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San Francisco's Castro District to get gay pride rainbow crosswalks

Following the lead of West Hollywood, San Francisco's Castro District is unfurling more of its LGBT pride by painting four of its crosswalks in rainbow colors.

Multicolored crosswalks at the intersection of Castro and 18th streets will be added as part of a larger streetscape improvement project for the area, said Andrea Aiello, executive director of the Castro/Upper Market Community Benefits District.

The crosswalk design, Aiello said, “emanated from the community,” and “there’s a feeling it represents the LGBT community and the important role it has played in this neighborhood.”

Aiello’s organization has agreed to pay $37,400 for the crosswalks, she said.

“Throughout the country, gay neighborhoods are changing” as gay people feel safer outside their boundaries and choose to live outside gay neighborhoods, Aiello said.

“This neighborhood certainly had a much stronger LGBT identity in the '70s, '80s and early '90s, but it’s still an important place in the culture,” Aiello said. “LGBT people still think, ‘The Castro, that’s where I can go to feel safe.’”

Aiello said the hope is that the rainbow-colored crosswalks will make a statement, especially to gay tourists from less gay-friendly places, that there is a place where gay people are welcome and safe.

Officials in West Hollywood – where more than 40% of the population is gay or lesbian, according to city surveys – made similar statements when they decided to add two permanent rainbow-colored crosswalks to the intersection of Santa Monica and San Vicente boulevards in 2012. City officials there said the crosswalks were important in branding the city as a gay destination and even suggested the specific Twitter hashtag #wehorainbow to brand the crosswalks.

West Hollywood, like the Castro, has faced an identity crisis in recent years as society has changed and become more accepting of LGBT people. City officials recently faced a backlash for removing a rainbow flag from atop City Hall.

The rainbow crosswalks in the Castro are being added as part of the larger Castro Streetscape project, a collaboration between city and private entities, said Rachel Gordon, spokeswoman for the San Francisco Department of Public Works.

The project will include crosswalk extensions, wider sidewalks, the addition of pedestrian lighting, new trees and bike racks, Gordon said. There is a “big push to try and make the streets safer for pedestrians and cyclists,” and the decorative crosswalks will hopefully “grab drivers’ attention and get them to slow down,” she said.

Construction on the larger project in the Castro began Thursday, Gordon said. The bulk of construction in the Castro, she said, should be done by Gay Pride month in June. 

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