Trump Administration Comes After Iowa Town's Diversity-Colored Crosswalks

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Wednesday October 2, 2019

The Trump administration came after the town of Ames, Iowa, seeking to take away the colorful, diversity-themed crosswalks that liven up a downtown intersection.

Federal Highway Administration sent a letter to Steve Schainker, the city manager, suggesting that colors other than white in a crosswalk could pose a safety hazard and pressing Shainker to eradicate the crosswalk color schemes, reported CNN.

Included in the letter were ominous warnings that the city could open itself up to liability if there are any accidents in the intersection, and raising the specter that people from other cities could take a shine to the crosswalks and want some of their own.

The colorful crosswalks, which take the hues of the Pride flag, the transgender flag, and the gender non-binary flag, could lead to "confusion for motorists, pedestrians, and other jurisdictions who may see these markings and install similar crosswalk treatments in their cities," the letter intoned.

"Allowing a non-compliant pavement marking to remain in place presents a liability concern for the City of Ames in the event of a pedestrian/vehicle or vehicle/vehicle collision," the letter went on to add.

The U.S. Department of Transportation's Federal Highway Administration oversees the nation's roadways, but there's just one little legal problem with the letter: It steps outside the lines of the agency's purview. Ames, Iowa, does not receive federal money for the street in question. That means the Administration has no say in the matter.

City attorney Mark Lambert put the matter plainly, regional newspaper the Des Moines Register reported.

"In terms of jurisdiction, we don't believe the highway administration has any," Lambert stated.

The agency, however, begged to differ, the Register noted.

Spokesperson Nancy Singer asserted to the Register that the agency's "requirements would apply even if federal funds were not used."

The city remained skeptical, and Lambert had even anticipated an attempt from the Trump administration to interfere in the city's inclusive paint job.

"Given the flexibility in crosswalk design allowed by the Iowa Code," Lambert wrote in an Aug. 6 missive intended to keep the city council informed on the issue, "there are arguments that creative crosswalks actually enhance pedestrian safety."

"My legal opinion is that the City has no greater risk of liability with the proposed inclusive crosswalk than a standard crosswalk," Lambert added.

Bill Diesslin, a resident of Ames, told the media that he thought the government agency was "wrong, just outright wrong" in coming after the town's affirming crosswalks, reported Forbes.

"The crosswalk lines are white pavement markings that identify the crosswalks — the rainbow crossing in Ames has white lines demarcating, so it's consistent with federal recommendations," Diesslin pointed out.

It's not like Ames is alone in brightening up its streets with decorative paintwork, noted the Register, and the feds have come after other localities in the past for colorful crosswalks. Reported the Register:

For years, crosswalk-art programs have been popular in cities across the country as cities sought to beautify streets and create healthier communities, according to National Public Radio. Crosswalk drawings ranging from pianos to, yes, rainbows, in cities from Rochester, New York, to St. Louis have drawn the ire of the highway overseers.

After addressing the issue, the city council arrived at a solution, reported CNN.

They decided to leave the crosswalk alone.

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.