Drivers in Wallingford are used to navigating around traffic circles, but one intersection is greeted with surprise, wonder, and perhaps a bit of confusion on first viewing: The biggest ladybug you’ve ever seen lives at the corner of N. 49th and Burke. Here’s the satellite view:
Six years ago landscape architect Eric Higbee approached neighbors about the idea of painting the intersection, which sees a lot of traffic that’s trying to avoid N. 50th St. backups.
Higbee lived on the corner of N. 49th St. and Burke, and was enamored of the painted intersections he saw in Portland. No such intersections existed in Seattle at the time. “We were the guinea pigs to go through the SDOT process,” Higbee said. The Seattle Department of Transportation asked the group to meet the same standards as for a traffic circle.
See pictures of the design and painting process on Higbee’s site.
This weekend the ladybug (also dubbed “the Wallybug” back in 2006) will get its 5th annual (re)painting. The event brings together neighbors for the street painting and a potluck to celebrate the bug’s fresh coat. People also paint smaller rocks as ladybugs; you’ll see them in front yards in the area.
Though one might assume a painted intersection slows down drivers, SDOT has collected no such evidence. Jane Rebelowski, who runs SDOT’s neighborhood traffic program, told us, “Painted intersections are a community-building tool, not a traffic-calming device. Often speeding is done by neighbors. But when people start thinking about it, they’re aware of their neighbors.” She conceded, “There may be indirect traffic calming effect.”
Rebelowski has worked extensively with the group of neighbors who are volunteer ladybug stewards to put together guidelines for others to create their own painted intersection. An excerpt:
You’ll need to get your design approved by the Seattle Department of Transportation’s (SDOT) Neighborhood Traffic section and obtain a permit from SDOT’s Street Use Division to paint your intersection. But we’ll work with you throughout the process. Here are some of the rules and requirements.
1. Intersection paintings are only allowed on residential (non-arterial) streets.
2. Only the driving area can be painted, not the curb/gutters/sidewalks.
3. Only special paints (Rodda is one manufacturer) that have grit added to increase skid resistance are allowed.
4. The design needs to be approved by SDOT’s Neighborhood Traffic. There aren’t many specific rules on designs that are acceptable. It can be abstract, or it can represent something. But it can’t mimic “official” pavement markings, such as stripes, to ensure that drivers aren’t confused. No words are allowed, and there are obvious things we can’t allow, such as advertising, and culturally insensitive images.
5. A petition is required to ensure tha the community is on-board.
6. A temporary street use permit from SDOT is required, along with an annual street use permit.
No other neighborhoods currently have painted intersections, but in August a giant turtle will be painted at Interlake and N. 41st, and another street painting is planned for N. 80th and Stone Way in September.
Higbee, meanwhile, has moved down to Madison Valley, but his passion for painted intersections hasn’t flagged. “The ladybug was outstandingly successful in bringing neighbors together,” he said. “It’s a testament to the process, and it’s an excuse for a big block party.”