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Local artists bring color and brightness to nearby crosswalks

Newly created paintings are pictured on Feb. 10, 2020, on display at the intersection of Rosemary and Church Streets.

The intersection between Rosemary Street and Church Street got a little brighter last Friday, with the traditional white-striped crosswalks replaced by new colorful patterns. 

Melissa Bartoletta, marketing and communications coordinator for Chapel Hill’s Community Arts and Culture division, said the project is the final of four colorful crosswalks designed to merge art and pedestrian mobility. 

Her team collaborated with the Chapel Hill Downtown Partnership to produce these crosswalks, which she said were inspired by similar successful projects in larger cities.

“The brick pattern in the background of the crosswalk design was inspired by the brick walkways around UNC’s campus and the brick architecture on Franklin Street,” Amy Hoppe, the artist who designed the Rosemary and Church Street crosswalks, said in an email. 

Beyond the pattern, Bergen Watterson, Chapel Hill's transportation planning manager, said in an email that safety was a key consideration for the committee when choosing the crosswalk designs. 

"We wanted to do artistic crosswalks to increase the visibility and draw drivers' attention," she said. 

Steve Wright, Chapel Hill's public art coordinator who managed the Rosemary and Church Street project, said at the same time, they wanted the crosswalks to be recognizable.

Wright said the original committee included public safety and transportation professionals, and certain regulations were put in place so the crosswalks were not confusing. Each crosswalk still has the two distinctive white bars and is the same size as a traditional crosswalk.

But Watterson said there is no proof that colorful crosswalks improve safety, and Wright’s team has yet to collect any data on their effectiveness with the project still in its early days.

Donald Nonini, a professor of anthropology at UNC, said other projects such as new bike lanes would better serve pedestrian mobility. Nonini said the current lack of infrastructure for cyclists leads to abuses of sidewalks, throwing cyclists and pedestrians into conflict with one another. 

Watterson said this sort of infrastructure has been improved since bike lanes were added to sections of Eubanks Road, a buffered bike lane was introduced on the Weaver Dairy extension and both the Tanyard Branch Greenway and Bolin Creek Greenway extension were completed.

Additionally, the colorful crosswalks serve purposes beyond safety. Wright said part of the intention was to bring art out of the gallery and into people’s everyday lives. 

“I’m a big fan of when art and design can create excitement within everyday activities," Hoppe said. 

However, Nonini said that while art has great value in communities, a crosswalk is not an accessible location. 

“If you want to appreciate something, you want to get up close to it, but who wants to stop in the middle of a crosswalk?” Nonini said.

Instead, he advocated for a larger urban common space where artists can share their work accessibly, in a way that contributes to the town’s shared artistic culture. Nonini said these spaces should be open for all, not just those with connections.

Wright said the crosswalk will remain on the street as long as it looks good and it is visible. He said the Town hoped a special clear coat used on the newest crosswalk would make it last longer, since the other crosswalks have all been repainted once.

Bartoletta said although the Rosemary and Church Street crosswalk was only recently announced, it has already received attention on social media. 

"We hope it gets more buzz as the weather improves," Bartoletta said. 

@DTHCityState |

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