Group wants asphalt art to make Minneapolis intersection safer

Every day, some 20,000 vehicles pass along Olson Memorial Highway in North Minneapolis. But a local nonprofit wants to make this stretch of road safer for pedestrians by turning one of its intersections into a work of art.

"Olson Memorial Highway is at the very top of the high injury crash network in the city of Minneapolis," said Our Streets Mpls Executive Director, Jose Zayas Caban.

The city of Minneapolis says Highway 55 is one of the 9 percent of streets that account for 66 percent of crashes that are fatal or have serious injuries.

Our Streets Mpls is asking the city and the Minnesota Department of Transportation to apply for a grant for a pilot project at Olson Memorial Highway and Van White Boulevard that would paint brightly colored murals on the street, crosswalk and asphalt in and around the busy intersection to cause drivers to slow down and pedestrians to stand out.

"It is really effective. It is really simple to do. It's just as inexpensive as any other road improvement, but it benefits the community, and it also benefits local artists," said Zayas Caban.

The group says it started the push for an asphalt art project after a teenager who attends a nearby after-school program at Summit Academy was hit by a car while crossing the highway. 

A recent study in cities like Albuquerque and Kansas City found asphalt art projects can cut pedestrian crashes by up to 50 percent and all crashes by 17 percent.

"It helps reduce injuries and fatal crashes," said Zayas Caban.

Our Streets Mpls says the safety effort is part of a longer-term campaign to return Highway 55 to a neighborhood street, 6th Avenue like it was before the freeway went in, devastating the local Black and Jewish community.

They see the intersection as a blank canvas to paint a picture of better days ahead.

"Something as simple or as minor sounding as asphalt art could set the tone for what's possible on this highway for this community," said Zayas Caban.

City officials say they won't be able to apply for this year's Bloomberg grant by the June 12th deadline.

But they say if MnDot is willing, they could consider other ways to fund pavement art at that location.