It is no surprise that one of the most life-threatening spaces in our cities are our streets. Planned and developed or not, urban spaces have literally paved the way for the automobile as the primary traveler on city streets. In trying to put the pedestrian first, an increasing number of city planners are trying to find alternative solutions that have less to do with planning and more to do with changing perceptions and repurposing existing structures to make way for pedestrians.
At the forefront of this is a town in Iceland called Ísafjörður that has introduced what they’re calling a “levitating crosswalk.” Although the crosswalk itself is two-dimensional and is actually painted on the ground, it appears to be hovering slightly above the ground, as if the planks are suspended in mid-air. The illusionary measure is an attempt by the municipality to reduce road accidents. Instead of resorting to speed bumps, the city hopes the new crosswalks will induce slower traffic and draw speeding drivers’ attention to pedestrians crossing the street.
The crosswalk is laid down on the street using only a standard paint gun and wooden planks that were traced to create the optical illusion. And while the crosswalk seems to work during the day, the paint is largely unseen by drivers in the dark of night. Gautur Ívar Halldórsson, one of the owners of the company commissioning the project in Iceland, says they are experimenting with paints that can also create a similar effect in the dark.
Although the innovative solution deserves credit, Ísafjörður is not the first city to move away from conventional speed bumps to curb the dangers of fast driving. In 2016, a mother-daughter painting duo decided to take to the streets of Ahmadabad and lay down the floating crosswalks to make highways in the city safer.
Some studies have found speed bumps to be an impractical traffic calming device. One study reported finding that speed bumps encourage drivers in the UK to speed up then suddenly slow down, causing more road-side accidents. The National Institute for Health and Care Excellent (NICE) recommends driving smoothly to reduce harmful air pollution, which has been linked to 25,000 deaths annually in the UK; according to NICE, accelerating and decelerating too rapidly increases emissions and leads to higher fuel consumption.
Other cities have taken different approaches in making cities more pedestrian-friendly. The Scottish city of Bowling’s first “linear bridge,” for example, was designed with the intention of creating a space for pedestrians and bikers in the city through the repurposing of its otherwise defunct infrastructure.
In a more aggressive approach to accommodating pedestrians, Barcelona made headlines when it announced it would begin to create “superblocks“ to address the city’s traffic problems, despite already being a relatively pedestrian-friendly city. The idea behind the superblock is to cordon off the inside streets among nine buildings in the same neighborhood, restricting internal streets to pedestrians and bikers and redirecting cars, buses, and other vehicles to the perimeter of the superblock. Along with reducing air pollution and congestion, the city hopes that superblocks will make neighborhoods more walkable and foster a feeling of community among residents.