Art student paints Wausau crosswalks bright colors in effort to slow down trafficSubmitted: 08/15/2016
Story By Lane Kimble

Art student paints Wausau crosswalks bright colors in effort to slow down traffic
WAUSAU - When you lie down to paint in the middle of a street, you're bound to get noticed. But Sarah Lentz wants drivers to see less of her and more of her artwork.

"[Drivers should say] 'Whoa, what's that?'" Lentz said.  "And then they'll be like, 'Oh, pedestrians,' and then stop."

The Hamline University art and political science major painted brightly colored designs in front of the Wausau Center Mall's entrance on Washington Street Monday morning.  It's an intersection with a problem much deeper than aesthetics.

"For some reason, cars just refuse to stop at this intersection," Lentz, a Wausau native, said.

Lentz decided to use her skills to the city's benefit. Through her Wausau River District internship, Lentz brought the idea of "traffic calming murals" to the busy intersection. Using a handful of bright colors, Lentz and some helpers, including the Wausau Boys and Girls Clubs, painted bricks on two crosswalks in front of the mall.

"It's great to also interact with a lot of community members and help educate them about this intersection and just pedestrian safety as well," Lentz said.

Lentz took inspiration from similar projects in St. Paul and Portland, Oregon, to bring the idea to northern Wisconsin.

"We've actually already seen the impact," said Wausau River District Executive Director Liz Field. "It was amazing." 

Field says cars started stopping at Lentz's first crosswalk, which dried by late Monday morning.

"It's huge, especially as communities become more walkable and people demand that more," Field said. "Having a safe, walkable community is so important."

Pedestrian safety is definitely a priority, especially in a city where a number of people get hit by cars every year. Wausau police told Newswatch 12 that anything that helps notify drivers of a crosswalk is a good thing.

Wausau police estimate that up to 12 pedestrians get hit by cars each year, not including bikers. Police keep a close watch on places where people walk a lot, but it takes a community effort to keep everyone safe.

"We rely on those partnerships to maintain a high quality of life and to protect our residents and also our guests," said Wausau Police Lieutenant Ben Graham. "It's great that this person has decided to invest some time."

It's an investment Sarah Lentz is happy to make for her community, even if takes awhile to get results.

"With crosswalks, [the effectiveness of this art is] debatable, but either way it's still beautiful and fun," Lentz said.

The Wausau River District doesn't plan to stop with these crosswalks. They're looking at painting two more around the 400 Block next year.

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