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The dazzle at 13th and Locust just leveled up. The Philadelphia Gayborhood intersection is now wearing a ring of refreshed rainbow crosswalks.
These crossings not only have more colors than before — they’ll also last longer.
This is the first time the intersection’s rainbow design is being laid out in thermoplastic, Streets Dept. spokesperson Keisha McCarty-Skelton confirmed. The melt-on material used for bike and other street markings, it’s much more resilient than the road paint Philly previously used.
Each new crosswalk has 11 different stripes, to include all colors of the “Progress Pride” flag, which adds brown, black, white, pink, and light blue to the classic rainbow.
The result: a bright, cheerful celebration of pride in the streets.
The refresh was a long time coming, said Tami Sortman, president of the Washington Square West Civic Association.
“After many years of discussions and talks, we were thrilled when we found out” the city would do the striping in time for Pride Month this year, Sortman told Billy Penn. She initially thought the thermoplasty couldn’t be laid until 2025, because of the Streets Dept.’s paving schedule, but was pleasantly “shocked” to see it happen sooner.
No footprints or even bike tire treads marred the multi-hued lines as human traffic and a handful of east-west traveling cars flowed past.
Thermoplastic street markings is a specialty of Traffic & Safety Signs, the Kennett Square company hired by the city to do the job, according to job forman Tim Arthur. Most of the firm’s work is in Philadelphia, he said, made up of installing 25-mph legends, 6-inch lane lines, and stop bars.
The corner — which was once notorious for prostitutes and is now in one of the city’s buzziest restaurant and club zones — was first rainbow’d up in 2015.
Then president of the Philly Gay Tourism Caucus, Sortman was part of that original initiative.
“People were coming here and saying, ‘How do I know when I’m in the Gayborhood?'” So we decided we needed to demarcate [the area].” she said, explaining rainbow street signs came first, and then the crosswalks. “We decided it was important to demarcate where the Gayborhood was.”
The paint job made a national splash, especially when it happened to debut the day prior to the Supreme Court’s Obergefell decision legalizing same-sex marriage.
By 2018, however, wear and tear on the rainbow had left behind nothing more than an echo of the original. There were repeating bald patches where paint had rubbed away. Some colors had faded almost entirely.
“It’s been destroyed,” Fanny Price, director of Philly Pride Presents, told The Inquirer about the design. There were questions about who’d cover the $30k estimated cost for a new paint job.
A refresh didn’t happen until 2022, when crews painted a temporary set of rainbow crosswalks when they were at the intersection doing PATCO station accessibility work.
Meanwhile, Sortman was talking to the city about a way to make it more permanent. “It wasn’t fair to ask people to go out and roll the paint on, each time.”
Streets Department workers suggested thermoplasty, pointing to the brick crosswalks on the Avenue of the Arts section of Broad Street as example. It would cost more than paint — $250,000, per spokesperson McCarty-Skelton — but would be long-lasting.
Funding was eventually arranged by Councilmember Mark Squilla’s office, and the project kicked off. The intersection of 12th and Locust is also now permanently emblazoned with the 11-color stripes, Sortman said.
Her next project: Swapping out all the rainbow street signs “to have the full diversity colors,” Sortman said. There are 72 of them total, and funding for the project comes from all over — “The state, the city, private donors…it’s a labor of love.”
Updated May 24
Clarification: Tami Sortman worked on the rainbow crosswalks project separately from her role as president of the Washington Square West Civic Association.