BENNINGTON >> Officials are working on a new plan after being told a plan to paint piano keys inside the crosswalks at Four Corners would be against federal regulations.
State and federal transportation agencies cautioned
the town would be liable in the event of an accident and could lose federal highway funding over the crosswalk project.
Another, similar project is now being considered for the Four Corners intersection, according to Town Manager Stuart Hurd.
The latest proposal submitted to the state — to be painted on the pavement in the middle of the intersection — would not interfere with the crosswalks and would be allowed, according to Robert Faley, regional administrator for the Vermont Department of Transportation (VTrans).
The new idea, which was reviewed by a VTrans traffic engineer, is for a North Star Compass with all four directions, bordered on all four sides by a keyboard.
Faley said the town can now move forward on the idea. Hurd said it wouldn't be painted until the spring.
Polly van der Linde, owner and director of Sonatina International Piano Camps in Old Bennington, first posed the idea to the Select Board on Sept. 19. The idea grew out of a "flash mob" students in her summer course organized this summer. She told members she'd pay for the cost of supplies and labor. In an interview on Friday, she said she wants to follow all of the rules, and wants to give "the gift of art to Bennington."
"For me, it's about doing something positive for the town," van der Linde said. "I've never had so many people writing to me in support."
"I had no idea it would turn into such a big thing, especially since this has been done in so many other places," she said.
Officials with VTrans and the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) advised against the proposal for Four Corners, the intersection of Main Street (State Route 9) and North and South Streets (U.S. Route 7.) The colored pavement constitutes "artwork" and would not meet federal safety and traffic standards, they said. They cautioned the town would be liable in the event of an accident and could lose federal funding for highway projects.
Resident Joey Kulkin said he contacted the agencies after he saw the crosswalk issue raised on Facebook.
"The Select Board did not seek input from the public and took action on a non-agenda item therefore shutting anyone out from voicing their concerns," Kulkin, the manager of Fiddlehead at Four Corners, wrote in an email to the Banner on Friday. "It was said and done before anyone could even ask a common sense question like, 'Why, if it is compliant and safe, isn't every crosswalk in this country artistically painted?' It just made sense that there must be a reason 99 percent of crosswalks all look the same, meaning they follow a standard."
The painted piano keys in the crosswalks would not comply with FHWA's Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices, the 800-plus page handbook that sets nationwide standards for pavement markings and traffic signs, David Kirschner with the FHWA wrote in an email to Kulkin last week. Kulkin then sent the emails to Hurd and the Banner.
Kirschner cited a 2013 FHWA ruling on colored pavement. The memo states patterns and colors that "degrade the contrast" of a crosswalk's white lines "are to be avoided." The ruling says treatments and patterns like brick and cobblestone are acceptable if they use "subdued" colors like rust, brown and tan.
"Crosswalk markings are standardized so that drivers and pedestrians can view them, quickly comprehend their meaning and purpose, and continue scanning the roadway for traffic conditions and other traffic control devices," Kirschner wrote in one email.
"Should there be a crash at this intersection the town is open to liability based on the non-compliant traffic control devices they would knowingly have installed," he wrote in another email. "The FHWA will not fund any projects or roadways which have non-compliant traffic control devices, and the withholding of funds could potentially go further than that."
Contact Ed Damon at 802-447-7567, ext. 111.