A proposal for rainbow-colored crosswalks in the Central Ninth neighborhood could end up creating new landmarks for Salt Lake City’s LGBTQ community.
If only the plan had funding.
The Utah Pride Center submitted a capital improvement request for the proposal last year, asking the city to spend about $460,000 to install the permanent crossings at the intersection of 900 South and 200 West.
Jessica Dummar, co-CEO of the center, said being visually inclusive creates normalcy around the sexuality and gender spectrums.
“As small as a crosswalk is,” she said, “it can be very impactful for someone that sees it once or someone that crosses it every day.”
Jonathan Foulk, the center’s vice president of festival and events, spearheaded the proposal after he moved to the city during the COVID-19 pandemic and noticed there were no rainbow crosswalks on Harvey Milk Boulevard, which stretches along 900 South from 1100 East to 900 West.
“The importance of having the rainbow crosswalk,” he said, “is to highlight the LGBTQ community (and) make this a destination for those in Salt Lake and across Utah.”
The colorful crosswalks would not only spruce up curb appeal, he said, but also be good for the economy because they would lead visitors to spend money in an area.
Project did not receive funding nod
A capital improvement advisory board reviewed the proposal and did not recommend funding. The mayor’s final capital improvement spending plan also did not include the crosswalks.
The City Council could ultimately decide to pay for the project as part of the capital improvement plan, but as yet no one on the council has pushed to do so.
Council member Darin Mano, whose district includes the intersection, wants to see the project come to fruition but acknowledged there were more pressing needs in the proposed budget this year.
Instead of asking his council colleagues to cover the price tag this year, he is urging Mayor Erin Mendenhall’s administration to explore ways to pay for the crosswalks in the future.
“Salt Lake City has, actually, a really strong LGBTQ population,” he said, “but we don’t have a specific place or iconic landmark, like other cities do.”
Andrew Wittenberg, a spokesperson for the mayor, said Mendenhall and her administration support ideas that promote diversity, equity and inclusion, and create a welcoming environment. Still, he said, funding decisions must weigh the infrastructure needs across the city.
Although the crosswalks didn’t rank as highly as other proposals, Wittenberg said, the administration “is willing to consider additional funding options for this project.”
Mano said the city could roll some paint onto the crosswalk for an easy, cheap installation, but it would wear off easily. Instead, he wants to see something lasting that would not require ongoing maintenance.
To accomplish that, he said, the city would need to carve out the surface of the street and fill it with color-integrated asphalt or concrete.
Mano said that’s partly why he isn’t asking the council to do something right away. He said it’s worth taking the time to explore how to make the project more of a landmark and economic driver.
“My hope is that the [city] Arts Council and mayor will also see value in this,” he said, “put their heads together and come up with a way that Salt Lake City doesn’t just have the same rainbow crosswalk that San Francisco has, but an even better one.”
For her part, Dummar, the Utah Pride Center’s co-CEO, said she hopes to see the crosswalks in the future but understands the city has a limited budget and not everything can be addressed.
A safe symbol for queer Utahns
The crosswalks would feel at home in Central Ninth.
The area is seeing more LGBTQ bars and clubs. And, in 2016, the city renamed a large portion of 900 South after Harvey Milk, the San Francisco politician who became one of the nation’s first openly gay elected officials in 1977.
The 20-block run of 900 South that is now Harvey Milk Boulevard is believed to be one of the longest sections of road in the country named after Milk, who was gunned down less than a year into his first term on the city’s Board of Supervisors.
Mano, who is openly gay, said Salt Lake City is a welcoming refuge for LGBTQ Utahns who may not feel safe in their communities. He wants the crosswalks to be a positive sign for them.
“I want them to get on TRAX,” Mano said, “come downtown for whatever they’re coming downtown for, and see this symbol that says, ‘You’re safe here. You can come to Salt Lake City and you can be yourself and we accept you.’”