Norwalk Council green lights ‘rainbow crosswalk’ for West Avenue intersection

A diagram showing the rainbow crosswalk planned for the intersection of West Avenue and Connecticut Avenue.

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.”

TrafficPatterns paver info

This article was corrected at 2 p.m. to show that Anna Keegan said “physical violence to fix me.”


18 responses to “Norwalk Council green lights ‘rainbow crosswalk’ for West Avenue intersection”

  1. John Levin

    Awesome. I look forward to . . , ummmm. . . walking on it.

  2. James Cahn

    This is an ongoing initiative? We should put one in Harvard crimson in front of the empty Diageo building to send the “signal” that Harvard MBAs are welcome in Norwalk.

  3. Alice Allen

    Another great way to spend our tax dollar? I don’t think so!

  4. Fr. Kloster

    Perhaps we could get the papal flag colors (yellow and white) in another crosswalk near St. Mary’s? Where does all of the painting end?

  5. SRM

    Another waste of taxpayer money. Can’t wait to get out of this town! (State)

  6. Isabelle Hargrove

    $75,000 an artistic crosswalk and our Common Council approved it unanimously. This mayor and common council have completely abdicated their fiduciary responsibility to Norwalk taxpayers.

    I find this insulting to every Norwalk taxpayer who struggles under some of the highest property taxes in the country and the State.

  7. Ed

    What about analyzing various intersections around the town to see how they can be improved? I see we have two new traffic lights to deal with mall traffic. That’s all we need is more traffic lights. Having better traffic flow around the city would bring people into Norwalk.

  8. SRM

    How about doing something with the exit 14 intersection. It’s a nightmare!

  9. Jody

    I love this idea but I would also love to see the city spend money on programs that actually help the LGBTQ+ community.

  10. Peter Havens

    I have nothing against LGBTQ, but I think 77,000.00 can be used for more things then a crosswalk. I dont know what the council was thinking when that vote took place.

  11. Alice Allen

    Peter Havens – They weren’t thinking!

  12. Bryan Meek

    Did the city’s new CFO weigh in on this in terms of affordability/sustainability? How much needs to be budgeted for repairs and maintenance?

    We know where he stands on spending $50k for an executive search for a new Superintendent.

    The Hour quoted him last week, “They’re paying an outside search, headhunter to get a new superintendent,” he said. “By golly, I want their budget next year lowered by that amount. There’s no reason next year they should have that number.”

    Glad to see someone there is watching the store.

  13. David

    Wait a minute. The real question is what is the marginal cost of the rainbow design vs. regular design of the cross walk. It sounds like the cross walk was going to be redone anyway. The materials being used are the extra expense correct? And there are donations from triangle to offset that. Correct?

  14. Mike Mushak

    Thank you Norwalk, and to all involved in making this project happen.

    At first I was startled by the design, but after reading the comments by city staff I can see the rationale, and it will work better and last longer and cost less to maintain than a fully painted crosswalk.

    I have seen fully-painted rainbow crosswalks and other graphics as well up close in other cities and they are often faded, dirty, and damaged by turning car and truck wheels. Frequent expensive repaintings are necessary, especially in our climate with harsh winters with frequent salt and sand applications that act like corrosive sandpaper on paving markings . We can see how quickly the white painted crosswalks and other symbols like bike lane symbols around town fade and need repainting.

    The photos circulating online of these other rainbow crosswalks are obviously taken the day they are freshly painted before the damage begins.

    The city of Boulder CO came up with a more durable and sustainable rainbow crosswalk in that city with harsh winters, which you can in photos seen online. I was told this design was the inspiration for Norwalk’s solution.

    Also, much research shows bright graphics in intersections slow traffic speeds, and this rainbow crosswalk will act as a much-needed traffic calming measure at a very dangerous and wide intersection on West Ave with frequent accidents and heavy pedestrian crosswalk use.

    This intersection is at the entrance to the huge Mathews Park with 3 museums including Stepping Stones Children’s Museum that draws families from across our region, as well many special events that draw big crowds, and it is the crossing for the busy Norwalk River Valley Trail that is being expanded north and will see even more bike and pedestrian usage.

    I applaud the city’s decision to improve safety at this location for pedestrians, bicycles, and vehicles
    by helping slow speeding traffic, by creating a distinctive symbolic design in one of the busiest intersections in the city (about 15,000 vehicles per day) which is also a major gateway to the city right off 95.

    In the long run the higher cost of this new crosswalk design will pay for itself in improved safety, less accidents and injuries as well as the traffic backups they cause, and certainly less maintenance costs than a fully painted crosswalk.

    Also, when evaluating the cost of a traffic calming measure at a dangerous location, it is important to compare the actual costs that accidents and injuries inflict on society and to individual families. One accident with serious injuries can easily cost millions in healthcare costs and lost wages.

    In that context, the expense of adding traffic calming to slow traffic speeds at a known dangerous location with busy year-round use by pedestrians, bicycles, and vehicles is a good investment.

  15. Concerned citizen

    How about we spend that money on the schools, for basic needs such as pencils and markers that they always seem to be short on? Whoever wants the rainbow crosswalk, let them hold the fundraisers.

    How did the entire common council not see this as a complete mix-up of priorities?

  16. Look I’m totally okay with a rainbow crosswalk privately funded and if I remember the local gay bar was planning on trying to get authorization for 1 near them for far more reasonable $15,000 and privately funded by the gay bar which makes sense putting it on one of our busiest intersections and closing the road for weeks if not months on top of a mall opening at that time on the same road are you kidding me and I hope I’ve heard from the Irish community of putting pots painted gold on each corner for free will be highly amusing. Our common console needs to figure out better ways to spend taxpayer money especially when they could have had something for more reasonable at a far better location with significantly less disruption for free

  17. Isabelle Hargrove

    I wanted to find out more about the process that led to the approval of a $77,000 sidewalk decoration.

    The Traffic Authority approved the project and referred it to the common council for a vote during their July 23rd meeting. According to the minutes (see link below), the panel, including Mayor Rilling and 2 commissioners, did not even discuss the cost of the project!

    The only financial question asked of Ms. Hebert was whether the payment for the crosswalk would be made by the applicant. Ms. Hebert said that it was a shared cost up to $7,500. There was no follow up questions. They voted without knowing what the price tag was? They didn’t see fit to question it?

    There appears to be very little concern for taxpayers or no attempt at understanding costs or exploring ways to find alternative financing. Respect for taxpayers should be paramount. Prudent financial management of our hard-earned tax dollars should not be too much to ask.

    This example sheds light on why City Hall’s budget has grown 24% in the last 5 years when our grand list presently inflated by a botched reval with numerous large appeals pending, has only grown 12%.


  18. Rusty Guardrail

    On Election Day, large unresolved assessment appeals will force citizens to vote without knowing the state of the city’s finances.

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