Roadway in Kansas City

A painted roadway illustrating street design in Kansas City. A similar concept is planned for Fairbanks. Photo Courtesy of Bloomberg Philanthropies

Asphalt art can beautify an urban space. It can also make streets easier to navigate, invite more people out and push crime down.

Local artists will paint asphalt murals on Fifth Avenue and Lacey Street next summer, using a $25,000 grant awarded in September to the Fairbanks Area Surface Transportation Planning agency. Bloomberg Philanthropies partnered with Rasmuson Foundation to fund the project.

The idea behind the Asphalt Art Initiative 2021 is to inspire residents to use the streets and reimagine the roadways, as well as improve safety and mobility for pedestrians and bikers, according to the nonprofit Bloomberg group.

Improving traffic

A part of Fifth Avenue from Cushman to Barnette streets will display a mockup of wider sidewalks and landscaping, while Lacey Street between 10th to 12th avenues will have asphalt murals to demonstrate what a blended corridor and linear park design would look like.

Transportation Planner Olivia Lunsford explained that the concepts painted on the streets are going to clearly designate which part is the roadway and which is a shared-use path.

“We spent so much time of the year wondering where the lane is,” Lunsford said. “We’re really trying to keep the concepts discernible so that folks know where to have their automobile and where they could be on a bicycle or on foot.”

Improving safety

Lunsford said that asphalt murals “can enhance safety because they increase engagement in these areas. The idea is, the more these areas are filled with activity, the less the likelihood of crime.”

Vacant urban spaces are more prone to risky environmental conditions, according to 2018 research published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Restoring or “activating” such spaces can significantly reduce gun violence and crime.

According to Bloomberg, previous asphalt art projects they funded improved pedestrian safety and helped revitalize the space. For example, In Kansas City, Missouri, the redesign of an intersection reduced vehicle speeds by 45 percent and cut pedestrian crossing distances in half. In the city of Reno, Nevada, transforming a concrete area into an event plaza for festivals, food trucks and green space brought visitors downtown.

“I would personally love to see us have a couple of food trucks down there during the Midnight Sun Festival when downtown is full of people looking for things to do,” Lunsford said. “But it also could just be really cool to demonstrate how activating the space and having people want to hang out there could positively influence just the activity in that corridor.”

Keeping the traffic flow

Since the traffic on both streets is very low, taking a day to paint them won’t affect resident’s mobility around downtown, Lunsford said.

For example, only 650 to 1,000 vehicles a day travel on Lacey Street — at most about one-sixth of the average traffic on Cushman, Barnette or Noble streets, said Jackson Fox, the executive director of FAST Planning

If the city wasn’t using artwork to showcase the design concepts they want to use on the streets, an alternative way would be to use road cones for demonstrations.

“Road cones can be distracting and then everyone thinks it’s construction instead of a pop-up demonstration of a wider sidewalk,” Lunsford said.

Bringing murals to life

The current budget of $25,000 covers artists stipends, art supplies and marketing materials, as well as other costs such as event permits.

This winter, artists will be invited to submit proposals for the artwork, and the FAST Planning committee will vet the ideas. The organizers haven’t released the parameters for art submissions, but Lunsford said artists’ creativity will be appreciated.

“Mix your greens and add a little bit of texture in there — or not,” Lunsford said. “Go geodesic, go Monet. I’d just say go for it and see what comes of it because we’re not really going to know what our best options are until we’re sitting there looking at them.”

The painting will happen in summer 2022 on a weekend day, with artists coming to transform the streets using soy-based biodegradable paint called Aexcelcorp BioStripe, which is designed for road infrastructure. To make sure the painted streets won’t be slippery, the plan is to test-spot the paint and, if needed, mix sand into the paint or throw a light layer over the top of the paint before it dries, Lunsford explained.

“There will just be a big ‘Paint the Streets’ day, and it’ll be kind of like a pop-up situation,” Lunsford said. “We are trying to schedule it for before summer solstice — before the Midnight Sun Festival.”

The murals will adorn the streets until their permanent reconstruction. For Fifth Avenue, the date is 2023, and the artwork will be taken up at that time. For Lacey Street, the plan is still in the works, and the grant will cover sandblasting after two years.

Fairbanks streets are already a home for various artworks. FAST Planning gathered various city art projects, past and current, at FBXparticiPaints.com.

“There’s a bunch of existing art in the downtown already that makes people happy,” Lunsford said. “It is a key part to a sense of community and sense of place and our downtown.”

Contact staff writer Alena Naiden at (907) 459-7587 or at anaiden@newsminer.com. Follow her at twitter.com/FDNMlocal.

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