Thursday was the last day of summer, but the sunny season will linger in one Seattle community, where a group of neighbors recently transformed an entire city block by painting the street with a vivid garden scene.
The mural took shape in Greenwood, next to the Evanston P-Patch. Before the project, Evanston Avenue North looked like any other stretch of asphalt. Now, a green vine creeps up the block, connecting a giant red strawberry at North 101st Street with a giant yellow sunflower at North 102nd Street.
Neighbor Tom Lang helped organize the project as part of an effort to boost safety on the area’s residential streets, which many motorists use to cut between arterials. Streets like Evanston Avenue North have no traffic signals and no sidewalks. Only some intersections have traffic circles.
Seattle established a goal in 2015 of eliminating traffic deaths by 2030, but there were 30 deaths in Seattle last year, the most since 2006.
In 2020, Lang and other residents secured a grant from the Seattle Department of Neighborhoods to make “home zone” safety changes, initially concentrating on a plan to calm traffic with barrel planters.
When they had to scale back the plan, due to Seattle Department of Transportation restrictions on where the planters could be installed, they decided to spend some of the grant money on paint, Lang explained. His wife, Carrie DeBacker, designed the mural. She gave the piece a garden theme to match the adjacent P-Patch, where the couple have a plot.
“The P-Patch is a gem … I wanted to extend the vibe,” DeBacker said.
An analysis of 17 sites across the country, published earlier this year by Bloomberg Philanthropies, reported lower crash rates after the installation of crosswalk and/or roadway art (in conjunction, at some sites, with other street-safety improvements). SDOT worked with the Lake City Collective community organization last year to install a street mural depicting a Tlingit ocean monster, as part of a safe-streets effort near Little Brook Park.
In Greenwood, more than a dozen volunteers spent a hot, smoky day spreading 14 gallons of special paint across the pavement. Since then, DeBacker has noticed neighbors walking along the vine and riding bikes around the strawberry. Lang thinks motorists are paying more attention, thanks to the mural.
“People are slowing down,” he said. “They see something there.”
The paint is supposed to last for a couple of years. Some beloved street murals are periodically repainted, like a ladybug in Wallingford, a blue whale in Rainier Valley and the phrase “Black Lives Matter” on Capitol Hill. Lang hopes to maintain the Greenwood mural that way, he said.
“We’re looking at a lot of opportunities to do this kind of stuff,” said Dahvee Enciso, a civil engineer and SDOT’s expert on roadway art, describing the projects as a “win for everybody” because they look cool, bolster safety, allow neighborhoods to express their identities and bring people together.
Street mural permits are free, with information about how to apply and about grant opportunities available on SDOT’s website. The agency’s public space management team can be reached at 206-684-7623 or email@example.com. Enciso recommends talking with neighbors before applying, to build community support for a project. SDOT can advise on designs and materials, he added, urging residents to apply.
“Do it,” he said. “Let’s use the city of Seattle as a canvas.”