Neighborways Somerville: Art in Crosswalks
Formed in 2015, Neighborways is a volunteer organization that convenes community members to open a dialogue about safety in neighborhood streets, brainstorm site-specific creative solutions to problem areas, fund and implement these ideas, and maintain pavement paint. The group partners with municipalities, local businesses, business associations, main street groups, developers, schools, and/or residents, relying on funding from local arts councils and grant organizations, as well as crowdsourcing through platforms such as neighbor.ly.
Neighborways are residential streets supplemented with low-cost, quick-build interventions designed to reduce traffic speeds and volume. In other parts of the country they are called neighborhood greenways or bicycle boulevards. They aim to connect key neighborhood locations, such as schools, parks, and neighborhood squares, with streets prioritizing low-speed non-motorized users. Pavement murals, stencils, painted bumpouts at intersections, increased signage, and flexposts create visually distinct streets, emphasizing the safety of cyclists and pedestrians, while encouraging sidewalk activity for children and adults alike. In addition to traffic calming benefits, neighborways can activate communities and creativity, rallying residents around painting projects to get and keep people on the streets. In some instances, neighborways act as proof of concept for cities and towns, generating enough excitement and use to warrant the cost of a hard infrastructure solution, such as speed humps, traffic islands, or neighborhood traffic circles.
The Neighborways group works with neighborhood community members and local artists. In Somerville, the group partnered with the City to expedite the permitting process for neighborways.
Funding may be available through your local arts council or through MassDOT’s Complete Streets program, provided designs include significant traffic calming mechanisms such as flex posts.
Each municipality in Massachusetts has an independent process for enacting traffic calming mechanisms. To initiate the process, navigate to your municipality’s Public Works or Transportation Division’s website and locate the Traffic Calming Request Form. Because neighborways are low-cost, resident-initiated projects, your city may have different standards for initiating paint-based interventions than those involving the installation of hard infrastructure such as speed bumps, posts, or permanent changes to the curb. In most cases, these regulations do not differentiate between the two processes. As such, you should reach out to someone in those departments and acquire the necessary information.
For a neighborhood to be eligible for calming mechanisms that physically alters the roadway — such as speed bumps, traffic islands, or rotaries — municipalities often require proof of resident interest, as obtained by submitting a Traffic Calming Request Form. The municipality will then determine whether the road is eligible for traffic calming interventions by assessing the following information:
- Street classification (typically, only local roads are eligible);
- Traffic volumes;
- High traffic speeds as compared to posted limits;
- Physical data (# of lanes, width, grade and alignment, parking);
- Proximity to community facilities, schools, parks, and businesses;
- Accident data reports, and other relevant reports;
- Status of each street as emergency vehicle, bus, truck, or bicycle route; and
- Pedestrian crossing volumes.
In Somerville, the City has developed a separate process for approving neighborways; and this framework can be replicated in other municipalities to help clarify and formalize the process for residents interested in initiating similar projects. To acquire a neighborways permit in Somerville, the application must include:
- the final design and location for streetscape improvement,
- a summary of outreach activities conducted including, but not limited to, flyering and organizing informational events that encourage residents to get involved with the street painting process,
- a summary of both the support for and the opposition to the street painting and must describe the efforts that have been made to bring opponents into the design process,
- signatures from residents of 66% abutting properties or 30 signatures, whichever is fewer (only one signature is permitted per household)
- a Ward Alderman’s signature, and
- a Public Event License.
Repainting street murals requires a similar permitting process, including all requirements listed above except for resident signatures. After receiving a neighborways painting or repainting application, the City Clerk’s Office forwards the materials to Traffic & Parking to verify signatures and then along to appropriate departments for sign-off.
- Community Ownership: Residents helped inform the artwork design process and paint murals on their streets.
- Beautification: The colorful art appears to be drawing in residents from neighboring streets. Some even expressed willingness to take parking spaces in order to expand murals.
- Public Safety: Following implementation of the Neighborways pilot project, average vehicular speeds fell from 21 to 17.2 miles per hour.
- Prioritizing People over Cars: Activity on the street has increased, including interactions between neighbors, active transportation, and children playing.
- Since its inception, Neighborways has helped to install safety features in seven neighborhoods: four in Somerville, two in Boston and one in Everett. The group is also planning two new neighborways in Revere.