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New Spokane city program uses art to calm traffic

The Progress Pride flag, painted on the intersection of Spokane Falls Boulevard and Howard, is the model for future street paintings through the city of Spokane's Asphalt Art program.
Doug Nadvornick/Spokane Public Radio
The Progress Pride flag, painted on the intersection of Spokane Falls Boulevard and Howard, is the model for future street paintings through the city of Spokane's Asphalt Art program.

Many painters use canvas as the medium for their artistic endeavors. Others prefer walls to create murals. The city of Spokane is offering a new surface to adventurous painters through its new Asphalt Art program.

At the corner of Spokane Falls Boulevard and Howard Street, the entrance to Riverfront Park, Shelby Allison from Spokane Arts shows off a multi-colored painting on the pavement in front of us.

"This is the Progress Pride flag, all the colors of the Progress Pride flag."

Columns of purple, blue, green, yellow, orange and red, contained by a white border, cover the intersection. It is a model for the city’s new program, says Annie Deasy from the city’s Office of Neighborhood Services.

“The Asphalt Art program is a three-year pilot that was passed in November. It’s $972,750 for the three-year program. It’s a piece of our traffic calming program," said Annie Deasy, who runs that program for the city's Office of Neighborhood Services.

"It’s not paid by tax dollars. It’s paid through the red light and school radar cameras. That’s a question that frequently comes up, like where’s the money coming from. That’s why it falls under traffic calming. It’s just another tool in our toolbox. I personally am pretty excited about it because I love art in our community and it’s a nice kind of, it brings beauty to our neighborhoods too," she said.

Street paintings will soon be created all over the city.

“Each neighborhood gets an intersection and our districts, there are three districts in the city of Spokane, each district gets two crosswalks," Deasy said.

She says neighborhood councils can begin applying for city money around August 1. They can select the artists that they want to work with "and come up with different creative ideas, whatever they may be, a city of Spokane landscape with the Clock Tower or the Monroe Street Bridge, if they want to do their neighborhood logo, kind of the sky’s the limit," she said.

How does art work as traffic calming?

“It creates a different visual piece for your eyes. So, rather than having a straight street that you’re driving down, you’re like, ‘Oh, what’s that?’ and kind of slow down and look at it a little bit and then proceed on," Deasy said.

The city is working with Spokane Arts to find artists interested in painting streets and to match them with neighborhoods.

“The neighborhoods will pick an artist and work with the Arts Commission and the artist to come up with a design that’s all approved," Allison said. "We can’t do lettering, things that look like traffic signals already, not a lot of traffic colors, like red or like neon.”

Whereas the Pride painting at the Riverfront Park entrance is on an arterial in the busiest part of the city, Allison says the projects through Asphalt Art will be in residential areas.

"Outside of the design, we have to be sure the street is in good condition to be painted. We’re making sure that the street isn’t going to be under construction anytime soon so that it doesn’t immediately get ripped up," she said.

Allison says the program has been tried in different forms in a few other cities.

"From the research I did, most cities are just doing crosswalks or they’re doing the sidewalk near the intersection, but I think we’re the first city to actually do it in the road where the cars are driving," she said.

Allison says artists who want to participate have until July 31 to let Spokane Arts know.

"We just launched our application for artists to apply to be on a roster to do the asphalt art," she said.

"We want to have people apply so that we know they’re pre-qualified. We want to make sure that they already have done murals and been in charge of big projects, just because this is a difficult thing to do. You have to paint very fast. You only have a couple of days because of traffic control issues. So we just want to make sure that the artists are qualified," she said.

Allison says the city will pay the artists and also hire assistants to help them with the logistics and painting "so they’re not doing a whole intersection by themselves in a day.”

Deasy said before, this is a three-year pilot project. But could the city see this as a permanent way to slow cars down?

“At the end of our three years, if the Traffic Calming Committee deems that it has been successful and we get good feedback from it, it may have the possibility to be a permanent part of our traffic calming solutions.”

“It’s been really fun to work on," Allison said. "I’ve learned so much about traffic control and how the process of getting artists works. It’s been really fun to learn about this because none of us have ever done this before. I’ve talked to people in Oakland and New York that do similar projects, but nobody that’s doing what we’re doing, so we’re kind of just learning as we go.”

If you’d like to see your art on the streets of someone’s neighborhood, you can visit the city of Spokane's traffic calming webpage.

Deasy says city residents must work with their neighborhood councils to apply for Asphalt Art grants.

"That’s a perfect opportunity to get involved with your neighborhood council, show up at a meeting and then input your ideas for what areas you think might be a good location for those pieces," she said.

One of the Northwest's most seasoned reporters is returning to his SPR roots. Doug Nadvornick will be heard frequently on KPBX and KSFC reporting on local news.