Watch: Key West Makes Rainbow Crosswalk Permanent Fixture

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Wednesday June 17, 2020

Key West has had rainbow crosswalks since 2015, but the project of repaving the city's primary street has now concluded with the rainbow motif not just being retained, but made permanent.

Local NBC affiliate Channel 6 noted that the six-color crosswalks - which stretch across all four crossings at the intersection of Duval and Petronia streets - are made of "pre-formed thermoplastic color stripes,": which street crews put into place with blowtorches so they would be permanently sealed in place.

Mayor Teri Johnston, "The rainbow crosswalks mean that everybody is welcome, everybody is equal, everybody is recognized and that we do really abide by the 'One Human Family' spirit."

The mayor was referring to the city's motto, "One Human Family," which was officially adopted twenty years ago.

The PR office for the Florida Keys & Key West sent out an email about the crosswalks. Noting that the intersection lies "in the heart of the island's LGBTQ entertainment district," the email added:

Spanning all four corners of the intersection, the crosswalks feature long bands of all six colors of the rainbow flag, an internationally recognized symbol of LGBTQ unity.

Spearheaded by the city and the Key West Business Guild, the crosswalks are composed of pre-formed thermoplastic color stripes. After the stripes were laid on the street by city workers, they were heat-treated with propane torches to affix the colors permanently on the pavement.

Like many things LGBTQ-related, rainbow-themed crosswalks have generated controversy. Last fall 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 in that city.

The Federal Highway Administration sent a letter to Ames City Manager Steve Schainker, 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.

Two years earlier, the Trump administration had similarly tried to convince city officials in Frankfort, Kentucky to eradicate their rainbow-themed crosswalk, which was located near the city courthouse.

Watch an Associated Press news clip about the Florida Keys rainbow crosswalks below.

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.