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Community group turning crosswalks into murals to boost pedestrian safety

Greenway mural

A cyclist rides across the temporary mural installed on the West Ashley Greenway at the Braxton Avenue crosswalk, a project aimed at slowing down cars driving through the area. Abigail Darlington/Staff

Slowing down traffic in neighborhoods usually involves adding speed humps or traffic signs. But between making the requests and waiting for the work to be done, the process can be pretty slow.

One group of West Ashley residents hope a little street art can do the trick along the West Ashley Greenway, before more permanent improvements are made for the bike and pedestrian path.

The Greenway runs parallel to Savannah Highway and weaves through a cluster of neighborhoods, so people cross several residential streets as they walk and bike on the path.

With help from the mobility nonprofit Charleston Moves, nearby residents have turned three key crosswalks into bright, colorful murals to make motorists more aware of the intersections and, hopefully, to slow them down. 

"I walk that greenway every day with my dog and it’s just, nobody slows down. We were just trying to think of an artistic way to draw people’s attention to the fact that these are crosswalks," said Lisa Stine, a founder and now the president of the recently formed Dupont Station Neighborhood Coalition.

She's also an artist, so she did most of the painting. But she said it was a team effort to come up with the concepts for the three murals. They decided to pick a different theme to match the surroundings of each.

On the Farmfield Drive crosswalk, they painted bright tennis balls, a nod to the nearby Charleston Tennis Center.

The mural on Braxton Avenue is a geometric design of bright blue and neon yellow, matching the playground equipment at Randolph Park a block away.

On Markfield Drive, the mural is a giant heron, paying tribute to the native Lowcountry birds that frequent the pond next to that stretch of the Greenway.

Stine said the birds seemed partial to that one.

"Every time we were out there painting, a heron would fly over, almost like it was giving us approval. It was pretty cool," she said.

But residents seem to like the murals, too. 

Charleston Moves put up some signs next to the installations asking, "Do you like this?" with some stickers for people to place under "yes," or "no." There are hardly any "no's."

Carmen Nash, a resident of Wappoo Road, was among the residents who helped with the project. She said she sees it as a major success.

"It’s just fun for people to feel involved in their community, and I think it increases people’s sense of pride," she said.

While there is a major improvement project planned for the Greenway and the nearby West Ashley Bikeway, Katie Zimmerman, executive director of Charleston Moves, said the temporary mural installation was an idea to get people in the community invested in that larger planning process. 

"We wanted to kind of have this be something that could be done immediately," she said. "People are getting excited about reclaiming the space, and there’s so much potential."

Plus, the nonprofit already had experimented with the concept earlier this year when it partnered with Enough Pie to do the same thing on some crosswalks on Upper King Street.

Larger cities such as Atlanta have pioneered the concept, Zimmerman said.

"We figured it would be cheap and easy and would bring the community together around something that’s temporary," she said.

The materials were paid for with grants from AARP's Livable Communities program and the East Coast Greenway Alliance. It's not really paint, but a special concrete stain, so it's safe for people to walk, bike and drive on, Zimmerman added.

They picked the three intersections primarily because they're streets owned by the city of Charleston, and the city was receptive to the idea — as long as the group could prove the stain wouldn't fade and become an eyesore.

If all goes well, the groups might expand to other parts of the Greenway and the community at large. 

Reach Abigail Darlington at 843-937-5906 and follow her on Twitter @A_Big_Gail.

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