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Was a renegade crosswalk on Costa Mesa’s Wilson Street left by a vandal or a vigilante?

Costa Mesa resident Jesse Jackson Thursday crosses Wilson Street with dog Cooper via an illicitly painted crosswalk.
Costa Mesa resident Jesse Jackson Thursday crosses Wilson Street with dog Cooper via a crosswalk an unknown person painted on the busy road earlier in the week.
(Susan Hoffman)
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On Costa Mesa’s Wilson Street — where the battle pedestrians wage daily against speeding vehicles and distracted drivers is typically a losing one — a new safety feature recently sprung up in the form of a crosswalk.

Those who frequent the area were surprised this week to see the painted stripes had appeared seemingly overnight near Wilson’s junction with Fordham Drive at the entrance to Wilson Park, ostensibly offering safe conveyance for those seeking to cross the busy thoroughfare.

“There’s lots of traffic,” said Costa Mesa resident Jesse Jackson, who on Thursday afternoon attempted to cross with his dog, Cooper, even as cars sped past. “We wait a long time to cross, [and] cars won’t stop for you.”

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Another man, heading from the park to apartments on Wilson’s south side, courageously traversed the span, forcing motorists to halt as he passed.

An illegal crosswalk seen this week on Costa Mesa's Wilson Street.
An illegal crosswalk cropped up earlier this week on Costa Mesa’s Wilson Street in the exact location where city officials proposed putting one last year.
(Quannah Driver)

A closer inspection of the painted configuration, however, immediately raised questions as to the crosswalk’s origins. This was no public works paint job — the safety feature was an act of vandalism.

City spokesman Tony Dodero confirmed the Costa Mesa Police Department had taken a report and said plans were in the works for the crosswalk’s removal.

“We are looking at ways to clean up the markings that someone put on the road,” he said Thursday. “It’s definitely going to get cleaned up.”

On Friday morning a Facebook post showed the rogue crosswalk had been blacked out.

While the city determined how to remediate what is essentially graffiti, others in the community were applauding what they call an incident of “tactical urbanism,” wherein citizens create temporary, sometimes unpermitted, improvements in public rights of way to provoke a material response from public officials.

Longtime resident Flo Martin, a member of the city’s Active Transportation Committee and nonprofit Costa Mesa Alliance for Better Streets (CMABS), lives about half a mile away from Wilson Park and often traverses the busy street while walking about 50 to 60 times each month.

She noticed the spray paint on Tuesday evening and said she admires whomever created the “citizen-installed” safety feature.

“When I saw that crosswalk I laughed — I was tickled pink,” she said Thursday. “I thought, this is so cool. Someone had guts and must have done it literally overnight.”

A man bravely crosses Costa Mesa's Wilson Street via a "citizen-installed" crosswalk on his way to work Thursday.
Cars come to a halt Thursday as a man bravely crosses Costa Mesa’s Wilson Street using a “citizen-installed” crosswalk on his way to work in a nearby apartment.
(Susan Hoffman)

Although it is prohibited, what sets the unofficial passageway apart from ordinary vandalism is that a crosswalk has for years been on the city’s wishlist for precisely that location.

In May 2022, the Costa Mesa City Council approved spending nearly $2 million on a Wilson Street Improvement Project, from Newport Boulevard to Placentia Avenue, that includes a series of traffic calming measures designed to help stack the transportation deck in favor of pedestrians and bicyclists.

A new crosswalk with a high-intensity activated crosswalk (HAWK) signal that would display flashing red lights to passing motorists near the entrance of Wilson Park was roundly approved by council members.

“There really is no safe way to cross the street from south of Wilson to north of Wilson,” said Councilman Manuel Chavez. “I see many kids have to jaywalk to go to that park, to the point where they almost don’t even use the park, because the traffic just goes too quickly. So I’m really excited to see that improvement.”

In a 6-0 vote, panelists approved a $1,795,390 bid from All American Asphalt to implement a bulk of the improvements. The work is funded by a $600,000 community development block grant (CDBG), $435,000 in gas tax revenue and an allocation from the city’s capital improvement budget.

Public Works Director Raja Sethuraman said at that 2022 meeting the city was on a tight timeline to spend the CDBG funds.

“We are in a time crunch on that one,” he said. “From my understanding we are already past the deadline, but they give us a grace period to be in compliance.”

Although some improvements have been made on Wilson Street, the promised crosswalk and HAWK signal are still outstanding. Dodero said the delay was related to procurement of equipment associated with the signal, estimating it could arrive in the next three to four months.

Martin said Thursday the renegade crosswalk should be kept until it can be officially replaced.

“I would hope they leave it as is and put up some kind of A-frame type yellow barriers in the middle turn lane as a caution,” she said. “It would be a shame for the city to spend more money to send out some work crew to clean it up.”

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