3D ‘zebra crossings’ stop drivers in their tracks

[Some relatively simple uses of presence can save lives; this story is from The Architects Newspaper, where it features other images; coverage in Mashable notes that India’s transport minister tweeted on April 27 that the country will be trying out the 3D paintings, and that the use of optical illusions as speed breakers was first pioneered in Philadelphia. For more on the use of road design illusions created to increase safety, see a 2014 story from BBC News. –Matthew]

Side and driver view of 3D zebra crosswalk in India

3D “zebra crossings” stop drivers in their tracks

By Jason Sayer
April 21, 2016

Earlier this year, it was reported that Saumya Pandya Thakkar and Shakuntala Pandya, two women from Ahmedabad in East India, had come up with an imaginative solution to stop cars and let pedestrians cross the road without the aid of traffic lights. Their “zebra crossing”— rectangular volumes drawn in perspective—appeared to do the trick.

While Thakkar and Pandya may have thought they were pioneering new techniques, this strategy had already been realized in Taizhou and Xingsha in China some eight years prior. Using bright and bold colors, these “3D” roadblocks-cum-crossings span China’s roads to deceive drivers. Here, instead of using the road surface as a color like in India, blue or red is added to amplify the three dimensional effect.

So far the 3D zebra crossings have been a success. “Pedestrians can now feel safer when crossing the street. It’s a great idea,” said cyclist Lee Wu. “It is so magical! It looks more like a roadblock watching from afar, and I could not help to slow down before I found out it is nothing but a zebra crossing,” said a driver. “It works well so far, as more and more passers-by tend to walk on this new zebra marking and more drivers give way to them,” added a traffic policeman from Changsha county.

Naturally, there are some are skeptical of the 3D road marking’s ability to implement safer conditions for pedestrians. Would not such a feature cause drivers to stop suddenly—and dangerously—in their tracks upon realizing that they’re careering into a red, white and yellow cuboid?

However, part of the success may not be down to the fact that drivers are being fooled into thinking that there is a real 3D object in their path. This illusion can only be achieved from a certain perspective. As drivers by nature are moving, this optimum perspective exists for only a few seconds, if that. Instead, motorists are more distracted by the presence of something brightly colored and abnormal on the road and slow down to inspect it.

A spokesman for the local traffic police in Taizhou said: “We want the new crosswalk to become a real safety belt for pedestrians and vehicles.”

In Ahmedabad, authorities have deemed the markings successful, although in China, one manufacturer is already selling a stick-on 3D solution. As featured on asia-manufacturer.com, the B4011X 3D Zebra Crossing is “self-adhesive and reflective” containing “glass beads for good reflection and skid proof effect; rapid and easy installation.”

The product is made from flexible polymers, pigments and micro glass beads and apparently lasts for up to two years when applied to concrete, asphalt, cement and marble. Such solutions are yet to make it across to Western Europe and the U.S., however, one can already imagine someone painting a depiction of the Beatles striding across a floating zebra crossing if realised.

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