapes in other U.S. cities that were funded by Bloomberg Philanthropies' Asphalt Art Initiative. According to a study commissioned by Bloomberg, intersections with crosswalk art saw a 50% decrease in crashes involving pedestrians and 37% fewer crashes that led to injuries.

"The art is intended to create a highly visible crossing and suggest a walkable, active, shared use environment," the study said. "Additionally, art in the crosswalk or at curb extensions makes the pedestrian crossing location more conspicuous to drivers."

Pedestrian safety is an issue of growing concern in Philadelphia. Hit-and-run crashes are on the rise and the number of pedestrian traffic deaths doubled between 2019 and 2022, according to data compiled the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia. Pedestrians are more likely to die in traffic accidents than motorists or cyclists, the city's 2023 Vision Zero report noted.

In response to this trend – not to mention the popularity of Fishtown and its nightlife scene – the FNA submitted an application to the city's Neighborhood Slow Zone program in hopes of getting approval for the funding and implementation of traffic-calming measures in the neighborhood. In the process, they conducted a survey of about 350 Fishtown residents, asking them which intersections felt the most dangerous.

Despite a strong engagement from Fishtown residents, the city denied FNA's application due to the higher rates of pedestrian injuries in other neighborhoods.

"It's unfortunate that the city of Philadelphia makes us go through the 'Neighborhood Hunger Games' to get this funding and that they don't have enough to make everybody safe," McAnulty said. "That just is really sad for the state of our city."

Armed with the data collected in the application process, the FNA pivoted to potential alternatives for improving roadway safety in the neighborhood. After exploring several options, the organization settled on the crosswalk mural at Frankford and Columbia, one of the intersections Fishtown residents complained about most.

After putting out a call for artists and then conducting several community votes, the neighborhood group honed in on Marian Bailey's fish mural proposal. The mural now stretches across Columbia Avenue.

It took two days and about 20 volunteer painters to complete, and was funded through a combination of grant money from the Penn Treaty Special Services District and FNA's budget.

McAnulty said the response has been "overwhelmingly positive," with several Fishtown residents requesting to have crosswalk art painted on their blocks as well.

"People were like, we're so glad this is happening," McAnulty said. "We fear for our lives every time we are going to the post office."

Installing additional asphalt art will require some fundraising and the permit approval from the city, but McAnulty is optimistic that the FNA can make it happen given thef high demand among residents. To raising funds to support future projects, the FNA has set up a crowdfunding campaign.