By Adam Beam
FRANKFORT, Ky. — A rainbow-colored crosswalk honoring the LGBTQ community in Lexington, Kentucky, is a distracting safety hazard and should be removed, a federal official says.
Officials painted the crosswalk at a busy intersection across from the county courthouse earlier this year to coincide with an annual Pride festival. At the time, city officials said the crosswalk would be safer because it would better catch the attention of drivers.
But Thomas Nelson, the Kentucky division administrator of the Federal Highway Administration, said the crosswalk art distracts drivers because it is designed to “draw the eye” instead of “commanding the attention.” He noted pedestrian deaths jumped 9 percent in 2016, an increase not all attributed to crosswalks but still an “alarming increase.”
“While we recognize in good faith your crosswalk art was well-intended for your community, we request that you take the necessary steps to remove the non-compliant crosswalk art as soon as it is feasible,” Nelson wrote in a letter to Lexington Mayor Jim Gray.
City officials did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Cities across the country have tried to use colorful crosswalk art to add character to downtown shopping and business districts. Last year, Houston became the first city in Texas with rainbow-colored crosswalks, at Taft and Westheimer in the city’s traditional LGBTQ neighborhood of Montrose. Atlanta has rainbow-colored crosswalks near popular Piedmont Park. And some crosswalks in St. Louis have rainbows and fleur-de-lis. But the Federal Highway Administration has routinely frowned on the practice, telling officials in Buffalo, New York, that their plans to paint crosswalks in a jigsaw-pattern of yellow, green and gray would be a safety hazard.
That ruling prompted officials in St. Louis to ban new crosswalk paintings.
“The use of crosswalk art is actually contrary to the goal of increased safety and most likely could be a contributing factor to a false sense of security for both motorists and pedestrians,” the Federal Highway Administration ruled in 2013.
Lexington’s rainbow crosswalks were installed earlier this year with the help of a $5,000 grant from the Bluegrass Community Foundation. Lisa Adkins, the foundation’s president and CEO, said rainbow crosswalks have become common across the country.
“You cannot go to … any kind of meeting and conference about creating a more vibrant city where you are not talking about things like (crosswalk art) that I think add a lot to the street level experience, whether you are pedestrian or a bicyclist or in a car,” she said.