The city council in Ames, Iowa, is refusing to comply with a federal request that the city remove its rainbow crosswalk for safety purposes.
What are the details?
The council hosted a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the "inclusive" crosswalk in September. The crosswalk is meant to promote diversity and inclusion, and make all people feel welcome in Ames.
The U.S. Department of Transportation's Federal Highway Administration, however, sees the city's attempt to promote diversity as nothing more than an unwelcome distraction. The department issued a strongly worded warning to remove the colorful crosswalk and revert to its standard white crosswalk to avoid dangers to pedestrians.
"The white crosswalk markings allowed are tested and proven to be recognized as a legally marked crossing location for pedestrians," a letter from division administrator Mark Johnson read. "Crosswalk art diminishes the contrast between the white lines and the pavement, potentially decreasing the effectiveness of the crosswalk markings and the safety of pedestrian traffic."
Mark Lambert, an attorney for the city, told the Des Moines Register that the Federal Highway Administration doesn't have jurisdiction over the city roads and crosswalks.
"In terms of jurisdiction, we don't believe the highway administration has any," he argued. Lambert advised the city council of the same.
A portion of his letter to the council reads, "With the system of federalism in the United States, the federal government does not have jurisdiction over everything. I note that the FHWA's letter included a 'request' — not a demand — for the city to remove the colored crosswalk markings. This is not a lawful order or demand by a federal agency, it is merely a request."
What happened next?
The city agreed with Lambert's assessment and determined that the council would not remove the colorful crosswalk.
"As I said in my memo, [FHWA] couldn't explain to me how they had jurisdiction over city streets, they were unaware of any penalties, and said they were still researching that," Lambert said during a Thursday council meeting. "Frankly, I think that according to the manual itself, there's a good argument we're not violating the manual, since there's no prohibition on colors."
Administration spokeswoman Nancy Singer told the Register that federal law stipulates that regulations implemented the U.S. Department of Transportation and the Federal Highway Administration's Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices for Streets and Highways apply to all highways and streets to promote safety and uniformity, federally funded or not.
"MUTCD requirements would apply even if federal funds were not used," Singer said.
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