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Keep Calm and Ride On

If only cars made art as they moved across the pavement! Like, blue lines for cars going the speed limit, red lines for cars with noisy mufflers, green lines for road rage, and rainbows for buses and taxis. Every night at midnight the slate would wipe clean for another day of street art. We'd get to see the reality of our traffic patterns while also making the intersections colorful and unique.

It is actually legal to paint the pavement in Madison. An ordinance was passed earlier this year, though the details are still being worked out by the City's Traffic Engineering office. Some folks think it's a terrible idea to let neighborhoods decide to draw permanent pictures in the middle of intersections, but a quick Google search for "painted intersections" hits on some images I personally find inspiring. I suppose they could go out of style, like a goofy mural, but it seems like a risk worth taking.

The problem is that cars are zooming through our neighborhood streets as if there are not kids playing, pedestrians crossing streets, and people riding bikes. On top of that, loads of new people and their cars are moving in to the current and coming developments on East Washington. More will come for the Metcalf's grocery they are building. At the same time bicycle traffic is actually being encouraged onto the official East Mifflin Street "bike boulevard."

I've heard way too many stories of near misses. Traffic experts in the city reassure us that it's no worse in our neighborhood than elsewhere. I believe them.

An ad-hoc committee of neighbors has formed. They met in early September. They are doing their homework and have strong recommendations for traffic calming measures. I'm impressed, because no one really has time for more meetings, and I'm relieved, because I want it to get done but am personally more interested in other things. I'm also, frankly, a little shocked that it takes a group of regular folks who have had the misfortune of nearly getting killed while crossing the street to tell City experts, who presumably have degrees in traffic engineering, what to do. Traffic diverters, pedestrian islands, "chokers" and traffic calming circles.

Pictures painted on the ground. There is a movement in nearby St. Paul, Minnesota called Paint the Pavement. It is "a program that promotes community building and “placemaking” through creating neighborhood art. We support groups of neighbors to organize to create their own public mural on low-traffic residential streets. Neighbors come together, gather support, create a design, petition for approval by the City of St. Paul, and hold a “paint day” to create and celebrate their own community square."

In Madison, where we are also being encouraged to label what we do as "placemaking," black-top murals are not to be confused with traffic calming measures. Which I think is good because I can get more excited about art than speed bumps.

In my estimating, if we embellished some of the chain link fences, put up a large and noticeable colorful sculpture in Reynolds Park, and painted some patterns at the intersections around the school and park, we'd be doing better than most neighborhoods. Cars would slow down and people would know that the place is alive, interesting, and worth a few extra moments to cruise through.

I guess the trouble would be if then the "tourists" started clogging our streets! Then we'll need the traffic calming circles after all. Let's just work all the angles now: slow the cars and make the art and empower the community! It's all good.

The street in front of this house in Detroit is also covered in colored dots!


  1. where is that chain link fence that you posted the picture of? What material is used? It looks so beautiful.

    1. Unfortunately, I don't know where this gorgeous fence is. I found it online and would love to replicate it somewhere in Madison!