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Community members paint Pan-African flag crosswalk. Rather than fight it, city makes it official

IMG_2552Around the time of the annual Umoja Fest Africatown Heritage Parade earlier this month, some folks including the United Hood Movement went out and painted several crosswalks in the Central District red, black and green, the colors of the Pan-African flag.

The action calls attention to what many people who grew up in the Central District have experienced: As more white people (including yours truly) and more money move into the neighborhood, longtime black community members are getting priced out. And with them goes the sense of identity and belonging the neighborhood used to provide. The CD has been gentrifying for a long time, but the physical space is changing quickly now that investment in big new buildings has crossed south of Madison.

In response, some community activists have rallied around the identity of Africatown, which refers both to the African-American history of the neighborhood and to newer immigrant and refugee communities from African nations that have made the CD their home. Just like Chinatown and International District organizations work to preserve Asian heritage in Seattle and many other cities, Africatown is meant to preserve the identity of this neighborhood before it simply becomes Capitol Hill South.

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So activists took matters into their own hands and painted several crosswalks at MLK and Cherry and near Powell Barnett Park. They didn’t wait for the city to approve them or find a spot for the project in the annual budget. Here’s how the UHM described the action in a Facebook post:

On behalf of United Hood Movement It was our pleasure to be one of the group’s to help paint the sidewalks #RBG for the Umojafest Parade.

We didn’t get $100,000 to do it. We just knew it would give people a sense ownership back to our community since gentrification has changed it so rapidly, and dramatically it’s hard to recognize the place we call… Home.


This put Seattle leaders on the spot. Do they call it vandalism and clean it off? Or do they go even further and try to investigate and press charges? Sadly, it wouldn’t be hard to imagine Seattle or any city going this route. After all, Seattle’s City Attorney Pete Holmes has been trying to prosecute a group of protestors arrested for blocking Hwy 99 during a Black Lives Matter action, even though it was an obvious (and brave) act of civil disobedience we should be praising.

In a smart move by city leaders, SDOT instead embraced the painted crosswalks, even adding new reflective markings to make them official and safe (spray paint isn’t reflective at night like the specialized crosswalk materials). For now the spray-paint version remains, though SDOT Director Scott Kubly told King 5 they are considering a more permanent version (the spray paint probably won’t last too long under so many car tires):

Obviously, cool Pan-African crosswalks aren’t going to solve gentrification or create affordable housing and space for black-owned businesses in the Central District. But it’s amazing how powerful street space can be as a part of a community. All these activists did was spray paint these crosswalks, and it sparked a surprisingly strong conversation (the Capitol Hill Seattle story has 96 comments as of press time).

That’s why the city should support actions like this, which I hope spurs more and even bolder actions. Because the neighborhood is going to keep changing: The buildings, the businesses, the schools and the streets. The question is: Who will it change for?

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15 responses to “Community members paint Pan-African flag crosswalk. Rather than fight it, city makes it official”

  1. Josh

    Meanwhile, in Oregon, a cyclist grows tired of a dangerous drain, and gets threatened by ODOT for his vandalism in marking a much smaller warning stripe than MUTCD would call for…


    1. Josh

      In other words, yes, it’s actually a significant decision not to go after people for painting over a crosswalk. Good call Seattle!

  2. newyorkisrainin

    Thanks for this post Tom. Completely agree and it’s a great move on the city’s part. Wish more folks saw things as you do!

  3. ODB

    I think this is a worthwhile story to cover. It may not be closely tied to bicycling, but it deals with the city’s changing demographics, transportation infrastructure, and SDOT’s response to citizen activism to modify that infrastructure in ways that members of the community feel is appropriate. So, to reiterate, I applaud the coverage.

    What I don’t understand is the lack of coverage of the bicycle/SUV hit-and-run on Dexter in late July. This was covered by the Seattle Times, King5 News, and even made national ABC news: http://abcnews.go.com/US/cyclists-helmet-cam-captures-moment-suv-hits-speeds/story?id=32738882

    For a blog that concerns itself with bike safety and infrastructure in Seattle, this would seem like a very important story to cover. It occurred on the same section of Dexter where Mike Wang was killed in the same type of crash. The blog has covered Mike Wang’s death and the subsequent construction of a protected lane on Dexter extensively. This collision, however, raises questions about the effectiveness of the new protected lanes in preventing these types of collisions. The story even comes with sensational helmet-cam video (hence the mainstream media coverage). And the Seattle Bike Blog hasn’t devoted a word to it. I find that very strange.

    Then a couple of days later there was the incident involving the cyclist who was confronted by a motorist for riding in the general traffic lanes rather than the bike lane on Second Ave: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u_K0GYGkbJU&feature=youtu.be

    Again, it would seem like an important story about bike infrastructure in this city. The blog has covered Sher Kung’s death in a collision on Second and the subsequent construction of a protected lane extensively. Some cyclists have raised questions about the safety of the new protected lane and the possibility of confrontations with drivers if they decide not to use it. These concerns are borne out by this incident. The story also has great helmet-cam video. But there has been no coverage on this blog.

    I’m perplexed by the lack of coverage. The common theme that I see in these omitted stories is that they raise questions about whether the city’s new protected lanes are working as intended. Is this blog so devoted to promoting new protected infrastructure that it just doesn’t cover stories that raise questions about its effectiveness? I value this blog as a forum for discussions about bike infrastructure in this city. There really is no other place to have these conversations. And I get that this is an advocacy blog with a particular perspective about the type of infrastructure that should be built. But no dialogue is possible when blog doesn’t cover stories that are central to its ostensible area of emphasis. And I think that is a shame.

    1. Tom Fucoloro

      I was on vacation when those happened. I posted about them and passed them around on social media but didn’t write a full post. I haven’t forgotten about them.

      1. ODB

        Tom, you do lots of great work on this blog and deserve a vacation.

        However, I will point out that most news outlets covered the Dexter hit and run on July 27 and 28 (Monday and Tuesday). Here are the stories that ran in the bike blog that week: July 27: a neighborhood greenways fundraiser; July 28: a story based on King 5’s coverage of Vancouver’s downtown bike network; July 29: Inslee’s deciding not to swallow the “poison pill”; July 30: a Rainier Ave. safe streets open house. (Thursday, July 30 was the day of the Second Ave. incident.) July 31: guest post about Obliteride. The next weekday, Monday, August 3, was a story about a stolen bike. Etc., etc.

        The point is that every day of that week when these incidents happened, you managed to produce a blog post about other things. It’s your blog. You get to set the priorities. I still like the blog. I just thought it was a pity these stories didn’t get covered, whatever the reason may have been. I thought they were interesting, raised important issues, and doubtless would have generated lots of comments and traffic.

  4. Harrison Davignon

    Good news about the flag painting is freedom of speech, bad news is it will confuse drivers possibly. Walking in crosswalks is bad enough ( though I heard in sum cities people will run you over and there is no right way). If some driving sees the flag, they might confuse it for decorative art instead of a crosswalk, increasing walking danger. If people want to paint the american flag, do it on the sidewalk, its going to get walked on regardless. I think the big reason our city is behind other walking and bicycle cities is all the hills. Sometimes going around hills will take to long and sometimes you have to climb the hills. One of the reasons portland and New York rank ahead of us bicycle and walking wise is because there flat. Walking and riding up our hills often helps make the hills easier though

    1. Harrison Davignon

      Ps, once you get in good enough walking and bicycle riding shape.

    2. Tom Fucoloro

      Take another look at that crosswalk photo. I really can’t imagine how anyone can see that and not immediately understand it’s a crosswalk. It has all the legal markings. Now, there are people who don’t stop for ANY crosswalks, but that’s a separate issue…

      1. Josh

        The crosswalk *now* has legal markings, thanks to SDOT. When the flag was originally painted, the crosswalk had only zebra stripes, not the transverse white lines, and the colored paint replaced all the white striping of the crosswalk — which also meant it covered up the reflectivity of the crosswalk. That could be genuinely dangerous.

        SDOT not only chose not to remove the flag design, they quickly added the transverse crosswalk lines to restore a legal, reflective crosswalk marking in addition to the flag. (Note the rainbow crosswalks on Capitol Hill also still have the legally-required white striping — it really does make a huge difference at night, in the rain, etc.)

  5. Dave F

    Did they paint over an existing crosswalk, or paint a new one on an unmarked intersection? There are some horrible unmarked intersections in my part of Belltown, and I’d love to have some safety guerrillas paint some crosswalks there. Any color would do!

    1. Tom Fucoloro

      They painted over existing crosswalks. I would NEVER condone or encourage any illegal action, so it would be SO AWFUL if some anonymous person started marking dangerous crossings… ;-)

      1. jay

        I have read that some people consider marked crosswalks dangerous because they give pedestrians a false sense of security (many drivers ignore crosswalks).
        Outlaw crosswalks painted with nonconforming materials really could, in some cases, be “SO AWFUL” and even more dangerous than they are now.

        But on topic: nothing says respect for a culture like walking on a symbolic representation of their flag! Mr. Rant at that radio station went on a rant about something related to this, it’s hard to follow his “reasoning” but it seemed he was saying the mayor would not paint U.S. flag themed crosswalks because he hates America (or something, it was hard to follow) but many of the commenters pointed that a walking and driving on a (U.S.) “flag themed” crosswalk would be disrespectful.

  6. Lynn

    If Brooks Running gets a shoe-themed crosswalk outside its door, I say everyone deserves a special crosswalk.

  7. […] when community members painted crosswalks in the Central District the colors of the Pan-African flag earlier this summer? We praised the city for making them […]

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