Asphalt Art Safety Study: Historical Crash Analysis and Observational Behavior Assessment at Asphalt Art Sites

Apr 12, 2022
  • Description

Transportation infrastructure is perhaps the most visible aspect of a city's public realm -- the sidewalks and roadways we depend on daily are often as recognizable as the buildings, destinations, and people within it. As cities transform to meet evolving needs of the future, there is an increasing opportunity for streets to not only be safe and efficient, but a unique and inspiring part of the urban experience. Among other strategies to achieve that goal, public art projects coupled with improvements to transportation infrastructure, often known as "asphalt art," offer many benefits. They can create safer, more desirable streets and public spaces. They are typically inexpensive and quickly implementable, while helping cities test long-term roadway redesigns. And they help local governments engage with residents to reshape their communities.

These projects, including intersection murals, crosswalk art, and painted plazas or sidewalk extensions, have existed for years and are growing in popularity in communities across the world. Though asphalt art projects frequently include specific roadway safety improvements, the art itself is often also intended to 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, the most vulnerable users of the road.

There has been considerable public feedback, anecdotal evidence, and analyses of individual locations indicating that asphalt art can have these traffic-calming benefits and encourage safer behavior. However, despite broad support from people who use and design streets, art within the public roadway network has faced regulatory hurdles in the United States and elsewhere because of concerns about compliance with current design standards and guidance that governs roadway markings. These concerns have persisted in the absence of much rigorous evaluation or published literature on safety performance of asphalt art projects.

This study was conducted to address the need for impact analysis by comparing crash rates and real-time behavior of pedestrians and motorists at an array of asphalt art sites before and after the projects were installed. There are two main components to the study: first is a Historical Crash Analysis that compares crash data prior to and after the introduction of asphalt art at 17 diverse study sites with at least two years of data. The second is an Observational Behavior Assessment that compares 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 Bloomberg Philanthropies' Asphalt Art Initiative. The analysis found significantly improved safety performance across a variety of measures during periods when asphalt art was installed.