John Metcalfe is CityLab’s Bay Area bureau chief, based in Oakland. His coverage focuses on climate change and the science of cities.
In Rotterdam, the streets have a message: “Walk Proud.”
If a nerd-god spilled his Scrabble set down upon earth, you might get something resembling the newest crosswalks in Rotterdam. With immense letters and shapes tangled up on the pavement, the word-soup crossings are weird and difficult to ignore—and that’s the point, as they’re meant to enliven the neighborhood and protect its pedestrians from inattentive motorists.
The Dutch burg unveiled the so-called creative crosswalks last week on downtown’s Westblaak street, a post-WWII thoroughfare designed principally for auto traffic that some have dubbed a “dysfunctional public space” and a “barrier for pedestrians.” Produced by local urbanism agency Street Makers and art collective Opperclaes at the behest of the city, the twin crosswalks join communities on either side of the road that were previously separated by rivers of honking cars. Attentive passersby will notice a written battle cry that Street Makers says is about “celebrating the pedestrian”: “STAND STRAIGHT / WALK PROUD.”
“The city is trying to move toward better walkability in general,” says Street Makers’ Lior Steinberg. “This intersection was chosen because it is busy, with a lot of foot and car traffic. [It’s also] very central, so a great location to make a statement for livelier cities.”
Rotterdam is the latest municipality to experiment with creative crosswalks, that have multiple functions as art, civic branding, and proceed-with-caution signs for cars. San Francisco installed pride crosswalks colored like rainbows a
few years back. Portland has appropriately rain-themed ones. And in Santiago, Chile, schools of giant fish do the job, to give a few examples. Rotterdam’s zebra stripes are an attempt to build on the creative crossings in the Netherlands, many of them also rainbow-themed, by spinning “pride” into a statement on pedestrian rights, says Steinberg.
“We wanted to do something different, bigger, and bolder,” he says. “The intervention is not there just to make the space more beautiful, or merely send a message, but to really dignify all pedestrians.”
So far, public response to the crosswalks has been warm, with some dubbing them tof! (great!) “It is amazing to see children playing and smiling while jumping between the elements. It makes an ordinary daily experience more exciting,” says Steinberg. “People are taking selfies in the area too, so it’s a great city-marketing tool as well.”
Rotterdam plans to gather both quantitative and qualitative info on the crosswalks’ impact on walkability. If it likes what it sees, the city plans to possibly install more artsy crossings later this year.