“There’s a team of individuals—mostly house staff—that are sort of tasked with looking at pedestrian, bicycle and vehicle safety, and one of the issues unfortunately is that a lot of drivers aren’t paying attention to the crosswalks,” said Jeffrey York, the public arts administrator for the town of Chapel Hill.
The town has already implemented flashing lights to grab drivers’ attention on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard and Franklin Street, but the team was looking for other innovative ways to attract attention to pedestrians crossing the road.
“Other communities in the U.S. and Europe have implemented more colorful and artist-designed crosswalks and have had good success with them,” York said. “The team thought this would be a good time to try that and then also provides a nice aesthetic look to the street scape.”
As with all public art projects, York said a request for artist applications was sent out, and the request was limited to a five county area of Durham, Wake, Orange, Alamance and Chatham. The town received 35 applications for potential designs, and an eight person selection committee made up of UNC art department personnel, interested citizens and a police officer narrowed the applications down to five.
Lope Max Diaz, one of the chosen artists whose crosswalk design will go near the Shortbread Lofts, simply took inspiration from the word walk. His design uses basic geometric shapes and high contrasting colors like black and white and blue and orange to make out the word ‘walk.’
Diaz said the colors complement one another because the pairings are opposites on the color wheel.
“What the pedestrian has at hand when he reaches that point is he wants to go to the other side,” he said. “He wants to go to the opposite sidewalk so that is the sort of framework behind the work.”
Rachel Herrick, another chosen artist, took inspiration from UNC’s unique architecture when designing her crosswalk, which will go near Granville Towers.
“A lot of the buildings on campus are full of history, and one of my favorite things to do on campus is to just walk around and look at these amazing buildings,” she said.
Herrick’s design features the Old Well which she said is iconic to UNC.
Some of the crosswalks were expected to be finished by Dec. 29, but there was an issue with the paint supply as they are all custom colors and not something you can buy in a store. The weather has also hindered completion, as the crosswalks cannot be installed when the roads are damp.
Despite the setbacks, York is confident the new crosswalks will serve their purpose well.
“I’m thinking this will be a wonderful edition to the streetscape on Rosemary Street, and I think the design we have selected for Cameron Avenue and Wilson is very apropos to UNC,” York said.