NORWALK, Conn. — Norwalk Common Council members on Tuesday voted to spend $76,780 on what they say will be the first permanent artistic crosswalk in Connecticut.
A collaborative effort is leading to four rainbow crosswalks at the intersection of West Avenue and Connecticut Avenue, multiple speakers said at the Council meeting, where one citizen spoke against the expense of the proposal. This is expected to spur economic development by sending a signal that LGBTQ+ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer or questioning) people are welcome in Norwalk and is the first use of a newly created process to invite the community to create artistic crosswalks.
Council Finance Committee Chairman Greg Burnett (D-At Large) called this “truly an example of the community partners working together in the city for a positive solution… a result of several meetings and discussions over several months, which resulted in the creation of the artistic crosswalk application process.”
“We’re talking about cleaning up and revamping one of the busiest intersections in the city of Norwalk,” Council Majority Leader John Kydes (D-District C) said.
The rainbow design will go in at Lockwood Mathews Park, host to the annual Pride in the Park event and near the Triangle Community Center.
The Transportation, Mobility and Parking Department developed a creative crosswalk program to encourage communities to install artistic crosswalks to promote neighborhood unity and tactical urbanism, and the Triangle Community Center submitted an application for the West Avenue location, Director of Transportation, Mobility and Parking Kathryn Hebert explained in a memo. The Traffic Authority approved it in July; the Council vote to authorize the expense Tuesday was unanimous, with Doug Hempstead (R-District D) absent.
Attorney Anna Keegan of the Human Relations & Fair Rent Department was first to speak in favor of the crosswalks.
“Our society has a long history of oppression and marginalization of LGBTQ+ people,” she said. “Although we’ve made great strides in this area, and now recognize the value of diversity and experience and understanding bring to our community, many still remain at daily risk with lesbian, gay and bisexual youths being five times more likely to attempt suicide than their heterosexual counterparts, with LGBTQ+youths experiencing significantly higher rates, rates of homelessness, and LGBTQ+ people nearly twice as likely to be sexually assaulted, and still facing discrimination in many areas, including healthcare, employment and housing.”
“It’s important not to overlook the power of such symbols, in moving our society forward,” she said. “… As an ace person myself, coming out often means … serious threats of physical violence to fix me. I look to symbols like this in order to determine whether I’m safe, physically safe, in an area.”
“I think it’s a magnet for citizens, for people to move to Norwalk,” Christine Bisceglie said, expressing the Bike/Walk Commission’s support for the project.
But Donna Smirniotopoulos said, “I support the idea conceptually, artistically, aesthetically, ideologically. I do not support the amount of money.”
Only one bid came in during the two-week request for proposals period, she said. “I have done research on rainbow crosswalks. And I believe this can be executed for less than half the money.” Albuquerque, New Mexico, spent $30,000 on a rainbow crosswalk and “I would like to see us spend $75,000 on traffic safety, on code enforcement.”
The Albuquerque project was “a water-based artistic crosswalk, one that will be washed away within six months,” Norwalk Chief of Economic and Community Development Jessica Casey said later. “What we’re talking about is being able to really have these thermal plastic tiles embedded into the pavement with a hot iron that goes over them, making them last through the snow, making them last with the seawater, making them last with more than 50,000 cars traveling through that intersection (daily) for more than a 10 year period.”
Thermal plastic tiles cost $35 a square foot while it’s $18 a square foot for water-based crosswalks, and the latter requires annual maintenance, she said. The price for four crosswalks is $37,625, of which $25,000 was authorized in the current city budget; the Triangle Community Center raised $7,500 and another $2,625 is coming from the Transportation, Mobility and Parking budget. Then $39,245 is being spent on milling and paving.
Norwalk already has experience with the thermal plastic tiles on Washington Street and Mamaroneck, N.Y., has 12 intersections with the tiles, Public Works Committee Chairman John Igneri (D-District E) said. The $77,000 bid is in line with the costs of those projects and “In spite of having one bidder I think we have gotten a very reasonable bid.”
“We do know that one bid came in, but we also know that it is comparable,” Casey said.
Casey called the new program “exciting.”
“This is an opportunity where we were able to build a program, an application that went out to the community, where the community was able to apply to this program to be able to say what they would like to see and how they would like to see it,” Casey said. “That really speaks to the responsiveness of the administration and responsiveness to the city of Norwalk.”
The location is “an opening and a welcome to the City of Norwalk,” Casey said. “It is at the gateway of the Wall Street-West Ave. area. It really is an economic development driver. And I think that it’s something that we want to see more of here in the city of Norwalk, something where people can identify with their neighborhood, where the community is able to see what their efforts have put forward.”
“It does show that this inclusive, accepting community, which is incredibly valuable,” Council President Tom Livingston (D-District E) said. “But I also think, you know, to have this program available, the arts in general is also a great idea of the city, for attracting people and keeping people.”
The crosswalks should be installed in late October or early November, a process that will take a week, Casey said.
“I’d like to point out the appropriateness of this location is located not only across from Matthews Park, but also from Heritage Park, which is a park, which has various monuments where we celebrate our diversity,” Council member Michael Corsello (D-At Large) said.
“I think this is absolutely remarkable,” Mayor Harry Rilling said. “I think that Norwalk could continue to take the lead in a lot of initiatives, this being one of them. We know we support the arts, this is going to be a beautiful rendering when people go to Matthews Park, go to Heritage Wall, drive by the area. I’d like to see more of these eventually in different parts of the city.”
This article was corrected at 2 p.m. to show that Anna Keegan said “physical violence to fix me.”