Jeramey Jannene

City Lets You Paint Your Street or Sidewalk

'Paint the Pavement' program invites you to turn asphalt into artwork. But don't forget the anti-slip additive.

By - Aug 30th, 2022 07:31 am
Rainbow crosswalk in front of Taylor's. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

Rainbow crosswalk in front of Taylor’s in 2018. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

Milwaukee has no shortage of murals proliferating on the side of buildings, and now the Department of Public Works (DPW) is looking to increase the amount of artwork on the ground.

DPW is launching the “Paint the Pavement” program designed to create a framework to allow residents and community groups to paint crosswalks, sidewalks, curb extensions and side streets and intersections.

“Paint the Pavement builds on the Decorative Crosswalk program which premiered as a creative way to showcase streets as places for people to enjoy. Paint the Pavement is another example of the Department of Public Works’ commitment to this and aligns with other initiatives such as Active Streets, our parklet program, and special events permitting,” said interim Commissioner of Public Works Jerrel Kruschke in a statement.

The crosswalk program dates back to 2018. But in a handful of other cases, DPW has also allowed groups to paint intersections. In at least one case, a street was painted without permission (Defund the Police on N. Water St.).

The new program does not provide direct funding to paint surfaces, but does lay out what permits are necessary, what the application process is and what is and isn’t acceptable.

“This program is not intended to convert public right-of-way into a forum for speech, nor are designs intended to be an official traffic control device,” says DPW’s brochure. So no painting the letters “STOP” or “VOTE BIDEN,” nor any letters at all. “Can only include decorative design and patterns. Cannot contain text, numerals, symbols, overt messages or any images that may be perceived as hurtful, harmful, or hateful commercial messages, for-profit advertising, religious affiliations, promotions, or political commentary.”

DPW has identified what types of paint must be used, and that it must contain an anti-slip additive. The pavement also must be in good enough shape for the city to approve it being covered.

Those seeking to paint an area will need to apply for a Paint the Pavement permit, which includes a design review process, and, for everything other than a sidewalk, a special event permit to temporarily close the area.

The Paint the Pavement brochure also makes it clear that designs need to go on city-owned streets, not roadways that are technically county, state or federally controlled.

State control was an issue that needed to be mitigated with the city’s most notable painted crosswalk – the rainbow walkways near Cathedral Square Park at the intersection of N. Jefferson St. and E. Wells St. The east-west street is technically Wisconsin Highway 32. Federal regulations prevent colored crosswalks from being painted on state highways.

“This was a lot harder than it needed to be,” said Alderman Robert Bauman when the crosswalks were unveiled in November 2018. To get around the regulation the city determined that the east-west crosswalks at the intersection are part of N. Jefferson St., a local city street, and therefore safe to paint. The new program is designed to avoid that kind of issue.

A copy of the Paint the Pavement guidelines is available on Urban Milwaukee.

Leave a Reply

You must be an Urban Milwaukee member to leave a comment. Membership, which includes a host of perks, including an ad-free website, tickets to marquee events like Summerfest, the Wisconsin State Fair and the Florentine Opera, a better photo browser and access to members-only, behind-the-scenes tours, starts at $9/month. Learn more.

Join now and cancel anytime.

If you are an existing member, sign-in to leave a comment.

Have questions? Need to report an error? Contact Us