The Taylor Square Rainbow Crossing – Why it Didn’t Survive

The Taylor Square rainbow crossing has been a hotly contested debate over public art, symbolism and community sentiment Vs traffic and road safety, bureaucracy and risk aversion.

Luke Orrock, Leanne Abbott, Alex Greenwich and Megan  Tordoff with daughters Tilda 4, and Nell 20mths.

To go: (left to right) Luke Orrock, Leanne Abbott, Alex Greenwich and Megan Tordoff with daughters Tilda, 4, and Nell, 20 months, at the rainbow crossing at Oxford Street. The crossing could be removed as early as Tuesday night. Photo: Peter Rae

The debate reached its conclusion even as I wrote this, with the pavement being ripped up last night [$30k cost to the ratepayers]. The reasoning for its removal? The crossing was so popular with locals and tourists that people were posing for photos on the crossing [which has pedestrian signals], apparently holding up traffic and ‘causing incidents’. So it’s been removed for the sake of safety.

Hmmm.

I’m a big fan of the design process. In fact I have so much faith in design that I believe it can solve anything. And to ‘solve anything’ it goes without saying that everyone needs to be satisfied, simultaneously.

This is the green cities side of the issue – the community sentiment behind the crossing; it means something, it had already become a landmark [and landmarks are vital in livable cities], it records history and says something about how tolerant we are as a society. Thousands of members of our society have spoken up and said they wanted this to stay. That in itself means something. But I also get the safety thing – a new landmark is not worth putting people’s lives at risk.

So here’s my Top 6 of possible design solutions [yes I like options too] that might have allowed it to stay;

  1. Leave it alone. No-one has actually reported being hit by a car. Drivers could get used to it.
  2. Finish the job. Ever heard of a Woonerf? They’re shared streets where cars [which actually contain people too] and pedestrians co-exist. The cars just have to go slow and give way. I think motorists wouldn’t mind.
  3. Remove the cars, not the crossing. Some smart traffic engineering could deal with it.
  4. Scramble crossing.  We’ve already got these. Cars’ turn, then pedestrians’ turn. Give the sightseers a little more time on the road.
  5. Add lollipops. The person-operated type, like school crossings and construction sites. We get this, we’ve had lots of practice. Could probably find a volunteer or two to operate them too – in fact I’m betting people would pay to have a go! Council could turn a tidy profit.
  6. Add police. Move along son… the crossing is after all still a normal signalled crossing. They haven’t changed the colour of the little red man.

I could probably go on if I started workshopping this with other skill sets like traffic planners, urban designers and the like.

My point being, landmarks and public art are vital parts of sustainable cities. They embody a community or cultural idea [as this one did], they enliven a locale, they provide urban structure and form, and they mark a point in time which says something about who we are. They are critical to the genius loci of where we live.

These are the things that are priceless and difficult to achieve [in this case 35 years], and the community voice is a vital foundation for a sustainable city. The safety element had many possible solutions that could have been worked through, but only if there was collective will to do so. This one didn’t make it partly because the governance and stakeholder engagement process wasn’t successful – great intentions but foundations weren’t strong enough.

This one was just a false start, and history is full of them. I’m sure that by this time next year we’ll see it back, maybe adapted or moved, but back permanently. Sad story but there will be a great outcome from this.

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