Crosswalk-gate in Haines
Haines is in the midst of an arts revival. I mean, we've always had a lot of artists, but thanks to Carol Tuynman and the Arts Confluence and the Art Place America grant, there's a surge of public art, with much if it appearing in a kind of contagious way now, and not part of the project-- like the fantastic new mural on the old Gross Theater building, the sculpture in front of the Quick Shop, and even The Borough got into the spirit and hired the talented Miss Merrick to stencil a few crosswalks with salmon and mermaids, and at the cruise ship parking lot she had even more creative fun with a fishing boat and bolder colors. The cross walk art has made just about everyone smile. They really are perfect, as they combine all Haines' strengths-- the wild salmon and commercial fishing folks are celebrated, the arts and artists, the newly revitalized downtown and our local merchants-- and they are a nice way to welcome tourists and support the visitor industry, too. There is also that sense of community pride they bring, and that has nearly everyone, it seems, sprucing up a bit this summer, which is all a win-win-win.
Then came the order from the Alaska Department of Transportation last week to paint over the salmon and mermaids-- make them gray to match the road, or else. They are, DOT says, an unsafe distraction to pedestrians and drivers. Everyone howled "NO!"
(Have the powers that be seen Main Street? The speed limit is 25 mph, and most people don't move that fast downtown. It's so quiet at the four-way stop sign at 2nd and Main that there's not even a traffic light there-- even on a high summer cruise ship day like when I took these pictures-- drivers wave each other through, mostly ignoring the DMV rules in favor of letting the other guy go first, to be polite. )
Turns out the issue is, as always, a little more complex than pretty art and public pride and silly government over reach. The state owns Main Street, and they maintain it, and because of federal and state funding sources, Main Street by law, must meet uniform highway standards, which are the same from Haines to Buffalo, as the DOT spokesman told me. This is why downtown banners and Christmas lights need special permits, and why the awnings have been removed from some store fronts because they are in the state right-of-way.
The solution to making Main Street look and feel more like ours may be to have The Borough own it. (That however is controversial because it would cost local dollars to plow and repair and, yes, paint the crosswalks.) Still, if Main Street were ours, we could have all kinds of pretty crosswalks and wider sidewalks, and nicer awnings, and directional signs.
There is one other way to keep the salmon and mermaid swimming across on Main Street this summer, and that is a kind of administrative dispensation. Governor Walker can do it. He has a lot on his mind right now, what with the crash in oil prices, and the billion-something deficit, and another special session, but he may want to do something that Alaskans will like. He can be reached at 907-465-3500, or you could try Lt. Gov. Byron Mallot at 907-465-3520. (He has a soft spot for Haines.)
Also,it turns out the cruise ship dock parking lot crosswalk is probably okay, because it isn't on the state/federal highway. I just love it, don't you?