Asphalt Art – Does it Make Roads Safer

Asphalt Art – Does it Make Roads Safer

Urban canvasses needn’t remain blank spaces – with just a splash of color can transform roads and make them safer for pedestrians, cyclists and drivers. “Asphalt art” projects such as intersection murals or painted crosswalks and plazas becoming an increasing trend worldwide.

The Asphalt Art Initiative empowers cities to use color and creativity to increase street safety and revitalize public spaces. Read our Safety Study to gain more insight into this low-cost strategy.

asphalt art

Safety Study

Asphalt art may appear as urban prettification; certainly the skill and effort behind these projects is impressive–but its benefits go much deeper. Asphalt art works to increase pedestrian safety by making pedestrian spaces and intersections more visible, creating a more walkable public realm, encouraging safe driving practices via drivers being warned to watch out for people crossing roads; all with significant safety advantages. Unfortunately, however, their application remains limited due to an absence of rigorous evaluations or published literature regarding their safety performance.

The Asphalt Art Safety Study from Bloomberg Philanthropies in partnership with Sam Schwartz Consulting offers empirical proof of these projects’ benefits by analyzing historical crash data at 17 sites equipped with asphalt art for two or more years, the study demonstrated how such installations significantly reduced crashes involving vehicles and pedestrians that result in injuries.

Asphalt art provides an alternative approach to roadway redesigns that doesn’t involve lengthy planning processes and costly construction; its implementation can be completed quickly. Furthermore, cities can test long-term roadway designs without incurring the associated costs and risks that come with larger projects; plus it helps communities gain ownership over their streets while creating opportunities for engagement within communities.

Local residents usually select a low-traffic local street and its intersection as their target locations for asphalt art projects, before working with an artist to prepare a design proposal and gain community support for it. Once it has received widespread backing, leaders from that neighborhood can work with their city to secure funding and begin construction.

Streets are at the core of every city’s public realm and have the power to shape perceptions about a place. Asphalt art is an easy and effective way to elevate public space, increase pedestrian activity, and promote more considerate behavior from all roadway users. For cities looking for guidance or funding assistance to implement such projects, the Asphalt Art Initiative offers information and resources; including its grant program which supports communities worldwide in developing visual arts interventions on roadways and pedestrian spaces.

Case Studies

Transportation infrastructure often conjures images of mundane stretches of asphalt that just get us where we want to go without being destinations themselves. But creative cities have discovered ways to transform roadways into vibrant public spaces that are both safe and engaging; one such effort uses asphalt art street murals to revitalize neighborhoods while improving safety measures and engaging residents of all ages.

Projects focused on high-visibility intersections or crosswalks typically feature painted lines as visual reminders to both drivers and pedestrians that they should pay more attention to their environment and each other. A recent study of 17 asphalt art sites concluded that traffic behaviors significantly improved at painted intersections; specifically, unfavorable behaviors like failing to stop at stop signs or crossing outside crosswalks decreased significantly at painted locations.

Though these findings are encouraging, it would be premature to draw direct causal connections between crashes and asphalt art’s potential impact on roadway safety. Crashes are unpredictable events with many outside factors potentially impacting their outcomes – from extraneous changes in traffic volume or systemic issues to changes in volumetric patterns or any number of other variables that could influence them. Still, the study provides a significant step toward understanding asphalt art’s impact on safety on its own.

Painting itself provides an exceptional means of community engagement. In Saginaw, Michigan, residents were engaged in turning three intersections into works of art during three “paint-athons”, an activity which helped maintain social connections during the COVID-19 pandemic while creating welcoming public spaces on streets that otherwise might otherwise remain hidden or unwelcoming.

Bloomberg Philanthropies’ success with its Asphalt Art Initiative across both North America and Europe prompted it to issue a call to cities to incorporate creative strategies like these into their streets. Partnering with urban planning and architecture firm Street Plans Collaborative, Bloomberg Philanthropies produced an Asphalt Art Guide featuring case studies of successful projects worldwide as well as best practices for cities considering them; you can download this resource here.

Best Practices

Asphalt art provides visual interventions in roadways (intersections and crosswalks), pedestrian spaces (plazas, sidewalks) and vertical infrastructure (traffic barriers, highway underpasses). To maximize its impact, effective designs combine artwork with other street improvements like paving, lighting, traffic signals and signage in order to increase their visual presence and effectiveness.

Many cities have been employing asphalt art as an engaging, revitalizing public spaces, promoting safety, and active transportation tool. Of the 26 cities awarded Bloomberg Philanthropies’ 2022 Asphalt Art Initiative grants, several have focused on intersection and crosswalk art to help reduce traffic deaths and injuries.

Bloomberg Philanthropies and Sam Schwartz Consulting conducted a recent study revealing how painted crosswalks reduce negative behaviors between motorists and other road users. Data indicates that this art reduced driver speeds as well as shortening pedestrian crossing distances – thus helping reduce deadly collisions between people walking and those driving vehicles.

Though some have voiced opposition, asphalt art has quickly gained momentum and support. A report from the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) supports using paint as an experimental means to raise crosswalk awareness for pedestrians who are blind or visually impaired; additionally, they call for pilot programs incorporating asphalt art in different cities in order to measure impact and effectiveness.

Asphalt art can help enhance public engagement and shape local culture in several cities across America, such as Reno and Chattanooga in Tennessee. Their bright murals draw both residents and tourists, driving tourism growth while supporting local business.

Bloomberg Associates and Street Plans recently issued the Asphalt Art Guide as a free resource to cities looking to add color to their streets. This comprehensive resource features over two dozen case studies as well as a “how-to” section.

The guide stresses the importance of setting project goals and metrics for measuring project success, such as measuring installation length or temporaryity or permanence, when considering whether art should remain installed temporarily or permanently, and any necessary steps needed for removal when the time comes. Asphalt line paint that meets water-based and not solvent-based specifications should be used so as to avoid damaging road surfaces or subgrade. In addition, ensure the artwork conforms to local design and material standards as part of a successful artwork installation project.


Asphalt art projects have become an increasingly popular way for cities to improve street safety, engage residents and revitalize underutilized public spaces. Offering an inexpensive alternative to long-term roadway redesign projects and easily implemented, asphalt art projects allow communities to collaborate with artists on their terms – helping foster greater ownership over their transportation infrastructure and creating greater engagement between artists and communities.

Bloomberg Philanthropies recently conducted research demonstrating that traffic collisions at 22 asphalt art sites saw an overall reduction of 50% and incidents involving pedestrians were reduced by half, part of its larger effort to support hyper-local projects engaging neighborhoods and working alongside artists to transform roads, pedestrian spaces and vertical infrastructure in creative ways.

Create Birmingham is proud to partner with Bloomberg Philanthropies Asphalt Art Initiative, funding visual interventions on roadways (intersection murals and crosswalk art), pedestrian spaces (plazas and sidewalk extensions) as well as vertical infrastructure such as utility boxes and traffic barriers. The initiative aims to empower neighborhood residents by giving them the resources needed to identify sites, develop designs proposals, and paint their own community-designed artwork on any location of their choosing – such as roads or public spaces.

Bloomberg Associates’ pro bono consulting arm Street Plans recently published a guide called the Asphalt Art Guide that highlights case studies of successful roadway and pedestrian space art activations projects worldwide, while providing key steps and tips for developing these projects. You can access this free download at their website here.

Comments are closed.