At the beginning of September, the city of Ames, Iowa unveiled freshly-painted crosswalks in the colors of three key Pride flags: the trans flag, the non-binary flag, and the updated rainbow flag (which includes black and brown stripes to acknowledge LGBTQ people of color).
Mayor John Haila described the decision as a gesture of inclusivity towards minority communities in the city:
This crosswalk is a small but visual way of demonstrating that we are a community that respects and appreciates all people. Ames is a diverse community. It is important to communicate that everyone is welcome and invited to come participate and interact with our community.
Naturally, this meant the federal government simply had to object.
The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), which is under control of the Department of Transportation, which is headed up by Secretary Elaine Chao, who is also the wife of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, sent a letter asking Ames to replace their colorful crosswalks with the more traditional white markings to comply with federal safety standards. The argument here is that the white markings help with public safety.
The Ames City Council has decided to ignore the request.
City Attorney Mark O. Lambert sent a memo addressed to the Ames mayor and city council, outlining his own interpretation of the situation.
The FHWA doesn’t appear to have jurisdiction over the roads where the crosswalk is, Lambert wrote, since the streets are not part of a federal highway and receive no federal funding. Instead, he said it should be up to the state of Iowa to decide whether the federal traffic control standards were enforced on its streets.“With the system of federalism in the United States, the federal government does not have jurisdiction over everything,” Lambert stated in the letter.
Looks who’s using the “states’ rights” argument now…
The question of whether Pride flag crosswalks compromise pedestrian safety was taken up in an Edmonton study, the Rainbow Crosswalk Pilot Project, in 2015. The city found that rainbow crosswalks were just as safe and effective as standard ones.
What’s more, the official Manual of Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD) has specific guidelines about the lines required to indicate a crosswalk. However, these rules only require the city to indicate crosswalks with two parallel white lines running perpendicular to the road. The Ames crosswalks are compliant with those guidelines.
Lambert also pointed out that the FHWA didn’t demand a response in its letter; the department merely requested the change. All the more reason to just say “we’re good” and ignore it.
As for why a federal transportation agency tasked with maintaining highway safety would go out of its way to pressure a municipality to remove crosswalks expressing support for the LGBTQ community, it’s anyone’s guess. But under this Republican administration, pressured by conservative Christian voters, it’s not that difficult to connect the dots.
(Screenshot via YouTube)