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Colorful new mural in downtown Tampa aims to protect pedestrians

The rainbow-like design on N. Ashley Drive is a project by local artist Meaghan Farrell Scalise and the Tampa Downtown Partnership.
Local artist Meaghan Farrell Scalise, who led the mural project, poses for a photo on the crosswalk at North Ashley Drive and East Polk Street. The new artwork along North Ashley Drive was sponsored by the Tampa Downtown Partnership, on Monday, Sept. 21, 2020 in Tampa.
Local artist Meaghan Farrell Scalise, who led the mural project, poses for a photo on the crosswalk at North Ashley Drive and East Polk Street. The new artwork along North Ashley Drive was sponsored by the Tampa Downtown Partnership, on Monday, Sept. 21, 2020 in Tampa. [ MARTHA ASENCIO RHINE | Times ]
Published Sep. 21, 2020
Updated Sep. 22, 2020

TAMPA – For years, Tampa city officials have struggled to find a way to keep pedestrians safe as its downtown core draws more people.

It’s a conundrum that’s consistently landed Tampa near the top of national rankings among the deadliest cities for pedestrians and bicyclists. But Tampa artist Meaghan Farrell Scalise and the Tampa Downtown Partnership are hoping their latest project will prove that making the city’s streets safer doesn’t have to take millions of dollars or years-long infrastructure projects.

“The goal is to find a way to help improve safety, which everybody wants, but maybe do it in a way that’s quicker than a big, major infrastructure project and would cost less money,” said Ashly Anderson, director of marketing and design for the Tampa Downtown Partnership. “Through Vision Zero we’re finding cool incremental changes we can make in our downtown, sometimes just in a weekend, that can have a real big impact.”

The project stretches six blocks across North Ashley Drive in the heart of downtown in a neon, technicolor rainbow. Farrell Scalise and her team of five other artists from Traditional and Digital Arts design studio transformed the asphalt from the Interstate 275 off-ramp at East Tyler Street to the Platt Street Bridge and West Kennedy Boulevard into a groovy mural Farrell Scalise calls “Reflection Current.”

“The bright colors signify energy in movement, engaging one’s consciousness to the twists and turns in life’s ever-moving current, along with connectivity to each other,” Farrell Scalise said.

But the mural also does something more. The curves of its flowing pattern simulate curb extensions like the expensive, concrete walkway extensions the Florida Department of Transportation recently added to West Kennedy Boulevard. The bright colors were chosen for their ability to draw attention to existing crosswalks and bike lanes, which are now lined with the small reflective poles seen on highways called “flexible delineator posts." Decorative planters have also been placed at each intersection, giving more presence to pedestrian pathways that line the street.

New artwork along North Ashley Drive, sponsored by the Tampa Downtown Partnership, on Monday, Sept. 21, 2020 in Tampa.
New artwork along North Ashley Drive, sponsored by the Tampa Downtown Partnership, on Monday, Sept. 21, 2020 in Tampa. [ MARTHA ASENCIO RHINE | Times ]

“We’re not trying to communicate transportation directives or change traffic patterns or anything like that, so we were careful not to use colors like green and red — nothing that would confuse a driver,” Anderson said. “The goal was to simply enhance the overall beauty and vibrancy of downtown in a purposeful, thoughtful way that would tackle some of these safety concerns naturally.”

For five days, city maintenance and transportation crews steered traffic away from the thoroughfare while Farrell Scalise and her team pressure washed, primed, prepped and painted the street. According to Anderson, the Tampa Downtown Partnership covered all costs for the $30,000 mural.

North Ashley Drive’s makeover is similar to projects launched across the country in recent months under the global Vision Zero Network’s “Paint Saves Lives” campaign. In October, Tampa Mayor Jane Castor joined the initiative, which aims to eliminate pedestrian, bicyclist and vehicular deaths on city streets. In Hillsborough County, a Vision Zero goal resolution has been adopted by the Tampa City Council, Hillsborough County Commission, Temple Terrace City Council, Plant City Commission, and by the School Board of Hillsborough County.

New artwork along North Ashley Drive, sponsored by the Tampa Downtown Partnership, on Monday, Sept. 21, 2020 in Tampa.
New artwork along North Ashley Drive, sponsored by the Tampa Downtown Partnership, on Monday, Sept. 21, 2020 in Tampa. [ MARTHA ASENCIO RHINE | Times ]

Ashley Drive was an ideal place to start because of its proximity to downtown’s Interstate 275 off-ramp and the many attractions that line its path, like Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park and the David A. Straz Jr. Center for the Performing Arts, Anderson said.

“Street murals offer many benefits including calming traffic, increasing pedestrian visibility, and adding a touch of beauty to our neighborhood streets," Castor said in a statement to the Tampa Bay Times. “We are very excited to have this new artwork along one of our downtown corridors.”

The mural’s completion coincides with this year’s Virtual Vision Zero Leadership Summit, which begins Tuesday with panel discussions on traffic safety, haphazard growth patterns and disjointed planning processes plaguing growing cities.