March 21

Neighbors divided about proposed street mural



Although the street mural of a turtle painted in Wallingford had the support of 100 percent of its neighbors, a similar proposal to paint the Maple Leaf intersection at Northeast 96th Street and 12th Avenue Northeast seems unlikely to be as popular with some of its immediate neighbors.

Maple Leaf neighbors are considering painting the street at the intersection of Northeast 96th Street and 12th Avenue Northeast.

At a meeting Sunday afternoon to discuss the project proposed by Maple Leaf artist Rachel Marcotte, who also is the artist behind the Wallingford turtle, a couple of neighbors who live on the intersection expressed concerns that the street mural would decrease their home values and lead to excess traffic on their block.

Marcotte originally proposed a mural closer to her own home at the intersection of Northeast 102nd Street and 12th Avenue Northeast, which was rejected by the Seattle Department of Transportation because of the roundabout already at the intersection. But instead of giving up, Marcotte proposed moving the project six blocks south to one of the street’s few intersections without a roundabout.

“I love this neighborhood and this is the place where I want to live for the rest of my life,” she said at the meeting. “As a member of the community, I want to be more involved with my neighbors and a sense of place with my community.”

Marcotte explained that painting the mural, which would be a volunteer effort organized and maintained by the community, can produce that effect by bringing neighbors together to take part in the project, as well as creating a gathering area for neighbors. “I think it would be cool if we could create a new place that we can call ours,” she said.

Maple Leaf artist Rachel Marcotte proposes painting a dog mural on 12th Avenue Northeast because of its popularity among dog walkers.

However, adjacent neighbors aren’t so excited about having a gathering place right outside their homes, and are worried the mural could attract negative activity, such as the tagging at the turtle mural that a reader recently commented on.

Michael Sauer, a Wallingford resident involved with creating the turtle street mural, says so far the effect of the mural throughout the neighborhood has been mostly positive, and that he’s noticed a decrease in the amount of cars speeding through the intersection.

“Cars definitely do slow down,” he said, adding, “I look out my window every day with a sense of pride.”

But neighbors opposed to the Maple Leaf project were more in favor of having a roundabout in the intersection, an idea Meg Stockbridge, a member of the Maple Leaf Community Council’s executive board, said could take years to have installed, if at all because of the extensive traffic studies involved in the process.

Moreover, Marcotte added that a roundabout still could be a goal at that intersection even if the street mural project moves forward. “You can abandon the painting if it doesn’t work and get a traffic circle,” she said.

Street paint mixed with grit to add traction is used for street murals, but Marcotte said after the meeting that the murals don’t have to be a permanent project and that they can be pressure washed away. In fact, a community in Portland does that every year with its own street mural so neighbors can paint a new design, she said.

But the Maple Leaf project still has plenty of hurdles to jump before anything like that can even be considered. The design still has to be approved by SDOT, then 60 percent of nearby residents have to approve the project for it to move forward. And in the meantime, volunteers are needed to get the project started, including gathering those signatures and being in charge of fundraising and applying for grants.

Bill Lindberg, who dealt with some of the funding issues for the Wallingford turtle, said that project cost about $600 that the city matched with its Small Sparks Fund. But some of the matching money came in the form of volunteer time (calculated at $20 an hour) and other in-kind donations, such as supplies, food and drinks that local businesses donated for the weekend-long painting project. Marcotte added that Maple Leaf’s mural could be much less expensive because it’s much smaller: The Wallingford turtle design is about 100 by 100 feet, whereas the proposed Maple Leaf mural would be about 50 by 50 feet.

If and when the Maple Leaf project gets to that point, Marcotte also is seeking volunteers to get the word out about the project, an engineer’s help to transpose her design to street scale, shoppers to pick up paint and other supplies, and other organizers for the day of the project to keep it both on track and fun for everyone.

“I want somebody involved making sure it doesn’t get too serious,” she said, explaining that food, drinks and a block party-like atmosphere are an important part of the project.

To volunteer or for more information, contact Marcotte at or 206-522-4883.

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  1. I beg to differ, Really? and Kayla. From your postings, it seems to me that the “Seattle Way” is to act as if everyone should jump on your bandwagon just because you have an idea then ridicule anyone who wants to stop and consider the consequences of that idea. I don’t think anyone is implying that this is the most important issue on earth or that a mural would “open a Pandora’s box of debauchery”; just that we have a vested interest in what goes on in our neighborhoods around our homes. Read the more recent posts about the debate–there are issues to consider.

  2. “My demands must be heard, vetted, committeed, studied and accepted. It’s the Seattle Way.”

    HAHA! +1 billion to you.

    And because the message bears repeating, reposting Kayla’s apt response to this nonsense:

  3. I love the idea! I love the art work. While I respect the right of other’s opinions – I can’t help but feel I live in a neighborhood with a few crabby-pants! Geez! Lighten up! My family will sign up to volunteer and help any way we can.

  4. I live a block away, and I love the idea. Thank you, Rachel, for taking the initiative to do this. Sure, if we were choosing between artwork and adding nice curbed streets with sidewalks I might go for the curbs and sidewalks, but I don’t think that’s the choice. As for the artwork istelf, they clearly look like dogs to me. I’ve never seen a hyena with a ball in it’s mouth. But if someone has the time, inclination and talent to come up with some different options to vote on, that would be OK too. A maple leaf themed design could be lovely. Either way, my 1 year old son will love it!

  5. Hi Deirdre,

    In fact Seattle DOT _does_ indeed consider street murals to be traffic-calming – see at the bottom of this URL:

    There is lots of kumbaya stuff online about shared space and street murals. One organization,, produces little documentaries about livable streets, and one of their documentaries focuses on Street Repair, an organization in Portland that does street murals to build communities and improve safety (includes an interview with a Portland SDOT representative):

    Another video there looks at a similar street-painting project in Brooklyn:

    But people are painting street murals for residential safety not just in blue states, but also in red states:

    The kumbaya stuff makes people feel good, of course, but there is also a lot of nitty-gritty and dry research about street art and street murals as a part of traffic calming showing that they are good street safety. The terminology people use includes “living streets,” “shared space,” “woonerf” (a term borrowed from Dutch, since the Dutch have so many of these). You can look up any of these three terms on Wikipedia to learn more and also refer to their bibliographies, but one very good place to start looking at modern traffic calming (and how the U.S. is about a decade or more behind Europe in doing this well) is the _U.S. Traffic Calming Manual_ (Ewing & Brown, APA/ASCE 2009):

  6. As a cat person I demand cats be included! No inclusion of cats is discrimination against vulnerable members of our community and only reinforces the dogist social order forced on society by corporations.

    My demands must be heard, vetted, committeed, studied and accepted. It’s the Seattle Way.

  7. Anything is am improvement on that corner. Maybe someone from that church will come out and change the sign at the same time.
    Bring on the paint!

  8. One of the things to remember about these is that, indeed, they can be replaced later with a traffic circle (the very first one done in Seattle, in the Central District’s Squire Park neighborhood, was in fact replaced by a traffic circle and chicanes) and another is that the act of repainting the artwork – or replacing it with different artwork – is a great way to bring the neighborhood together. Close the street down for an afternoon, bring out the grills, let the kids and dogs play in the street.

  9. I support this project just because it is OK to do something merely because it is whimsical and fun. I think safety concerns are over blown, but that safety benefits are also over stated.

    I agree that it will probably age rapidly, but that that pretty much anything is more interesting than a bare intersection.

  10. I second the idea of maple leaf themed design! I would also suggest that more muted colors and perhaps a smaller design might bring more people on board. There’s really no reason the design has to be much bigger than a round-a-bout, is there?

  11. I Like the idea of a artwork there. I live a block away and walk that street every other day with my dog. However, I dont really care for the artwork. Something colorful is great, but it does look like it was done in 5 seconds. If we are going to put money into art, lets make it a little better.

  12. Its not going to fix all the worlds problems, save the environment or create any kind of neighborhood utopia but it will look better than a gray slab of cement.

    I like it

  13. I agree with some of the comments above about other, more valid and helpful things that people can do to help their neighborhood. How about picking up litter on the streets or helping an older neighbor with maintaining their yard, etc… The time and energy being used to debate this issue could be far better utilized to help this neighborhood.

    Sorry, but just because it might have bright colors doesn’t mean its going to somehow bring people together. I like the idea of the artist and/or people who truly support this type of art to get a local business in the neighborhood to offer a wall or parking lot to paint.

    Truly, the best option for this intersection to slow down traffic and that does not require everyone to agree on a painting is to put in place a traffic circle. Then the local residents can “come together” and divide up planting plants and maintaining the traffic circle. How many neglected traffic circles exist in the Maple Leaf that residents could spend time fixing up and maintaining?

  14. As a Maple Leaf home owner, I think I’d be OK with the Wallingford ladybug near my house.

    However, this artwork leaves a lot to be desired. I certainly wouldn’t want 4th grade art class quality work permanently outside my home. How about some choices of design? Put 3 or 4 options to a vote, find a majority winner, then see what the local residents think. It just doesn’t look like much effort went into this design. Just my amateur art opinion, but I don’t believe this adds any stylistic value to the neighborhood. And this deisgn is sure to rub some people the wrong way.

    Why not a depiction of some maple leaves?

  15. The practicality of a traffic circle and the art of… well, art are not equally exchangable. Art should be curated by art scholars, traffic circles should be managed by the city. 96th and 12th is not a safe intersection.

  16. As a resident on the street, I wonder if anyone at the city even looked at the street they are proposing? If they approve this mural, will they be fixing the ongoing drainage issues at that corner? Not a rainy day goes by without a pool of water building up. Adding paint to the street doesn’t fix this issue or the lack of commitment to curb appeal by homeowners.

    If we want to improve our block and neighborhood, let’s start with the basics. We’ll make that commitment…will you?

  17. I love dogs. They don’t look like dogs. They could be jackals, coyotes, hyenas, or ? ? ??

    Why would a dog lover be particularly interested?

  18. It’s just a matter of time until our Maple Leaf Mural gets tagged. I’d rather not have to explain to my kids why our mural has “F(_)qk You” painted on Spot’s back

    Why does the mural have to be on pavement? I’m sure the artist and mural fans could get a local business owner to donate a wall.

  19. Appropos of the “rotting ’60s/’70s style look”, as Waituhminute so kindly described our neighborhood, why not consider some kind of mid-century modern graphic pattern, ala stripes or waves or even polka dots, rendered in a tasteful-but-bright color scheme selected for maximal mood-lightening, without the lame cartoons?

    Staving off the rot and bringing in some all-tempa Cheer color IS a bright idea. But it is presumptuous to assume that the neighborhood is “stuggling to get rid of” any and all vestiges of its past. We live in a home of 60s/70s vintage that we chose for those very (mid-century modern) qualities.

    Another thing to consider when you’re admiring the Wallingford street mural; we don’t have nice smooth pavement here. The streets are tar and gravel and their texture is extremely pebbly. AND we don’t have nice tidy curbs to delineate the space, just an irregular apron of weeds, dirt and gravel (and ditches.) Whatever design is applied to this surface is going to be fuzzy and irregular in its rendering – on Day One. And it will only become moreso as traffic and the elements have their way with it and it begins to decay.

    How about a solid color? A bright red? Or a graphic oversized painted cobblestone pattern? Or, or, or, or……….

  20. My understanding is that after the ladybug was painted on an intersection in Wallingford, the City now requires 100% approval from the property owners who live on the corners of the intersection to create a new painting (in addition to the 60% approval of nearby residents.)

    Simon, as SDOT does not consider these street paintings to be traffic calming measures, it would be very helpful if you could post links to the studies you cite in your post.

    DC: Here is the link to the comments from the Wallingford blog about the repainting of the ladybug. (Scroll down for comments.) ML Resident, I hope you’ll read them too; the concerns raised here have indeed
    “been borne out by the experience there.”

  21. It’s true that the picture of the mural isn’t the greatest example of street art. The dog theme is apropos since a lot of people do call 12th “the Dog Highway” and we have so many dogs in this neighborhood. I also don’t object to the bright colours so much, either, since in cloudy weather that will be quite cheery. But the primitivist style of the dogs with their pointy snouts superimposed over a sort of of Zia sun symbol doesn’t say “Maple Leaf” to me, the way the Wallingford Turtle fits in with Wallingford in its own way. I don’t personally live on the intersection and I welcome the mural whatever it ends up looking like, but it wouldn’t hurt the folks who do live on that intersection to ask for a couple of thematic variations from the artist and see if a stronger design can’t be sussed out.

  22. How’s this for a concern: the artwork is horrible. Don’t like my opinion? Sorry, but unfortunately everyone has one. It looks like some hacky Where’s Waldo greeting card art from 1988. Or something on the side of a dog bowl. The worst dreck imaginable. I own a home not far from this intersection in Maple Leaf and if it were painted within viewing distance from my property I’d fight tooth and nail to preserve the uniform asphalt roadway. And if I were painting it on the entire front of my house (or, something else that my neighbors didn’t particularly care for, I dont’ know… The Battle of Gettysburg for example, or a giant picture of Fred Flintstone..) you can bet the adjacent property owners would take issue. And justifiably so.

  23. The fact that anyone can find fault with a STREET MURAL is beyond ridiculous. It’s art, people. Pandora’s box of debauchery doesn’t open just because people paint some dogs in an intersection.

  24. The process of ridiculing legitimate issues and objections begins. Just like it did over in Wallingford, if anyone cares to read the accounts of dissenting neighbors that were posted on the My Wallingford blog (provided they have not been removed).

  25. People with concerns should go and check out the Wallingford mural. It should help put their minds at ease. None of the concerns raised here have been borne out by the experience there.

  26. We’d love one in our intersection 15 blocks away if these neighbors can’t see it’s value. I’d love one to brighten up my block and get people to slow down a little. It seems like most of the voiced fears are unfounded, people fear change, even if it’s just adding on a brighter coat of paint.

  27. Area man, seriously. That intersection is already a dump! This would definately brighten up the hood for the better. Or would you like to keep that rotting 60-70s style look the neighborhood is struggling to get rid of?

  28. Simon, I couldn’t agree more (and research backs up your claim as well). I think this raises a fundamental question too: how do people view their streets? Are they meant for speed and efficiency? Or a place for all modes of transport? Given increased density and efforts to curtail driving, I think incorporating streets into the overall urban fabric, via art projects such as this, will better provide safety and help turn attention away from the automobile, an unsustainable mode (and space-taking) of transport.

  29. In Europe (especially the Netherlands and Germany) and Japan it’s very common to use irregular/unexpected painted surfaces to calm and slow traffic, not always in the form of a mural. Sometimes it’s painted-on cobblestones, sometimes it’s painted-on color stripes, etc. Lots of traffic studies have shown that adding features like this to public roadways actually improve safety.

    In a system like ours where pedestrians and cars are kept physically fully separate and where signage is bountiful, drivers operate in more of an oblivious mode: this is actually what allows accidents. When you remove excessive signage and harmoniously integrate different elements and provide unexpected features (like, say, a street mural) driving speeds go down and drivers become more aware of their surroundings: in other areas of the world they have found this increases safety.

    The aesthetics of whatever mural design is chosen aside, the very act of putting a mural down will likely improve roadway safety, not decrease it.

  30. The article says that the paint is mixed with grit for traction, so no, it won’t be slippery. I love the mural in Wallingford, I drive over it every day when I take my kids to school. It is so bright and cheerful and pretty, and I do agree that traffic slows down to look at it.

  31. Aside from the eyesore I can foresee safety issues. It’s a roadway, not a wall, not a daycare playroom. The artwork will look horrible very quickly due to traffic and weather wearing the image away. Plus, there is the potential for the painted surface to be more slippery for motorcyclists, etc.

    Dumb idea.

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