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The Art of Street Maintenance

Friday, May 24, 2013

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Black is a bore. Or so the city of Madison, WI, thinks, which is why City Council is currently mulling over an ordinance that would allow approved groups to decorate intersections and roads with painted designs.

The proposed charter ordinance would allow recognized community organizations (e.g., neighborhood associations, business associations, nonprofit groups) to submit designs to the city and apply for a permit to paint a street in their area.

Portland City Repair

A proposed ordinance in Madison, WI, would allow groups to paint streets and intersections with approved designs. The idea was inspired by Portland-based City Repair.

But don't break out the paint brush just yet. There are rules. Lots of rules.

Limited to decorative patterns, the designs could not include text, numerals, symbols elements that resemble traffic markings, make the paintings distracting to drivers, or be designed to draw pedestrians or cyclists into portions of the roadway not intended for their use.

"The idea is not to convert the street into a forum for speech," said Lara Mainella, the Madison assistant city attorney who drafted the ordinance, the Wisconsin State Journal reported.

According to Mainella, a big reason for the restrictions is because if the city approves certain political messages for paint designs, it will be hard to justify rejecting others.

Other limitations on creativity would prohibit designs with a three-dimensional effect or optical illusions.

Citizen-Led Urban Art

The ordinance was first introduced at a City Council meeting on May 7 and is sponsored by District 6 Alder Marsha Rummel and District 8 Alder Scott Resnick. On May 14, the Madison Arts Commission recommended it for approval to the Board of Public Works.

street painting ordinance

Getting approval for a street design has a list of restrictions, including words, symbols, political messages, three-dimensional or distracting images.

Rummel got the idea for the ordinance after learning about a nonprofit group in Portland, OR, called City Repair that sponsors a program called "Intersection Repair," a "citizen-led conversion of an urban street intersection into public square."

The program's website says, "With an Intersection Repair, that public space is reclaimed for the whole community. The intersection of pathways becomes a place for people to come together. The space becomes a Place—a public square."

The Fine Print

The paintings would also be limited to streets and intersections with speed limits of 25 miles per hour or less. As part of the application, the group would have to submit a petition with approval from at least 60 percent residents, business and non-residential properties within a 200-foot radius of the location.

Madison City Council

Once the design is painted, the applicant will be responsible for maintenance.

The group applying for the permit would also be responsible for maintenance of the painting and would be required to have insurance. A $150, nonrefundable application fee would be charged, as well as a separate application fee for a Street Use Permit to close the street for painting.

If the design becomes deteriorated, as determined by the city, the applicant will have to repair it or make arrangements for repair within 60 days of written notice.

Acceptable paint materials would only include acrylic water-based traffic marking paint in "colors traditionally available"—white, yellow, blue, red, and black—or colors made from mixing the traditional colors. The paint must also not result in a slippery surface and must contain an anti-skid additive approved by the City Traffic Engineer.


Tagged categories: Maintenance coating work; Roads/Highways; Traffic paint

Comment from Mike McCloud, (5/24/2013, 9:16 AM)

This is an accident waiting to happen.

Comment from Car F., (5/28/2013, 11:58 AM)

This is another scheme to download civic responsibilities on the shoulders of naive and well intentioned citizens who do not realize what they are getting into. I'm sure they'll find out when they all get sued when the next accident happens in that intersection.

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