What's a Little Rainbow Crosswalk Between Friends?
Plan to celebrate the gayborhood heads to Council
West Hollywood, Calif., started a phenomenon in 2012 when they painted the gayborhood's crosswalks with the colors of the freedom flag. Cities such as London, San Francisco, Toronto, and Vancouver have since followed suit, most without controversy. However, a request to paint rainbows on Bettie Naylor Street (W. Fourth) here in Austin is getting some surprise pushback.
When Paul Huddleston, president of the Austin Pride Foundation, and Council Member Mike Martinez held discussions with local business owners, the two were met with unexpected hostility from the Hangar, Truluck's, Cedar Street Courtyard, and Péché. "I was blown away by what I was hearing," said Steph Smith, business development director of L Style G Style. "In a public meeting at City Hall, people were actually visibly angered by the idea."
Rob Pate, Péché's owner, said, "Oilcan's, Castro's, and Rain are absolutely wonderful neighbors, but when you deviate from the norm, it could open a Pandora's box."
Some of the objectors felt they had succeeded in putting the kibosh on the conversation altogether by declaring anything but standard white crosswalks illegal. We made a few phone calls. Texas' adoption of crosswalk art actually predates the California rainbow crosswalk idea by several years. Houston's Museum of Fine Arts installed kinetic op-art on several adjacent crosswalks in 2009. Minnette Boesel, special assistant to Houston Mayor Annise Parker on cultural affairs, was quick to reply when asked about the legal and safety concerns: "There have been none that I am aware of. Everyone loves [the crosswalks]. I've never heard anything but praise for them."
The city of Austin is required to follow standards set by TxDOT, as outlined in the Texas Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices. The manual states, "Crosswalk lines shall be solid white lines marking both edges of a crosswalk. They shall not be less than six inches in width and should not be spaced less than six feet apart." Typically, cities that do decorate, simply paint rainbow colors between horizontal white lines. Thus far, none of the cities on the rainbow list are in Texas, but most still bear the colors, by one means or another. When conservatives in Sydney successfully campaigned to remove rainbows painted for the city's 2013 Mardi Gras celebration, the community responded by creating D.I.Y. chalked crosswalks all over the city. In protest of Russia's anti-gay crackdown, Swedish activists installed similar crosswalks by the Russian embassy in Stockholm, and Sydney did likewise, even raising a rainbow flag on the embassy's pole.
Martinez, who supports the proposal, hopes "to initiate a full conversation through our Arts Commission and gather stakeholder input." As this minor spark of contention shows, we might not be as gay-friendly as our reputation purports. Huddleston diplomatically offers, "Our city is diverse and accepting, and being the capital of Texas, we have every viewpoint possible represented here. Austin is definitely a gay-friendly city, but just like anywhere, some of us have some growing up to do before we can all experience the love that builds a true community."