Study: Painting Asphalt Art Makes Roads Safer
According to a recent study conducted by Bloomberg Philanthropies, city streets are reportedly safer for pedestrians when the asphalt roadways are painted with art, reducing the rate of car crashes involving pedestrians or cyclists by 50%.
The Asphalt Art Safety Study, produced by Sam Schwartz Consulting, examined the impact of art on the streets by comparing historical crash rates and real-time behavior of motorists and pedestrians at several asphalt art sites before and after project installation.
Asphalt Art Initiative
Bloomberg’s Asphalt Art Initiative grant program is designed to fund visual art on roadways, pedestrian spaces and public infrastructure in cities. According to the organization, these projects are typically painted murals, which are organized in collaboration between the city government and local community.
The program, with 42 asphalt art projects in the United States and three pilot projects in Europe, aims to tackle three goals:
In October 2019, the Asphalt Art Guide was produced by the agency’s pro bono consulting arm, Bloomberg Associates. The Guide reportedly featured over two dozen case studies highlighting successful plaza and roadway art activations around the world, with a how-to section for cities interested in their own projects.
“Public art has the power to reshape the way we experience our cities,” said Michael R. Bloomberg, Founder of Bloomberg Philanthropies at the time. “We saw that time and again during my time as Mayor of New York City: art could remake streets and improve public safety, inspire people, draw in visitors, and enhance residents’ quality of life.”
The organization reports that asphalt art projects can improve safety by increasing visibility of pedestrian spaces and crosswalks, promoting a more walkable public realm and encouraging drivers to slow down and be more alert for pedestrians and cyclists.
Some projects in the U.S. have included painting in a Pittsburgh community, coating a school crosswalk in Durham, North Carolina, activating a downtown event plaza in Reno, Nevada, and bridging divided neighborhoods in Troy, New York.
The European round of the Asphalt Art Initiative was announced this month. The program will award up to 20 European cities with grants of up to $25,000 each, in addition to on-call technical assistance from the City of Milan’s Agenzia Mobilità Ambiente e Territorio.
Winning cities are expected to be announced in October this year, with projects beginning in 2023. Three pilot projects in Europe have already been completed in Amsterdam, Glasgow and London.
The new Asphalt Art Safety Study was released in March, with two main components: a Historical Crash Analysis and an Observational Behavior Assessment. According to the study, the analysis found significantly improved safety performance across a variety of measures during periods when the art was installed.
The Historical Crash Analysis compared crash data to and after the introduction of asphalt art at 17 diverse study sites with at least two years of data. A “dramatic” reduction in motor vehicle crash rates after the projects were installed were reportedly found, including a 50% drop in crashes involving pedestrians or cyclists and a 37% drop in crashes leading to injuries.
According to the study, the analysis found significantly improved safety performance across a variety of measures during periods when the art was installed.
The Observational Behavior Assessment compared before and after video footage of motorist and pedestrian behavior at five U.S. locations with asphalt art projects installed in 2021 as part of the Asphalt Art Initiative. In this analysis, researchers found a 27% increase in the rate of drivers yielding to pedestrians with the right-of-way as well as a 25% drop in potentially dangerous conflicts between drivers and pedestrians.
“There is arguably no more important goal for the transportation profession than ensuring safe travel for everyone – especially vulnerable road users,” wrote Bloomberg in its release. “The encouraging findings of this study are particularly notable in light of the upward trend in pedestrian fatalities, which increased in the U.S. by an unprecedented 21% during the pandemic.”
Additionally, the study reportedly comes at a time when the U.S. federal traffic safety guidance is being updated for the first time in a decade. The Federal Highway Administration’s Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices, which provides standards and guidance for markings on public roadways, is currently being revised, and the study notes that this information can provide context and precedence to improve the manual.
“With this analysis of nearly two dozen sites across the country, decision-makers now have the evidence to show that projects like these can reduce crashes and improve safety for everyone on the road,” continued the organization. “With the data needed to make the case, we hope to give the green light to communities that are looking to use asphalt art projects to create safer, more walkable, and more welcoming streets across the country and around the world.”
Based on the study’s findings, the organization recommends an expansion of this study to include asphalt art sites in a variety of roadway and land use contexts, allowing for a more detailed assessment of what project elements are most effective, such as the art itself or other improvements. By contributing to this research, the study team reports that it hopes to encourage more arts-focused transportation projects that contribute to safer city streets around the world.
The full Asphalt Art Safety Study can be viewed here.