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Public Art Encourages Road Safety

Cyclists in Boulder, Colorado came together to promote a "safer roads together" message.

A new street mural in Boulder, Colorado will serve as a bright and colorful reminder for drivers to exercise caution around cyclists and pedestrians. The mural, unveiled a couple of weeks ago on the 2000 block of Iris Avenue, is the result of a collaboration between architecture firm Workshop8 and #itcouldbeme, a cyclist safety initiative founded by triathlete Triny Willerton.

“A few months ago, a local cyclist named Natalie Orphan tweeted that she wanted to paint a mural on this great wall space she had in Boulder behind her home,” explained Willerton of the Boulder mural. “It is a high traffic road, and a perfect spot for a message about road safety.” Willerton mentioned the project to fellow cyclist Joseph Vigil, the founding partner and president of Workshop8. The firm donates a public art piece every summer to the city of Boulder, designed by his wife, Brandy LeMae, and painted by members of the firm. Immediately, Vigil was on board with sponsoring a road safety design. “The whole firm is full of cyclists, and the idea of this mural is especially meaningful to them.”

LeMae worked with Orphan, Willerton, and Workshop8 to create a design showcasing the unique considerations of each one: “Triny wanted to incorporate #itcouldbeme to support bike safety, and Natalie wanted something she could drive past each day which would make her happy,” explained LeMae. After feedback from the team at Workshop8, who provides the painting services, they honed in on a single concept which was revised to the final layout.

The complete mural. Photo: Natalie Orphan

Public art has become an increasingly popular medium for road-safety messaging in recent years. Since starting in St. Louis in October 2003, the Ghost Bike movement has erected more than 600 memorials around the world. These bikes, painted white with a placard attached to memorialize the rider, also serve as a reminder to passing motorists to share the road.

In 2008, a genre known as “asphalt art” was pioneered in New York City with the launch of the Barrier Beautification Program, which places artwork on cycling safety infrastructure. By painting decorative road-safety messages on streets, sidewalks, underpasses, fences, and medians, an irregularity is created in the otherwise gray streetscape, causing drivers to focus and slow down.

Boulder Mural
The barrier beautification project in New York City.

This summer, members of Chicago’s cycling community painted a mural at the site where 13-year-old Issac Martinez was killed by a hit-and-run driver while riding his bike on a designated “bike route” that lacked a formal bike lane or physical protection for cyclists. The mural serves as a memorial to Martinez as well as a powerful call for better cycling infrastructure in the city.

Willerton said these creations are form and function combined, beautifying the city with art while providing an important message for road safety. “I hope that our new mural helps remind drivers that with every choice they make, they have the ability to save a life. We can and we will make roads safer together.”