Painted pavement has been used for years to help motorists see what’s up ahead. Road guide lines help them stay in their lane. See where the center and shoulder are. Know where to stop, or turn.
Zebra stripes are extra wide road guide lines painted at intersections or mid-block. They universally send a signal to drivers to be alert, slow down and stop for pedestrians-or the occasional zebra.
For people on foot, zebra stripes mark where best to cross a street.
Its not clear who came up with the idea to paint roads in this way. Seems like road guide lines arrived with the boom in private car ownership in the early 1950’s. A scientist in the UK tried various colours: yellow, blue, but then settled on white as having the best visibility against dark asphalt.
Famous Four crossing
The most famous zebra crossing in world is probably the one in north west London. In 1969, four guys named John, Ringo, Paul and George walked single file, across a zebra crossing on Abbey Road. It became the cover of The Beatles 11th album. Immediately successful, it reached #1 in the UK and US. Alas, it was close to the end of the road for the Fab Four– they disbanded a few months after the album’s release.
Those stripes still draw music pilgrimages and copy cats. They have been moved a bit from the original spot and repaved a few times. Incredibly these particular zebra stripes were given ‘Grade II’ heritage status – normally only buildings would qualify.
Pretty impressive for painted road guide lines.
Zebra stripes protect ordinary pedestrians every day and night. They don’t require staffing (other than to paint them in the first place). Wet or dry, they are visible because of the special reflective paint used, except maybe on heavily snow-covered roads. Relatively inexpensive, zebra stripes are a widely used basic road safety measure.
Panda, Pelican, Toucan and Pegasus Crossings
Some other animals have been enlisted to help with pedestrian safety too. Pandas, pelicans and puffins, oh my! No, it’s not what you’re thinking – roads are already zoo-y. They are the names of some techniques traffic engineers use to keep pedestrians separated and safe from vehicular traffic.
Pelican Crossing: Short for “pedestrian light controlled crossing“, (or pelicon) it morphed into ‘pelican crossing’. It has nothing to do with a real pelican. The same year as the Abbey Road album, the pelican crossing concept originated in the UK. A pair of standard traffic lights face oncoming traffic, while two illuminated pictograms face the pedestrian from across the road. A push button activates the traffic lights and signals to the pedestrian when it’s safe to “Walk”. The pelican crossing replaced a panda crossing experiment, which was unsuccessful. We’re not sure why.
Here are a few more road safety tools named after animals:
Puffin Crossing: like a pelican crossing, but lights are on the same side as the pedestrian. Due to less visibility when the pedestrian is in the intersection, it’s been discontinued.
Toucan Crossing: a crossing for pedestrians and bicycles; since ‘two-can’ cross, it became toucan; used in California and the UK. Cyclists can ride across.
Pegasus Crossing: a crossing for pedestrians, bicycles and horse riders as well; named after the mythical winged horse and used in the UK and Peru; may be useful during the Calgary Stampede?
Hawk Beacon: a standard signal used with zebra crossings, when a pedestrian pushes a button to cross, it illuminates to stop traffic, but goes dark unless activated
Zebra stripes are a simple idea. They used to work pretty well. Except after a while, they fade, winter aggregates, snow plows take their toll. After oil-based paints were banned in 2012, the new ones didn’t work as well. Last year British Columbia tested a new type of paint on highways which undergo daily, rigorous maintenance. The paint is applied thicker, and glass bead can be added to the road guide lines to improve reflectivity. Over $1 million was spent applying the paint and glass bead on busy BC highways.
Our ministry’s first priority is to ensure that our highways and roads are as safe as possible — Todd Stone then BC Minister of Transportation told the CBC. (April 2017)
Problem is, over time, all these animal interventions become less effective. Even more so in urban centres, which are getting more congested with all forms of transportation. Humans cheat, cut corners, don’t push the button to cross, cyclists or drivers don’t see or obey the signals. Everyone is in a hurry. Increasingly, zebra crossings do not work to slow vehicles down and give priority to pedestrians, leading to unsafe behaviour.
Traffic engineers continue to come up with new ways improve safety in vulnerable crossing zones: LED lit school zone signs, speed reading signs and speed bumps. Combined with lower speed limits, crossing guards and traffic enforcement blitzes, they have been putting significant effort towards the Vision Zero goal.
And yet Vision Zero won’t work unless we change behavior of everyone using the road.
Come Together, We Can Be Heroes
Come Together was the first track on Abbey Road. It topped the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 chart, and was one of The Beatles top 10 tunes. Many artists have done cover versions including Ike & Tina Turner and Michael Jackson. We think our Zero Hero campaign soundtrack should include Come Together by Gary Clark Jr and Junkie XL from the 2017 superhero Justice League movie. David Bowie’s Heroes covered by Gang of Youths and Leonard Cohen’s Everybody Knows covered by Sigrid also from the movie’s soundtrack would be great too.
Everybody knows, let’s all come together, we can be (zero) heroes…and solve this.
There is more to be done to make it to zero. Join us as we explore and participate in figuring out what else we can do to help make roads safer. Above all we think it will require more awareness and and shift in attitudes about safety.
We want to encourage as many schools, safety committees, companies and ordinary folks — whether walkers, riders or drivers– to do their part to make this preventable problem stop. Subscribe to follow this journey. If you wish to learn more about identity or insignia products, or how we could develop a customized ‘Zero Hero’ program for you, drop us a note.