How Bloomberg Philanthropies Is Making Roads in the U.S. and Europe Safer With Beautiful Asphalt Art

Intersections are accident-prone; according to the FHA (Federal Highway Administration), more than 50% of all fatal or injury-causing vehicle collisions happen at or near intersections. This has only increased with more people on the roads; the FHA claims that more than 30,000 people in the United States have died on roads. These deaths happened between January and September 2021, representing a 12% increase from the previous year.

A study done by Bloomberg Philanthropies, an organization founded by the CEO of Bloomberg Inc. and former mayor of New York, Mike R. Bloomberg, shows that solving the crisis on road intersections can come down to a simple idea: beautiful asphalt art. Yes, art and not security infrastructure or traffic signals on asphalt paving and intersections can substantially reduce the percentage of cars colliding with pedestrians by up to 50% and all car crashes by over 15%.

These art projects comprise multi-colored murals or paintings on asphalt patching, blacktop paving, crosswalks, and asphalt in and around busy intersections. The art is bright and hard for drivers to miss helping them be more attentive, cautious, and slow down when they spot pedestrians. Let’s see how this beautiful asphalt art project by Bloomberg Philanthropies is boosting road safety in cities in the United States and Europe.

Bloomberg Philanthropies Beautiful Asphalt Art in the United States

The initial round of the Beautiful Asphalt Art initiative was in 2019, and it corresponded with the launch of the Asphalt Art Guide, which comprised of best practices and case studies from major cities across the globe. The guide, which has been retrieved over 5,000 times by industry practitioners and governments in all 50 U.S. states and close to 100 countries across the globe, can be downloaded from the Bloomberg Philanthropies website.

The guide was developed by BAT (Bloomberg Associated Transportation) and CAM (Cultural Assets Management) teams with help from public art expert Renee Piechocki and architecture and urban planning company SPC (Street Plans Collaborative). These basic paint undertakings have been applied as part of the Asphalt Art Initiative by Bloomberg Philanthropies.

To date, this philanthropic body has issued grants to 41 cities in the United States and three cities in Europe for a total of 45 beautiful asphalt art projects. The study is based on some of these projects, and the results suggest that painting intersections make roads safer.

According to Janette Sadik-Khan, the head of transportation at Bloomberg Associates, a subsidiary of Bloomberg Philanthropies across the U.S., there is a pandemic of road fatalities, and people want to see this go down. Janette Sadik-Khan is also the former head of the NYC DT (Department of Transportation). She led the transformation of Times Square to be pedestrian-friendly, starting with basic paintwork on the street and traffic markers.

She says nobody expected this initiative to work, but according to a study by the Gehl Institute, this initiative increased pedestrian activity and even benefitted businesses in and around Times Square without adversely affecting travel times. She continues to say, ‘paint and other temporary undertakings cost a fraction of concrete resurfacing, and they can deliver actual results for pennies on the dollar.’ The success of the project in New York City has facilitated the expansion of these low-cost interventions in other cities in the U.S. with similar benefits.

Bloomberg Philanthropies also announced another study called the Asphalt Art Safety Study, which analyzed the 22 most recent beautiful asphalt art projects done in the U.S. and found that they had resulted in a decrease in the number of traffic crashes, especially those involving motorcyclists and pedestrians by encouraging safer driver behavior.

Bloomberg Philanthropies hired a consulting agency, Sam Schwartz Consulting, to conduct the study, which analyzed the 22 most recent asphalt art projects, comparing crash statistics from before and after the beautiful asphalt art was applied. The study notes that some of these initiatives cost a couple of hundred dollars and others thousands.

The asphalt art project was extended to cities like Pittsburgh, where asphalt striping was done on crosswalks, and colorful flowers were painted on the outer travel lanes of a massive five-sided intersection. Another project was done in Durham, North Carolina; it covered a four-sided intersection with a gigantic painting of blue orbs. Other cities that had their intersections undergo transformation include Atlanta (Georgia), Fort Lauderdale (Florida), and Trenton (New Jersey). Over 75% of the projects saw a reduction in road crashes after the artwork was done.

According to Janette Sadik-Khan, the reclamation of streets offers a vast canvas for safer street designs. Using vibrant urban artwork that stands out has become one of the biggest successes in these project cities. Note that these paint projects don’t automatically translate into success because the Asphalt Art Safety Study found that the work done in cities in Georgia, mainly Atlanta and Decatur, didn’t help reduce crashes; instead, they increased them. Atlanta saw a 41% increase in crashes, while Decatur saw a 28% increase in crashes.

Bloomberg Philanthropies Beautiful Asphalt Art in Europe

Bloomberg Philanthropies has rolled out its beautiful asphalt art initiative in European cities thanks to its in-house results and those from the study done by the consulting firm Sam Schwartz, which revealed some impressive statistics with regard to asphalt maintenance and improvement in urban area road intersections.

The expansion of this initiative to Europe invites all European cities with a population of 100,000 or more to apply by the 11th July 2022 deadline. The winners will be announced in the last quarter of 2022, with works starting in 2023. Apart from the beautiful asphalt art grant, the winners will have access to consulting services from Bloomberg Associates and the AMAT (City of Milan’s Agency for Mobility, Environment, and Territory). The application and city selection guidelines can be accessed by clicking on this link.

The expansion in Europe builds on the two rounds of grants in the U.S. and Europe between 2020 and 2021. In the United States, a total of 45 asphalt art projects spanning 41 cities were done, and in Europe, three cities were used for the asphalt art pilot project, namely Amsterdam (Netherlands), Glasgow (Scotland), and London (England).

In Amsterdam, the massive artwork was done by the SAMA (Street Art Museum Amsterdam) and comprised painted asphalt, benches, and planters. Dubbed ‘Surround Sound,’ this is the most significant work of art ever done by the SAMA, spanning 90,000 square feet. It transformed an open-air marketplace, Markt Plein 40-45, and changed perceptions regarding the market’s surrounding area while pleasing local residents.

In Glasgow, the project was dubbed ‘Water Works’ and was finished by November 2021 to coincide with the COP26 Summit held in the same month. This project has a massive ground mural and complementary rain gardens at the entrance of Anderston railway station. The project was designed by Scotland-based artist Gabriella Marcella. It was inspired by the ecological problems such as excess rain Glasgow residents face. The objective of the project is to enhance cyclist and pedestrian movement around the city.

In London, the project was dubbed ‘Bring London Together’ and was a collaboration between London-based artist Yinka Ilori and art students from the London University of Arts. It created vibrant designs on 12 intersections and a pedestrian plaza in the middle of the city.

How Is the Beautiful Asphalt Art by Bloomberg Philanthropies Making Cities Both in the United States and Europe Safe?

By Accelerating Cross-Sector Collaboration

Every asphalt art done by Bloomberg Philanthropies is done with community collaboration. Usually, the city is involved via its parks, streets, transportation departments, and some community-based artists or groups. These collaborations generate a sense of ownership of the project in communities. They also help local policymakers build relationships with various organizations. As a result, cross-sector collaboration improves, and in the future, more projects aimed at road user safety can be initiated.

By Blending With Traffic-Calming Measures

At a time when road deaths are on the rise, beautiful asphalt art is perhaps the cheapest way to make streets safer for pedestrians and riders. This is especially true because art blends with traffic-calming measures to slow down vehicles.

For instance, in Kansas City (Missouri), the asphalt art project transformed one risky intersection not only with street paintings but also with markers and planters. This helped broaden sidewalks and narrow car lanes, all without the need for asphalt paving companies. The average vehicle speeds decreased by 45%, and the percentage of pedestrians who felt safe walking on Kansas City roads rose by a whopping 40%.

According to Janette Sadik-Khan, this data helps show mayors, policymakers, and city residents that these projects not only beautify road intersections they also prevent accidents from happening in and around the decorated intersections.

By Engaging City Residents in New Ways

Bloomberg philanthropies asphalt art projects offer new pathways for city residents to be involved. For instance, during the initial stages, such as pinpointing which intersections or streets to transform. City dwellers can also be involved in the design or the artwork. Involving city dwellers helps to identify at-risk intersections, saving more lives accurately.

For instance, in Durham (North Carolina), more city dwellers voted to have local artists design paintings for crosswalks in front of elementary schools. According to multiple experts, asphalt art, as well as other street art projects, have offered a real opportunity for people to interact, especially after the extensive lockdowns that happened over the past two years.

By Facilitating Innovation That Can Make Cities Safer

Although leadership in asphalt art projects comes from various parts of the community, some of the biggest proponents of this idea are city mayors searching for newer and better ways of solving problems in their cities. For instance, in Reno (Nevada), the city’s mayor, Hillary Schieve, fast-tracked the project to transform a space of over 15,000 square feet on top of a railway tunnel into a colorful area where concerts, festivals, and other community-based events are hosted. The transformation of these spaces is done by innovative community members, which makes them safer for people to use.

Janette Sadik-Khan says that beautiful asphalt art projects commenced and finished when Mike R. Bloomberg served as New York City mayor, changed the attitudes of municipal officials and city dwellers, creating an appetite to do more.

She says, ‘such projects help cities view their streets in completely new ways. People in New York City didn’t believe their streets could ever change because they have been the same for over 50 years. But we were able to show them what’s possible with asphalt art and planters. This has opened new avenues to form collaborations with the public.’

By Providing Cheaper and Better Alternative to Fix Intersections

The Beautiful asphalt art by Bloomberg Philanthropies offers a cheaper and better alternative to asphalt contractor road improvements. Improving a street by pouring asphalt or concrete can cost millions. In contrast, asphalt art projects typically cost less than $20,000.

According to Janette Sadik-Khan, ‘Paint and other temporary treatments cost a fraction of typical capital work and deliver real results for pennies on the dollar.’ As a result, the number of roads that can be rehabilitated and transformed is more. This means that more lives will be saved on the streets, whether car drivers, pedestrians, or riders.

Moreover, these projects provide an avenue for local leaders to test light and rapid solutions that allow for fast learning. Once the work starts, it can be done in one week or less. In comparison, it’s similar to instant gratification because of the timeline it takes and considering that so many things need to be done.

Final Thought

In conclusion, the beautiful asphalt art by Bloomberg Philanthropies is making its mark on roads in the U.S. and Europe. Apart from beautiful asphalt art, Bloomberg Philanthropies also sponsors other vital areas such as arts, education, environment, innovation, and public health. To learn more about their Beautiful asphalt art and other projects, click here or here.

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