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Could art help solve Milwaukee's reckless driving problem?

The corners of Homan and Harrison, in Chicago, are a bit brighter because of a project developed by the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and, a team of high school students.
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Posted at 5:32 AM, May 12, 2023

MILWAUKEE — Project: Drive Safer is TMJ4's year-long effort to curb reckless driving. Here's one solution you may not have thought of — art.

It often makes you stop and look... but could it also cause drivers to slow down? There is a grant being offered to cities that want to install asphalt art and not too far from Milwaukee, you can see this in action.

The corners of Homan and Harrison, in Chicago, are a bit brighter because of a project developed by the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and, a team of high school students.

North Lawndale is a neighborhood on Chicago's west side with high rates of speeding and crashes.

Eric Hotchkiss, Asst. Professor at SAIC, says art wasn't the obvious answer. "We didn't start with art, we started with looking at the idea of what made people feel more safe."

And according to a survey — it worked. 88% of people who live in the area say pedestrians are now separated from fast-moving traffic thanks to infrastructure improvements. Over half felt the improvements, and art, are helping slow drown drivers

"So we effectively forced a slowdown of traffic by narrowing the street," added Hotchkiss. "But in terms of things such as crash data, there are things like that we're waiting on."

But Hotchkiss says it's clear that pride and community ownership have grown at the intersection.

That project was done through the Bloomberg Asphalt Art Initiative and Milwaukee's Department of Public Works says it's exploring the application process for it, but in the meantime, Milwaukee city leaders point to its 'Paint the Pavement'program as proof the city values art's ability to enhance public spaces.

You'll find one colorful crosswalk outside Samuel Clemens Elementary.

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"It's to help people cross the street," explained Janae Houston, a 2nd grader who helped paint the pavement.

Principal Garry Lawson says some drivers don't obey the speed limit near the school, adding, "We have seen a lot of unsafe behaviors."

"We were all for it (the painted crosswalk). Because we kind of felt like it connects us to the community and it also gives the community and the children a sense of belonging," continued Lawson. "So now, when drivers see this they say, 'Oh — children are in the area.' So I think it makes them slow down and be more respectful."

This 'Paint the Pavement' project was a partnership with the Northwest Side DCD, an organization working to understand the needs of the community and respond. Reckless driving is a constant topic.

"Every day we hear concerns," said Danitra Jones, who works for the non-profit. "We hear it, we see it, the aftermath of all of the crashes that happen — it's an everyday occurrence."

And because of that, she says the solution needs to include a 360-degree approach. "It's going to take all of us to work together and do small projects like this to help beautify the neighborhood and to help drivers be aware that this is a school zone — so you need to slow down and look."


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