Philadelphia's rainbow crosswalks are falling apart. Will anyone fix them?

The rainbow crosswalks at 13th and Locust Streets — an instant attraction when they were installed in June 2015 — have largely faded, beaten down by years of utility work and the constant thumping of cars and trucks.

What was once a landmark in the Gayborhood has arguably become an eyesore.

“It’s been destroyed,” said Franny Price, executive director of Philly Pride Presents, which organizes the city’s annual Pride parade and Outfest celebrations.

So Price and the city are seeking a more permanent solution: Thermoplastic, a material much stronger and long-lasting than the paint used three years ago. Other cities such as West Hollywood, Calif., have used thermoplastic to extend the lives of their rainbow crosswalks.

Camera icon Google Street View
The rainbow crosswalks in West Hollywood, a city near Los Angeles.

The question in Philadelphia is who would cover the cost, which is estimated to be more than $30,000. Price said she has talked to a potential donor but declined to name him, citing the ongoing talks. Amber Hikes, Philadelphia’s LGBT affairs director, said the city might seek help from Gayborhood businesses and residents if a plan were finalized.

Camera icon Layla A. Jones
The Philadelphia crosswalks just after they were installed in June 2015.

But when or if  that will happen is unclear. Hikes has been in talks with the Streets Department for more than a year to discuss the logistics of planning a new crosswalk. She said recently that she didn’t have a timeline for when the city might move forward, but she called the rainbow crosswalks a critical symbol.

“I feel like it’s important, especially during this time in our country’s history, that we as LGBT people assert our identity,” Hikes said. “That kind of visibility is really an act of resistance.”

The original crosswalks were never meant to be permanent, and they were showing wear and tear within the first week. No one has maintained them — though Price and others have used Swiffers to clean up tire treads and scuff marks within the first month.

Camera icon Franny Price
The Swiffers in action in 2015.

But those weren’t the only problem: Utility crews also painted arrows on the lines and, in some cases, performed work there. In December 2015, a man with a sledgehammer — later identified as a Philadelphia Water Department employee — pounded one of the crosswalks while investigating a leak.

The Streets Department said the paint used in 2015 cost $1,600, and the labor, done by city workers, cost $3,600. (The estimated $30,000 for the thermoplastic would cover the cost of both material and labor.)

Camera icon CAMERON B. POLLACK / Staff Photographer
Philly Pride performers walk over the crosswalks in June 2017, two years after they were installed.

The costs of building long-lasting rainbow crosswalks can vary widely.

The Federal Highway Administration has opposed crosswalk art, calling it “contrary to the goal of increased safety” because it can distract drivers and pedestrians. St. Louis, as a result, decided in 2016 to let its rainbow crosswalk fade.

There is no complete nationwide tally of rainbow crosswalks, which have grown in popularity in major cities in recent years but are not terribly common.