This article was first published in Streetsblog.
Turns out, paint can be protection, at least when it’s done right.
Installing asphalt art on roads and intersection can cut crashes between motorists and other road users by a staggering 50%, a new study finds — and the experts behind it say it’s time for policymakers to treat this life-saving traffic-safety treatment as more than just a frill.
In a new report from Bloomberg Philanthropies, researchers analyzed crash rates and driver behavior before and after traffic-calming art projects were added to the 17 US roads and intersections for which the best possible data and imagery was available. Those projects included colorful crosswalks and curb-extending murals that visually shorten a pedestrian’s crossing distance, among other innovative designs — and notably, most of them didn’t incorporate any other hard-infrastructure improvements at the time they were painted.
Not only did the projects slash crashes involving vulnerable road users in half, they also lessened injury-causing crashes by an average of 37%, and cut overall crashes by 17%, too. Drivers even yielded to pedestrians in colorful crosswalks 27% more often, even though many intersections featured high-visibility paint before.
Those stats might seem surprising, given how rare asphalt art is in US cities — and the fact that the Manual of Uniform Traffic Control Devices proposes banning it because of dubious safety concerns.
Many city transportation leaders, however, have touted the benefits of treating the street as a canvas for years, even if those benefits weren’t quantified until now.
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