An illuminating new study by Bloomberg Philanthropies found that the installation of asphalt art on city streets makes them significantly safer for pedestrians and other vulnerable road users. Released earlier this month, the study defined asphalt art as “public art projects coupled with improvements to transportation infrastructure,” and it examined historical crash data and driver behavior at 17 asphalt art sites—“seven unsignalized intersections, seven signalized intersections and three mid-block crossings”—before and after crashes.
The study’s top-line findings offer a stark illustration of the calming effects of asphalt art. The analysis showed that asphalt art was associated with a 50% drop crashes affecting “pedestrians or other vulnerable road users”; a 37% drop in crashes resulting in injuries; and a 17% drop in total crash rates. At the same time, the study found that asphalt art resulted in a 25% drop in “pedestrian crossings involving a conflict with drivers”; a 27% increase in drivers yielding to pedestrians who had the right of way; and a 38% drop in pedestrians crossing the street when they didn’t have the signal.
As both the study and an analysis by Streetsblog note, the apparent benefits of asphalt art haven’t quite caught on among transportation officials. The current edition of the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices, which sets standards for roadway markings, reportedly “warned against colorful crosswalks,” though other stakeholders have proposed the document’s next edition—expected to be released within a few years—support asphalt art. In the meantime, Bloomberg Philanthropies proposes, the Federal Highway Administration could release an interpretation memo clarifying ambiguities in the MUTCD—which doesn’t strictly prohibit asphalt art—and noting that asphalt art “is in fact permitted” on most roadways.
The authors also propose that residents and officials in cities across the country use its findings to launch asphalt art projects in an effort to make their own roads safer. “We want to make transformative projects like these as close to plug and paint as possible, because everything in these pages is possible in every city,” Bloomberg Associates told Streetsblog.