Protest, paint and pop-up zebra crossings: How people power can make roads safer

paint your own zebra crossing

20mph limits only work if they’re stuck to. A vocal minority of drivers have unusual ideas about why lower speeds in the areas people live, work and go to school are a bad idea, but what can be done to help those who are supportive of traffic calming measures? After all, everyone benefits from safer roads – however they travel.

When The Netherlands introduced widespread low-speed zones in the early 1970s, the Dutch quickly discovered that education and legal enforcement of the rules only go so far. Engineering roads for 20mph proved the most effective way of preventing drivers from breaking the law.

Piecemeal measures don’t make roads any safer or hospitable for walking and cycling; effective road harm reduction relies a systematic approach. When we spoke to Maartje van Putten – first president elect of the Stop de Kindermoord protest movement and former MEP – she explained how The Netherlands embarked on the transformation of its streets.

Elsewhere, countries without the same vision for reducing road danger, have to rely on temporary fixes to reduce vehicle speeds. Iceland has become the latest country to use paint to create a 3D illusion in order to slow drivers.

An organisation called Preventable, used a similar technique in Canada to raise driver awareness during the first week of the new school term.

Developed in collaboration with the local council, parents, engineers, and the police, the sticker appears to be a child in the road as drivers approach.

road danger reduction sticker

In the absence of more permanent solutions, the child sticker helped highlight the need for slower speeds and extra vigilance on the streets where children live, go to school and play.

This desperate need safer roads raises an interesting question; How far would you need to be pushed before you take matters into your own hands? For the Dutch half a century ago it was the soaring number of children killed by drivers. More recently, for the folk at Crosswalk Collective it was a realisation that Los Angeles officials were failing to keep pedestrians safe. Their own brand of direct action involves installing unofficial zebra crossings across the city.

Many of the crossings are subsequently taken down by the Los Angeles Department of Transportation (LADOT), but others have been replaced with official crossings. Many more continue to exist, undetected, as guerrilla zebra crossings.

road danger, protest, people power

People Power: Dutch folk protesting against road danger in the early 1970s

We even had a go at direct action ourselves. If you haven’t seen it before, take a look at our inflatable zebra crossing which can be set up in three minutes.

“The city is where people come to work, raise families, walk in the evening. It is not a traffic corridor” John Norquist

We know what it takes to build healthy and safe cities; it isn’t inflatable road furniture or painted optical illusions. The reason we tolerate the deaths, air pollution and huge financial burden caused by motorised traffic here in the UK isn’t a lack of knowledge – it’s an absence of political will.

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