I’m not sure what the city of Tacoma expected when it announced late last year that it was cutting the budget for street maintenance, including striping of streets and the painting of crosswalks.
It certainly could not have expected us to live without crosswalks. As Americans, we have a right to crosswalks, and if the government can’t provide crosswalks for us, we’ll provide crosswalks for ourselves.
Vigilante crosswalks. Rogue crosswalks. Call them what you will. But the city better be prepared to pry the paint cans from our cold, dead fingers. Or just ask us for them, because it’s not really worth anybody getting hurt — let alone cold. Or dead.
That doesn’t mean this isn’t a big deal, though. And we’re not going to take this lying down. Figuratively anyway. Please, no one should be lying down in crosswalks or at intersections where they think there should be a crosswalk but there isn’t one. That’s dangerous (see above).
Since the cutbacks began, a group of Tacoma residents — armed only with a paint can and a straight eye — has begun venturing out at night to paint crosswalks where none existed.
The first appeared under the watchful gaze of the Goddess of Commerce statue in what some have begun calling The Triangle District — the area on St. Helens Avenue between City Hall and the Stadium District. It may be so named because some of the blocks are triangular. It also might be patterned after Portland’s gay-friendly Triangle District because, well, people in Puget Sound want nothing more than to be like Portland.
I wish Tacoma could establish its own unique identity, though, so I’m going to call it the Acute Scalene Triangle District. Triangular blocks abutting square blocks create some wacky intersections. As such, pedestrians are even more at risk than normal because something about geometry turns every driver into an 80-year-old man wearing a hat.
The safety vigilantes also began painting bike lanes where there are none and even silhouettes of cats for, I guess, cat safety.
The rogue crosswalk made city officials, well, cross, partly because they cannot abide crime going unpunished but also because it happened within view of City Hall. Despite budget cuts, the city found money and workers to grind down the pavement and remove the offending crosswalks. The added benefit is that the surface now looks as bad as most of the other city streets.
The city then issued a stern warning to vandals who might be thinking of taking public safety into their own paint-stained hands. Unofficial crosswalks, the city said, could put walkers at greater risk than having no crosswalk at all. Something about a false sense of security, as though drivers actually stop for pedestrians in official crosswalks.
“The city will pursue legal action against those engaged in this kind of illegal activity,” said City Manager T.C. Broadnax. Residents concerned about pedestrian safety should instead make a formal request of the city. Once in receipt of said request, trained civil engineers will then study the issue by measuring car and pedestrian volumes, street width, traffic speed, sight distances, collision history and wheelchair accessibility before deciding they don’t have enough money to put in a real crosswalk.
If city finances improve, however, they might be able to install signs featuring the universal pedestrian-being-run-over-by-SUV symbol and the message, “You’re On Your Own, Pal.”
Subsequent attempts to Paint Tacoma Usable were also ground down by the city. Quietly, however, perhaps so as not to appear weak or receptive to the concerns of residents, the city painted a white stop line at the intersection where that first crosswalk appeared. It then added a big yellow triangle, either to commemorate the district’s newish name or to keep cars from smashing into one another.
Now, if they could only fill some potholes and brighten a center stripe or two — you know, before someone gets hurt.