For a brief period in 2013 a rainbow striped crossing decorated Taylor Square in Sydney’s inner-city suburb of Darlinghurst, timed to coincide with the city’s Mardi Gras festivities. It became a social media hit but was quickly removed by the local government.
A few rainbow crossing design followed, and in 2015 a painted crosswalk in Philadelphia’s gayest neighborhood made a national splash, coinciding with the Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex marriage. The paint job was done by Traffic & Safety Signs, which does thermoplastic pavement markings for a number of cities including Boston and Philadelphia.
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While the rainbow crossings may have strong ties to the LGBTQ community, they’re also used as a reminder of transgender visibility and an expression of gratitude to emergency staff during COVID-19 outbreaks. And it’s important to remember that the same rules apply to rainbow crossing design as to any other pedestrians’ crossing: The stripes indicate that pedestrians have priority, and motor vehicles must stop for them, just like zebras would.
That being said, a rainbow crosswalk doesn’t appear to violate the Federal Highway Administration’s guidelines for road markings, which aren’t terribly strict. And while it’s possible that the rainbow stripes might pose a seizure risk to some people with photosensitive epilepsy, there are only about 3% of all those diagnosed with the condition. And it’s likely that the colors in a rainbow crossing aren’t as starkly contrasting as those in a zebra stripe, which could be more dangerous.