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Downtown Northampton will soon get a rainbow crosswalk

Melinda Shaw recently pitched the rainbow crosswalk idea to the Board of Public Works after hearing about a fledgling movement in other cities, particularly on the West Coast, and conducting her own online research. The rainbow crosswalk would replace an existing white one that crosses Main Street from near Thornes Marketplace’s entrance to in front of TD Banknorth.

The crosswalk will consist of a series of stripes in bright, solid colors similar to the rainbow flag of red, orange, yellow, green, blue, and purple.

If successful, Shaw believes the crosswalk would be among the first in an East Coast community. In addition to being aesthetically pleasing, she hopes the crosswalk will become a permanent conversation starter.

“I think it’s a great symbol of openness and diversity,” she said, noting that hanging a rainbow flag at City Hall one week a year isn’t enough.

The BPW approved the project earlier this week, agreeing to donate the labor to install the crosswalk. Meanwhile, Shaw is launching an effort to raise the $1,700 it will take to buy the materials and pay for other costs. She has created a Facebook page called Northampton Rainbow Crosswalk Project that links to her blog where people can donate.

If all goes as planned, the crosswalk will be in place in time for the Pride march scheduled for May 3, Shaw said. The crosswalk is on the parade route.

Shaw said she has received the endorsement of Mayor David J. Narkewicz and City Council President William H. Dwight, and is expected to outline her plan before the Transportation and Parking Commission Tuesday.

Dwight believes the idea is expression of pride and an effort to work toward equality for all.

“I think it’s a great idea,” Dwight said. “Holyoke paints green shamrocks in the center of town as an expression of Irish pride. I think this is just as appropriate.”

Chairman Terry Culhane said the project is appropriate given that the city has hosted the gay pride parade for years, it’s been a decade since the approval of same-sex marriage and the city has a history of supporting the gay community. Plus, he said, “it sounds kind of fun.”

Shaw is known for her work on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights and a vocal activist in the Northampton community since the mid-1990s. In addition to serving as president of the now defunct Northampton Area Lesbian & Gay Business Guild in 1995, she helped Northampton Pride Inc. organization for 11 years until 2009. For the past four years, Shaw worked with the LGBT Coalition of Western MA and joined the board of directors.

In addition to donating online, people can contribute to the cause by sending a check to the city of Northampton, with rainbow crosswalk project in the memo line. Shaw said she hopes to raise more than $1,700 to cover the cost of repainting the crosswalk each year, or to expand the effort to other crosswalks in the city.

“If it takes off, maybe all of the crosswalks will be this way,” Dwight said.

Related

Robert Astor: Should a crosswalk look too pedestrian?

Thursday, March 20, 2014

To the editor: When I read that one of our featured crosswalks was being painted like a rainbow to reflect the openness and diversity of Northampton, it caused me to consider options for other downtown crosswalks. How about a green crosswalk to demonstrate our commitment to the earth; a pink crosswalk (with or without ribbon) to illustrate our commitment to … 1

Comments
Legacy Comments13

A cute, nifty feel-good idea, but I really don't think we can mess with the traffic laws. Crosswalks are painted a certain way so that they are noticeable and easily recognizable. Sure, shamrocks get painted in the middle of the road, but that is very different from a crosswalk that is governed by specific traffic laws. I don't think this is legal. The Massachusetts driving exam does not ask what a rainbow-striped design means in an intersection. Anyone who gets hurt in the middle of a rainbow-striped crosswalk could probably sue the bejesus out of Northampton.

https://malegislature.gov/Laws/GeneralLaws/PartI/TitleXIV/Chapter89/Section11

http://www.mhd.state.ma.us/safetytoolbox/downloads/Crosswalks.pdf

Based upon state traffic laws, I wonder if this will limit the liability of car drivers - is this a legal crosswalk, where traffic has to stop for pedestrians per state law? I think the city attorney needs to weigh in on this, before it's a done deal....

I'm gay and I think this is a silly idea and a waste of everyone's time, plus given all the people who have accidents in crosswalks around downtown, this is just adding to confusion over what is and isn't a crosswalk. Shouldn't safety trump a frivoIous expression like this? I really don't see the point or why it is worth spending any time and energy on.

If I was from out of the area, I might not know what this means, and I might not be prepared for someone walking into the street. It might also be distracting.

I love it! Northampton only gets better and more interesting, and therefore more attractive to visitors, when we say yes to creative plans.

Agree with hbomb,why is Northampton painting a rainbow instead of the traditional crosswalk white or yellow? Allowing one special interest cause to have the multi-color walk opens the door for other causes,good or not so good,to have their own special colors.Just as we never allow the American flag to be trod on,do they really want their 'rainbow' flag to be walked on ; just a thought.

What?! no yellow brick road?

Road signage has uniform appearance because it has uniform meaning and any tampering with that could possibly have legal implications. Also, the choice of white and yellow for road markings surely derives from their better visibility in all lights and in darkness, even when the markings are fading. And especially for drivers unfamiliar with the area. What does the Mass. DOT or our local police chief say to this proposal? Or Councilor Dwight's idea that we could go totally rainbow on all crossings? I think it's interesting that when a local lesbian brought a practical problem to the attention of the city, our city council president took to the airwaves to laugh her to scorn, scoffing at her lack of understanding of how hard-pressed our DPW is. And yet he and other officials see no problem is donating DPW labor for a special-interest cause. Why is this appropriate for any cause whatsoever? Surely highway signage should be viewpoint neutral. And aren't there much better ways to make your point than spending considerable sums on painting and maintaining rather garish-looking rainbows?

Is the photo accompanying this article really indicative of what the crosswalk will look like? It resembles a Candy Land board to me. I am also wondering if the colors will disappear after a few months, necessitating the crosswalk being repainted. If so, would it be repainted white or rainbow colors?

It is similar. Imagine that on each side of the street when you step off to cross, the colors start at red. Each color is about 16 feet by 3 feet, with same 3 feet between the colors. They will likely fade by the end of the winter each year. Our goal is to raise the funds to repaint them yearly. That picture is a computer generated overlay, so the colors are pretty bright.

Will this help stop people from just walking into traffic?

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