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Crosswalks in 3D Good Idea or Hazard?

October, 2018

Helen Dolphin

Crosswalks have been part of the road landscape in the UK since 1951. Their distinctive thick white stripes against the black tarmac have made these crossings one of the most easily recognisable road markings. 


However, although such crossings are generally well understood, they do not actively slow vehicles or give priority to pedestrians which can lead to unsafe behavior from both. Therefore, in recent years there has been a trend to favor pelican and puffin crossings, which use traffic lights to direct both drivers and pedestrians. 


However, a growing number of cities across the world are adopting the use of 3D crossings in a bid to slow traffic without the need for traffic lights. These crossings create the illusion of blocks in the road, even though the surface of the road is completely flat. 


The idea behind 3D crossings is that they create an optical illusion that instinctively causes motorists to brake on approach as they think there is something on the road, serving the same purpose as speed bumps but without restricting trucks and emergency vehicles.


The idea behind 3D
crossings is that they create
an optical illusion that instinctively causes motorists
to brake on approach.


The first place to trial these crossings was Ahmedabad, Western India in 2015 where 3D crossings were painted on four of their most dangerous highways. Six months after the crossings had been painted no pedestrian accidents had been reported. These 3D crossings have now been installed in other Indian cities.


It seems other countries are also following India’s lead. Last September a 3D crossing was installed for a trial in in Ísafjörður, Iceland. It is reported that Ralf Trylla, who is the Icelandic environmental commissioner, pushed through the idea after seeing a similar crossing in India. 


And more recently the town of Almussafes in the Valencia region, has installed a crossing on Calle de Ausias March, which is used by pedestrians to reach the sports center. It is hoped it will help to slow the traffic down. 


Research conducted in 2012 at Western Michigan University showed that although the initial installation of 3D illusions was effective at slowing traffic, over time the novelty of the 3D crossing wore off and motorists driving soon returned to what it was like if there was just a standard crossing. 


There are also concerns that 3D designs could have the counter-effect of causing a road safety hazard, as 3D markings that appear to stick out of the surface could lead motorists to swerve to avoid them.


It does not seem likely that 3D crossings will be on the UK road network anytime soon as such crossings must comply with the Traffic Signs Regulations and General Directions 2016 (TSRGD. 


This is obviously very different in some other countries where 3D crossings have been painted on roads within very short time periods without the need for legislative change. 


Although there seems to be some research conducted on the effectiveness of these crossings at slowing traffic there seems a distinct lack of research regarding the use of these crossings by people with visual impairments or learning disabilities. 


Without research it is difficult to know if people with cognitive impairments would find them confusing or disorientating or how they would be perceived by people with a visual impairment. However, when considered in terms of existing dementia and visual impairment research it seems the 3D pattern would have a bad effect in terms of unnecessary confusion. 


There are also concerns that this design could lead to more falls if people felt they had to step over something that did not exist. Therefore, it may be that 3D crossings are very successful at slowing traffic but if pedestrians do not like to use them because they make them feel unsteady or find them hard to navigate then traditional road markings may be a better option. 


Helen Dolphin MBE LLB BSc is an Independent Mobility Consultant in the UK. She can be reached at helensmith799@hotmail.com.



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