“I was coming up with an optical illusion: If you cut out the asphalt and fall down into it, what you would see is water,” says artist Robin Merrill, who created both intersection designs. “Water doesn’t adhere to city or county borders. The whole theme is that water connects us all.”
Merrill, an artist, activist, and proprietor of the Upper Room Art Gallery, has been fascinated by water and how it runs beneath us. It reflects in her design. She hopes that it brings more awareness to water issues in South Florida, like sea level rise and fracking. "It does have a much bigger meaning," she says. "Water is so important and fragile, and it's right under our feet.
In 2014, the City of Fort Lauderdale put out a call for artists to design three intersections on East Las Olas Boulevard. Merrill submitted her designs, but they weren't chosen for those intersections. A year later, she learned that the City of Fort Lauderdale would be using her designs for the intersections at Breakers Avenue. "I think my design is more appropriate for this location, since it's closer to the beach and to water," she says.
Merrill is also a boisterous defender of pedestrian rights in Fort Lauderdale. Six years ago, two people were fatally struck by cars when crossing the street near her art gallery. Merrill was also nearly hit by a bus when crossing the street and witnessed similar close calls with others. She has criticized officials for not doing enough to lower the speed limit or make crosswalks more visible. Now, Merrill is pleased that her intersection designs will help make crosswalks more visible and cause drivers to slow down.
Painted intersections are considered “traffic-calming.” It's a European design strategy to keep cars and traffic from dominating streets. The idea is to implement new ways to make drivers slow down naturally, which in turn makes the area more friendly for pedestrians. These painted intersections should cause drivers to naturally slow down to appreciate the art.
"The crosswalk issue is such a personal quest for me. This will absolutely help," Merrill says. "I'm so glad that these intersections call for a respect for water and also make it safer for human beings trying to cross the street."
Merrill didn’t expect residents to be so excited and grateful about the new intersections. At the event, many stopped to thank volunteers for their work. In the future, Merrill says a third intersection on Breakers Avenue with a similar design will also be painted. Through the Upper Room Art Gallery, Merrill says she is happy to work with other neighborhoods interested in creating vibrant intersection designs.
To finance the project, the City of Fort Lauderdale received an "Art of Community" grant from the Community Foundation of Broward for their "Connecting the Blocks" program. This is part of the longer range "Vision Zero" campaign.