The removal of a rainbow pedestrian crossing on Oxford Street has sparked a public debate centred on the risk of safety issues versus gay pride and tolerance. Painted on the busy 6-lane intersection at Taylors Square, the “colourful crossing” was to be a temporary display marking the 35th anniversary of the Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras. The paint was set to be removed at the start of April, however wet weather delayed the process and saw a backlash of protestors on social media sites and in the media, most of whom expressed anger about the “mean” decision to remove the symbol of “respect and tolerance”, as the Sydney Morning Herald reports. While the NSW Minister for Ports and Roads Duncan Gay commissioned $75, 000 for the project last year on the condition that it would be removed after one month, he reported that consultations with the Roads and Maritime Services (RMS) indicated the cost would be stretched to $110, 000 to cover compulsory video surveillance, traffic control during the installation and removal, variable message boards and removing the paint. A safety audit of the crossing that was conducted independently in the planning stage of the installation showed a “low safety risk” for the attraction, and the RMS didn’t raise any concerns. As The Australian reports, a petition to keep the crossing there permanently was started by Sydney Independent MP Alex Greenwich and received over 15, 000 signatures, while Sydney Lord Mayor Clover Moore encouraged “rallying” against the removal, stating that it should remain the ‘heart’ of the gay precinct. Mr Greenwich said he believed having it as a permanent attraction would draw tourists into the area, and provide trade for local businesses, while “ripping it up” would “send the wrong message” about respect for Sydney’s Gay and Lesbian community. However Mr Gay said the Council’s own safety audit, conducted over 30 days in response to the petition, found that the behaviour of pedestrians at the crossing “set off alarm bells” and posed “significant public safety concerns” for pedestrians and vehicles. While no car accidents were reported during the period, Mr Gay cited footage of “cars queuing up” at green traffic lights waiting for pedestrians to move along the crossing. 15 incidents were reported, which were mainly people sitting or lying on the crossing and posing for photographs. The audit recommended “improvements to reduce or eliminate potential safety issues for road users”, while those opposing the removal on social media sites suggested signage telling pedestrians not to loiter would be a more “gay-friendly” move than “painting the rainbow black”. Steps taken to reduce risk must be a balanced decision that takes into account the reduction in quality of life that the steps cause, as well as the level of consequence and the likelihood. Lismore Mayor Jenny Dowell told ABC News that Sydney’s rainbow crossing has seen gay activists exert pressure for a similar crossing in the lead-up to the 40th anniversary of the Aquarius Festival, which celebrates “alternative lifestyles”. Ms Dowell said that the RMS pointed out that because a rainbow crossing is not ‘standard’, the person who painted it would be “liable for any accident that happened on the crossing”, and commented that people should be warned of the “public liability on a main street.”
Mr Gay was supported by road safety experts in the decision to remove the crossing, who have agreed that anything but the “regulatory zebra colours” for crosswalk markings could be confusing, and recommend a replacement ‘rainbow’ near Oxford Street away from pedestrian traffic and cars. The rainbow was removed on April 10, and with it the risk of fatalities and injuries stemming from the colourful crossing.