By observing crosswalk interactions and speaking with local pedestrians, our research team learned how crosswalks serve a utilitarian function in shepherding pedestrians through a transition space from one side of a street to another. However, we are also able to view the crosswalk as a creative social space that is representative of the community within which it resides. In this project, we wanted to further explore interactions with the crosswalk through that lens and see if we could learn more about how a crosswalk can encourage creativity within a communal space without sacrificing any of its core functional usability.
Goal: How might we encourage communal creativity in a public pedestrian space?
Brainstorming and Planning
We began our brainstorming process by looking at how existing creative crosswalks serve the community. An example of this is the rainbow-colored crosswalk at the intersection of 10th Street and Piedmont Ave in Atlanta. The installation was initially introduced as a way of demonstrating the city’s support of the local LGBTQ community and was meant to only exist temporarily during the 2015 Pride celebrations. However, the community petitioned the city to make the crosswalk design permanent as a representation of the area’s history with the LGBTQ community of Atlanta.
However, after discussions with the Department of Public Works of Atlanta, it became apparent to us that we would not be able to implement a similar installation on an existing city crosswalk within the given timeframe of the project. In order to account for this, we transitioned our view of the crosswalk to a space of transition for pedestrian traffic. This shift allowed us to utilize the pedestrian walkways available to us on the Georgia Tech campus as a surrogate for the traditional crosswalk.
To better understand how pedestrian traffic is managed in creative and communal spaces, we took inspiration from theme park design. Specifically, we looked at how foot traffic is managed in Disney’s Epcot park. Pedestrian walkways, entryways, and exits are placed specifically to encourage pedestrians to interact with surrounding attractions and installations.
We decided to create a makeshift roundabout centered around an interactive installation outside the north side of Clough Undergraduate Learning Center. We chose this space because it is an area that experiences a high density of foot traffic as well as vehicular traffic from scooters and bikes. We wanted to see if introducing a roundabout would provide a sense of order to the normal chaos of traffic here, as well as seeing if the interactive piece would impact how people would go about their transition through the space, whether they chose to interact with it or not. In designing the roundabout, we chose to delineate space for both pedestrian and cyclist traffic with the use of different lines. The orange triangles indicate traffic cones to provide some dimensionality along the z-axis to visually indicate points of entry and exit.
The centerpiece installation that we chose to use was a Thanksgiving tree that was built using a large barren branch, about eight feet in height. Pedestrians willing to interact with the tree would write down what they were thankful for during the Thanksgiving season onto a papercut leaf and attach it to the tree using a small piece of ribbon. This artifact was chosen as our centerpiece due to the seasonality of the idea and the large scale to attract attention. It was also interactive which allowed the tree itself to eventually become a representation of the thankful feelings of the Georgia Tech community.
The roundabout was constructed outside of Clough at 7AM on the morning of November 20th. We marked the lines that made up the roundabout with spray chalk, utilizing color to demarcate spaces for different types of traffic. Cones were placed at the points of entry and exit as indicated in our mockup. Finally, the tree was placed in the center of the roundabout with a table for the leaves, ribbons, and markers.
At all times, there was a member of the research team by the tree to invite passing pedestrians to come and share what they were thankful for on a leaf. Doing so helped increase visibility of the installation and encouraged community interaction. The installation was available for interaction for a total of 4 hours.
Research Practice and data
Over the course of the 4 hours where the installation was available for interaction, research was gathered through a combination of observations and directed storytelling.
In our observations, we looked at how both pedestrian and vehicular traffic flowed through the roundabout. Specifically, we were looking to see if the markings we placed to indicate a roundabout affected traffic in any real noticeable fashion. By our estimates, roughly 30% of cyclists and 15% of pedestrians noticed the markings and adjusted their path of travel accordingly.
In our conversations with participants who came to interact with the tree, we asked them to share any stories they had about traffic in the space where the roundabout was set up. We received several stories of conflicts between pedestrians and cyclists, including rumors of the space being turned into a dismount zone for cyclists in order to reduce the risk of collisions occurring.
As a supplement to our data gathering activities at our makeshift roundabout, we were invited to attend a meeting of the Bicycle Infrastructure Improvement Committee (BIIC) to share our findings from our experiment. We were able to gather feedback from the members of the BIIC, which included students as well as staff from Parking and Transportation, Capital Planning and Management, Facilities, and GT Police. The BIIC was interested in our activities because they were looking at methods of improving the flow of traffic through that space by encouraging cyclists to slow down. When we presented what we had done, we received some skepticism towards its feasibility as a realistic solution due to conflicts with fire truck access and making the space accessible and navigable for the differently-abled population on campus. Our time with the BIIC allowed us to recruit the perspectives of experts who can approach the issue of shepherding pedestrian traffic from angles that we were not equipped to address. However, the BIIC is an organization who is dedicated first and foremost to the safety of pedestrians and cyclists, so they were less interested in our approach of exploring the crosswalk as a communal and creative space.
While our observations showed little indication of pedestrians and cyclists adjusting their path of travel if a roundabout were to be implemented in this space, this may be due to the unofficial nature of our makeshift roundabout and the limited vertical dimensionality of our implementation. It is hard to say based off of our findings whether a more official roundabout with raised medians would result in different behavior by either party. That being said, we did not see any indication of our implemented roundabout making traffic any worse that it previously was and we did observe both pedestrians and cyclists slowing down as they crossed through the space.
In terms of communal creative engagement, we received upwards of 40 participants engage with the installation over the course of 4 hours. Since there was no indication of the installation itself affecting the safety of travelers through the space, we can conclude that our experiment was successful in encouraging community engagement within a pedestrian transition space without sacrificing any of the core functional usability of the space.