WASHINGTON – The grey-and-hot-pink aboveground tunnel at the corner of 14th and U Streets in Washington, D.C., is a public art installation—one focused on the relationship between pedestrian safety and street harassment.
Created by the architectural firm Marshall Moya Design, The Walkway is a 32-foot-long, 11-foot-wide, 9-foot-tall structure that lets those who walk through it experience a simulation of a busy street. Motion-sensor-triggered audio of city sounds and conversations accompanies faces displayed on the tunnel walls. Real, anonymous stories of pedestrian experiences that range from positive to negative, harmless to disturbing, are heard. They range from “I get an awesome feeling when I get greeted by a stranger and they look me in the eyes, smile, and ask how my day is going!” to “When I walk or ride my bike through some parts of the city I get catcalls—‘hey, baby’ and other comments that I feel demean me as a woman—just because I am walking or riding alone at the moment.”
As the tunnel lowers and narrows toward the middle, the audio grows more intense and the experience becomes threatening—before transitioning back to openness and harmlessness at the end.
Research has shown that street harassment can endanger those receiving it—causing them to alter their routes suddenly, perhaps crossing a street without looking, or in other ways putting themselves in harm’s way. The Walkway, which opened to the public on January 10, 2017, is part of the D.C. Department of Transportation’s Vision Zero traffic safety initiative, which involves community groups, government agencies, and area residents, and aims to eliminate all vehicle-caused fatalities of pedestrians and cyclists by 2024. It’s funded by Vision Zero, the Mayor’s office, the D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities, and Age-Friendly DC.
Visitors are encouraged to provide feedback through a website and Instagram; responses are analyzed, visualized, and shared at www.wlkway.com.
One of the designers, Zarela Mosquera, points out that the project has a broader purpose, too. She notes that the reflections of visitors to the work prompt the question: “What is the right way to talk to each other in a public space?”