How can you get all vehicles, with or without a motor, on a central urban street to slow down before passing through a crosswalk? The solution in most streets of the world is through the installation of traffic signals, light signals or speed bumps, but in the center of Aarhus, the second largest city in Denmark, local authorities are testing the visual effects in three dimensions to improve the coexistence between pedestrians and bicycles.
Being a Syrian refugee in Denmark: “If I had known all the problems I would have, I would not have stayed here”
The visual deception to make the floating zebra crossings (and life safer for people crossing the street in Aarhus) is achieved with the installation of four strips of a plastic material that, once incorporated into the asphalt, cause an effect optical in three dimensions.
The aim is to surprise the 5,000 cyclists who every day circulate from their homes to work on Mejlgade Street, located in the center of the city where the first 3D zebra crossing was installed in September. Beyond bicycles, some cars also travel in one direction on the street, with a speed limit that cannot exceed 30 kilometers per hour.
“The effect in three dimensions is produced by the shadows, so that when a bicycle or vehicle approaches, it perceives a physical obstacle in front and therefore has to slow down”, explains the engineer Rikke Smed, responsible for the project. “So that the visual effect also works at night, it has been installed under the street lamps, and in the design we have taken into account that it is not slippery when the pavement is wet or icy,” he says.
The first photographs taken of the new zebra crossing have attracted much attention in the media and on social networks due to the effect caused by pedestrians “floating” when crossing the street. Beyond the interest in the novelty, the engineer hopes “that the trick will be effective in pacifying the traffic of people and bicycles in the area.”
“It doesn’t take long in Aarhus to realize that pedestrians have to wait too long to cross a street that does not have a traffic light,” said City Councilor for Technology and Environment Bünyamin Simsek at the project presentation. “Several cyclists just don’t stop if they see someone waiting to cross, but we want to make riding in Aarhus safer,” he added.
According to the municipal government, the road regulation experiment will be installed this fall in two more locations in the historic center of the city, formed by old narrow streets with many bars, shops and very little space for pedestrian sidewalks.
To evaluate the effectiveness of the measure, cameras have been installed that record the reaction of cyclists, cars and pedestrians. Once the conclusions are reached, it is expected that in 2024 the model will be expanded in more trouble spots.
But Aarhus is not the first city in the country to implement this urban solution, since in 2019 the same experiment was carried out in Helsingør and other cities such as Roskilde have also shown interest in the project.
“Despite having a long tradition and culture of cycling, in Denmark we also have problems of coexistence between cyclists and pedestrians,” explains Søren Westergaard, a member of the Danish Federation of Pedestrians and the Danish Federation of Cyclists. In Danish cities, so-called “cycle highways” have been designed, special cycle lanes, often wider than sidewalks, where three or four bicycles can fit side by side and where cyclists can cross quickly. the city without having to stop too many times. “The problem is that outside of these expressways many cyclists think they still have priority on the street,” says Westergaard.
“At the moment, the residents of Mejlgade Street welcome the measure”, explains the engineer Rikke Smed, “but we have also received complaints from cyclists who think that, if they are forced to slow down, bicycle journeys they get too long. ”
Still, Søren Westergaard doesn’t just blame cyclists for coexistence problems. “We have detected many pedestrians who are used to the pedestrian areas in the center of Aarhus and when they walk on a street where there is traffic they forget about the bicycles, and this is dangerous,” he says.
More bikes than cars
In most urban centers in Denmark’s cities and towns, cars have been pushed aside to make room for pedestrians and cyclists, and bridges have even been built where only bicycles are allowed to circulate. In total, the country has more than 7,000 kilometers of bike lanes segregated from sidewalks and car lanes. Only in the four main cities of the country there are already more than 1,300 kilometers of special routes for cyclists.
In the capital Copenhagen, half of the daily trips to work or school are made by bicycle, and half of the 11-15 year olds pedal every morning to go to school. To get a perspective on the ratio of cars to bicycles on the streets of Denmark, one has to consider that four out of 10 Danes own a car, while nine out of 10 own a bicycle.
“Bicycles are everywhere, they are a central part of transport policies at the local and national level,” says Søren Westergaard, who points out that beyond the construction of cycle lanes, road training for cycling has for decades it is taught in a subject in schools.
Westergaard explains that in recent years there are consultants in urban planning and road traffic, such as the Danish Cowi norge, which are developing projects to reverse the design of streets in cities and give full priority to pedestrians over cars, solutions that are already being implemented in Oslo, Norway. “I am curious to know what solutions we will apply in the future in our cities, but what is evident is that bicycles and pedestrians will have to coexist forever,” says Westergaard.