Approval logjam-break enabled Pride crosswalks

One might think that painting rainbows on a few City crosswalks to recognize Pride Day might have been a difficult concept to ‘sell’ to upper management.

It was, actually. But not for the reasons you might assume.

This summer, the City of Edmonton painted six crosswalks at three locations in the Old Strathcona area in rainbow colours just in time for the Pride Parade, and to a resounding thumbs-up from the public.

In a survey taken later in the summer, 84% of respondents said the crosswalk recognition of our city’s LGBTQ community should be repeated, and of them, 54% said they felt very strongly in favour.

The move was so successful that Transportation Services plans to choose new locations for permanent rainbow crosswalk installations.

“The rainbow crosswalks had a very powerful emotional impact,” says Transportation Services’ Engineering Operations Supervisor Olga Messinis.

“In our post-project analysis, we had all kinds of people thanking us and saying that, for once, they felt truly welcome in Edmonton, and that they saw the crosswalks as a profound gesture.”

A profound gesture that just about didn’t happen, she explains.

Olga had harboured the idea for a few years, but since the City had no policies in place to enable non-standard crosswalks, she wrote the idea off as un-doable.

This year, however, the Old Strathcona Business Association (OSBA) suggested that some kind of additional recognition of the LGBTQ community would be appropriate.

Olga Messinis is part of Edmonton’s Civic Events Implementation Team, which championed the idea of temporary Pride rainbow crosswalks. Now,  permanent locations for rainbow crosswalks are being discussed.
Olga Messinis is part of Edmonton’s Civic Events Implementation Team,
which championed the idea of temporary Pride rainbow crosswalks. Now,
permanent locations for rainbow crosswalks are being discussed.

Olga’s a member of the cross-departmental, silo-smashing Civic Events Implementation Team, which works with event promoters to make it easier to access all kinds of civic services, from shuttle buses and parking controls to permits and policing.

“The idea popped up when we were dealing with the OSBA and talking with the Pride Day people. We thought Whyte Avenue would be a good location, and we adopted the attitude that we can do anything once…so we moved on it.”

‘Moving’ on the idea soon bogged down, however, because there are no national standards that specifically allow a crosswalk to be painted between the standard two parallel white lines (or a zebra design).

There are obvious pedestrian safety reasons for national and international crosswalk marking standards, so some City staffers in the approval chain were uncomfortable stepping outside the norm, says Olga.

“Many of us felt the rainbows would be okay as long as they were bounded by the standard parallel white lines. The national standard doesn’t specifically say that nothing can be painted between the lines.”

Still, there were people who didn’t want to step outside the norm.

“Thankfully, Gord Cebryk, our branch manager, broke the logjam, gave us the go- ahead, and suggested we triple (to six at three locations) the number of crosswalks to paint.”

The project involved several City departments and branches, including Sustainable Development, CITYlab, Transportation Operations and Traffic Field Operations.

Transportation is conferring with the LGBTQ community to determine where the permanent rainbow crosswalks should be located.

Other cities, like Victoria, are beginning to experiment with crosswalk art and design of many kinds, says Olga.