Neighborhoods turn to murals to brighten area, slow speeders

By Laura McVicker, Columbian staff writer

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Take a stroll in Vancouver and you’ll find a lot more color on asphalt.

On East 31st and F streets, two giant colorful koi fish swim permanently on the east side of Vancouver School of Arts and Academics.

Elsewhere, ideas for murals have popped up in the Fircrest neighborhood and the Vancouver Heights area.

And it all started at the intersection of D and 22nd streets with an oversized green and white flower.

As the city’s first street mural, the flower was painted the summer of 2008 by members of the Arnada Neighborhood Association as a colorful and cost-effective way to deter speeding.

At that time, no other neighborhood associations had brought the idea to city officials, though street murals had been trending in Portland.

So three years later, how have these alternative traffic devices worked out?

Russ Pascoe, vice president of the Arnada Neighborhood Association, said the ornate flower outside his door has paid off.

Historically, motorists blaze along 22nd Street at high rates of speed because the road is wide and has few stop signs or stoplights. When the mural first went in, Pascoe said, drivers slowed just to check out what was so colorful.

“We’ve seen a marked difference. It catches people’s eye,” Pascoe said. “I’d have people stop and ask how to get a mural in their neighborhood.”

Diane Dunlap, who lives on 22nd Street near the D Street intersection, agreed.

“I know several people have said to me, ‘When I drive past that thing, it makes me stop and wonder what it is,’” Dunlap said.

That interest has prompted three other projects in other neighborhoods. Thanks to a grant, the Fircrest Neighborhood Association will put in a street mural at the Northeast 124th Avenue and First Street intersection. The Vancouver Heights Neighborhood Association will put in two murals: One at Omaha Way and Wichita Drive and another at Garrison and Morrison roads.

The projects are set to be completed this fall, said Brooke Porter, spokeswoman for Vancouver’s transportation department.

Porter said the street murals have become popular not only as speed deterrents, but as a way of giving residents an artistic stamp on their neighborhood. Porter didn’t have statistics on how they function as traffic-calming devices, like speed humps. She said the traffic calming has come secondary to the aesthetics.

“The mural itself may or may not act as an element to calm traffic,” she said by email. “Traffic is calmed by a number of criteria and is entirely dependent upon the local conditions.”

The problem now, though, is that Arnada’s mural is weathered and faded, not catching the same attention as before, Pascoe said. The street mural hasn’t been repainted since August 2009.

Pascoe said he hopes to gather a group of neighbors and secure a city permit to close the roadway one day this summer, so neighbors can repaint. He doesn’t have a date yet.

It’s the type of project that needs routine upkeep to reach its goal, he said.

“We’re going to have to do it every year to keep it decent,” Pascoe said.

Laura McVicker: 360-735-4516; Twitter: Col_Courts; laura.mcvicker@columbian.com.