Paint is cheap, walking is good

A low cost investment in walking and biking infrastructure can improve talent attraction.

Crosswalks do not have to be boring. Instead of the traditional zebra stripe or piano bar approach of white stripes, some cities are starting to use crosswalk designs that are reflective of local character.

Crosswalks do not have to be boring. Instead of the traditional zebra stripe or piano bar approach of white stripes, some cities are starting to use crosswalk designs that are reflective of local character.

As communities look at placemaking to attract talent they often do not know where to start. In this era of tight budgets and limited resources large strategic projects may be out of reach. So what can communities do that would help attract talent and be achievable with limited resources?

A good starting point is working on community walking and biking. These are community assets that are very attractive to target demographics of Millennials and retiring Boomers. And these are projects that are low cost with large impacts.

A critical part of infrastructure for walking is crosswalks, which indicate the portion of the street that is pedestrian space. Most communities have them in their commercial areas, but they tend to be a standard design and lack character. But crosswalks do not have to be boring. Instead of the traditional zebra stripe or piano bar approach of white stripes, crosswalks can be visually interesting. Cities are now starting to use crosswalk designs that are reflective of local character. They can reflect such things as local climate as is being done in Portland and Seattle with rain drop and umbrella based designs. Other communities use designs such as local wildlife or other thematic designs.

Crosswalks also need to be complete and throughout all neighborhoods. Not only do they define pedestrian space but they can add character elements to the neighborhood with quality designs. Using a differing set of design elements for each neighborhood creates a sense of place and allows neighborhoods to indicate when you are in that neighborhood or district. As a pedestrian or bicyclist moves into an area with a different crosswalk design they realize they are entering a different area.

Neighborhoods can also use a technique called intersection repair. This involves designating the intersection as a place for people and cars by creating a piece of public art in the intersection by painting the intersection. These fill the entire intersection with a design that indicates people also occupy the space. It creates a sense of place and locational identity and helps create a sense of belonging through the creation process as residents help with the creation of the painting.

Bike lanes and sharrows are another piece of infrastructure that can help improve community bikeability. Sharrows indicate a shared lane among bikes and cars and bike lanes provide a designated space for cyclists. Both of these increase awareness of cyclists and increase the safety and comfort level for those cyclists that may not otherwise feel the street is safe for them to ride.

So what do all of these improvements have in common? Each of these projects improves walking and biking, but beyond that each of these involves a very low cost improvement – paint.

For more information on placemaking in your community, contact a Michigan State University Extension Land Use educator

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