Hey! Memphis College of Art and Overton Park Conservancy launch pedestrian safety campaign

Memphis College of Art and Overton Park Conservancy have kicked off a public awareness campaign to increase safety for pedestrians who use crosswalks around campus.

“We had a tragedy last year with one of our students being killed in the crosswalk at Tucker and Poplar,” said Laura Hine, Memphis College of Art president.

Poplar Avenue is the main thoroughfare between Midtown and East Memphis, and it's not necessarily a safe avenue for pedestrians. Throughout the day, the intersection sees steady to heavy traffic. It also serves as an entrance point for the college, a large apartment building, a residential street, Brooks Museum and the zoo.

And then there’s the park itself – families in cars, runners, bikers, dogs leading their owners – in addition to Levitt Shell during concert season.

“For us, there is an awareness because of the loss. We have come out very strongly in our internal communications about the crosswalk. I think the notion was some thought they could cross not at an intersection, and so we communicated very clearly using the pedestrian cross button," said Hine.

"It actually gives you more time to cross the street. And our kids are carrying portfolios, art supplies. So, they are heavily laden with their equipment."

To prevent another tragedy like 22-year-old Kelcie Ashmore, the college reached out to the Overton Park Conservancy and the City of Memphis engineer’s office.

The Conservancy was aware of the intersection’s hazardousness. It had already launched an ioby crowdsourcing campaign in 2016. They worked with an organization called Transit Center which offered matching funds to projects benefiting pedestrians, cyclists and public transit.

“Our offices overlook that intersection and we can see just how dangerous it is. We’ve seen so many car wrecks there and how hard it is for pedestrians to cross. The crosswalks were in pretty bad repair. The lines had really eroded. So, we thought - let’s start there," said Laura McMaster, 

There is a transit shelter right there. We were able to raise the full amount of funds and planned to turn those over to the city. Last year, they striped the crosswalks. They added the countdown clocks and put the protective crosswalk where pedestrians get about 10 seconds to cross before cars get the light,” said Melissa McMasters, director of communications with Overton Park Conservancy.

After fundraising, the Conservancy handed the proceeds over to the city, but the money was returned. “The city agreed to do the project on its own. So, they said ‘Hey, we don’t need the funds,’” said McMasters.

The infrastructure at the intersection limits current upgrades. Further improvements will be made in 2020, when federal funds arrive.

So it was decided the unspent OPC money would be devoted to a public awareness campaign. The Midtown campaign is based on the Medical District’s Vision Zero campaign and even uses some of the same materials.

In need of talent to create the visuals for the public awareness campaign, the Conservancy and MCA forged a partnership with art students contributing to the overall design.

“ ... We drive the notion in our students, artists can have contributions and change things in society. They do it in ways that other people can’t. It’s not a narrative. It’s a visual,” said McMasters.

Two work-study slots were created for students, who created signage for billboards and sandwich boards located around the park as well as an animated educational video.

“I met with the OPC about three times throughout the semester to discuss what they wanted and to show them my progress along the way. I made the designs for the t-bar design at the entrance of Overton Park, the sandwich boards in the park's entrance, and also a framed sign that's on North Cooper and Poplar,” said Oziel Jaurez, a junior graphic design student at MCA.

The video will be shown on screens around campus and during concerts at Levitt Shell.

“I have to cross that intersection several times a day and seen many scary, unsafe situations. Because of this, I knew how important it was to get more pedestrian safety information out there," said Esme Perkins, a junior animation student at MCA.

"For the film, I wrote the script, designed characters and environments, animated, recorded audio, and did post-production. As an animation student, the project was a big learning experience in video production and working with a client in general."

The video can also be seen on YouTube.

“One of my co-workers described it as a 'Powerpuff' feel. It’s really stylish and its focused primarily on the pedestrian. While the signage is focused on making drivers aware of pedestrians,” said McMasters.

Read more articles by Kim and Jim Coleman.

Kim Coleman is a journalist with over 20 years of experience in newsrooms as a reporter, editor and graphic designer, including ten years with The Commercial Appeal as Design Director/Senior Editor and Print Planning Editor. 


Jim Coleman is a freelance writer, covering a variety of topics from high school sports, community news and small business. He has written for different news organizations over the past 20 years, including The Commercial Appeal, Community Weeklies, Lexington Herald-Leader and The Albuquerque Journal.

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