Street art is great, but don't try it on crosswalks

A zebra crossing. Image: Matt MacGillivray via Flickr.

Pedestrian crossings – crosswalks – are the latest prey of those eager to brighten up neglected city streets. Last year, CityLab ran a round-up of particulary colourfulcross walks and other edited road markings, all the work of Montreal-based artist Roadwsorth:

Source: Roadsworth's Facebook page.


Source: Hecho en Casa Festival's Facebook page.

Unfortunately, Roadsworth was eventually charged with 59 counts of "mischief" for his artwork. After all, he didn't have permission: there isn't much separating what he did from graffiti. 

In St Louis, Missouri, the local government actually painted pretty crosswalks themselves (designs included a rainbow and a fleur-de-lis-covered crosswalk) since 2001. However, the city has since learned that the Federal Highways Associations banned designs like this in 2011.

The reason? As the FHA stated, "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 city won't paint over the crosswalks; but won't be able to repaint them in their current form once they've faded.

Next City reports that painted crosswalks are actually a feature in a number of US cities, though not, presumably, for long. The rule does seem a little unfair – especially becuase research has shown that in real terms, pedestrian safety in the US is roughly the same whether they're crossing at a marked crosswalk or where there isn't one at all. Presumably, this could be because pedestrians are naturally more cautious when crossing without a crosswalk, and that caution outweighs the risks. 

The Department for Transport tells me that colourful crosswalks would also be against the law in the UK. All road markings must comply with the sizes and colours decided by the government – in this case, in the Zebra, Puffin and Pelican Crossing Regulations 1997. The legislation specifies that crossings must look like this:

(And before you get any ideas in your head, it also specifies that the stipes must be black and white.)

All this does seem a bit joyless, but it's worth considering why road markings have such strict style guides in the first place. Drivers are bombarded with huge amounts of information on the road, and it makes sense that any variation in the signals they read could be dangerous, even lethal.

Colours in particularly are used sparsely and for specific purposes on signage and road markings, so an explosion of colour at an upcoming junction could get very confusing. While public art is fun, maybe the boring legislators are right: keep it off the road.


Coming soon: CityMetric will relaunch as City Monitor, a new publication dedicated to the future of cities

Coming soon!

Later this month, CityMetric will be relaunching with an entirely new look and identity, as well as an expanded editorial mission. We’ll become City Monitor, a name that reflects both a ramping up of our ambitions as well as our membership in a network of like-minded publications coming soon from New Statesman Media Group. We can’t wait to share the new website with you, but in the meantime, here’s what CityMetric readers should know about what to expect from this exciting transition.  

Regular CityMetric readers may have already noticed a few changes around here since the spring. CityMetric’s beloved founding editor, Jonn Elledge, has moved on to some new adventures, and a new team has formed to take the site into the future. It’s led by yours truly – I’m Sommer Mathis, the editor-in-chief of City Monitor. Hello!

My background includes having served as the founding editor of CityLab, editor-in-chief of Atlas Obscura, and editor-in-chief of DCist, a local news publication in the District of Columbia. I’ve been reporting on and writing about cities in one way or another for the past 15 years. To me, there is no more important story in the world right now than how cities are changing and adapting to an increasingly challenging global landscape. The majority of the world’s population lives in cities, and if we’re ever going to be able to tackle the most pressing issues currently facing our planet – the climate emergency, rising inequality, the Covid-19 pandemic ­­­– cities are going to have to lead the way.

That’s why City Monitor is going to be a global publication dedicated to the future of cities everywhere – not just in the UK (nor for that matter just in the US, where I live). Our mission will be to help our readers, many of whom are in leadership positions around the globe, navigate how cities are changing and discover what’s next in the world of urban policy. We’ll do that through original reporting, expert opinion and most crucially, a data-driven approach that emphasises evidence and rigorous analysis. We want to arm local decision-makers and those they work in concert with – whether that’s elected officials, bureaucratic leaders, policy advocates, neighbourhood activists, academics and researchers, entrepreneurs, or plain-old engaged citizens – with real insights and potential answers to tough problems. Subjects we’ll cover include transportation, infrastructure, housing, urban design, public safety, the environment, the economy, and much more.

The City Monitor team is made up of some of the most experienced urban policy journalists in the world. Our managing editor is Adam Sneed, also a CityLab alum where he served as a senior associate editor. Before that he was a technology reporter at Politico. Allison Arieff is City Monitor’s senior editor. She was previously editorial director of the urban planning and policy think tank SPUR, as well as a contributing columnist for The New York Times. Staff writer Jake Blumgart most recently covered development, housing, and politics for WHYY, the local public radio station in Philadelphia. And our data reporter is Alexandra Kanik, whose previous roles include data reporting for Louisville Public Media in Kentucky and PublicSource in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Our team will continue to grow in the coming weeks, and we’ll also be collaborating closely with our editorial colleagues across New Statesman Media Group. In fact, we’re launching a whole network of new publications this fall, covering topics such as the clean energy transition, foreign direct investment, technology, banks and more. Many of these sectors will frequently overlap with our cities coverage, and a key part of our plan is make the most of the expertise that all of these newsrooms combined will bring to bear on our journalism.

City Monitor will go live later this month. In the meantime, please visit to sign up for our forthcoming email newsletter.

As for CityMetric, some of its archives have already been moved over to the new website, and the rest will follow not long after. If you’re looking for a favourite piece from CityMetric’s past, for a time you’ll still be able to find it here, but before long the whole archive will move over to City Monitor.

On behalf of the City Monitor team, I’m thrilled to invite you to come along for the ride at our forthcoming digs. You can already follow City Monitor on LinkedIn, and on Twitter, sign up or keep following our existing account, which will switch over to our new name shortly. If you’re interested in learning more about the potential for a commercial partnership with City Monitor, please get in touch with our director of partnerships, Joe Maughan.

I want to thank and congratulate Jonn Elledge on a brilliant run. Everything we do from here on out will be building on the legacy of his work, and the community that he built here at CityMetric. Cheers, Jonn!

In the meantime, stay tuned, and thank you from all of us for being a loyal CityMetric reader. We couldn’t have done any of this without you.

Sommer Mathis is editor-in-chief of City Monitor.