A herd of 3D zebras

Published on 11 August 2020

Back in March 2019, Westminster City Council installed an experimental zebra crossing in St John's Wood, London, with a 3D effect that was supposed to confuse drivers into slowing down. The experiment would, they said, run for a year.

We covered the original experiment in the days after it was first installed in a blog post last year. Our initial impression was that the 3D markings were not so effective that anyone would genuinely think there were a series of elevated blocks across the road, and that the grey shading used to create the effect actually made the white stripes less visible to approaching traffic. But it was an experiment, and the whole point is to remain open minded about the possible outcome until the results are known.

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There's no word yet from Westminster whether their experiment has produced results yet, or whether there's any indication that the crossing has improved safety on St John's Wood High Street where it was installed. But someone at the council must like them, because at least three more have already been installed.

One is on Blandford Street, at its junction with Manchester Street, between the A5 Edgware Road and the B524 Marylebone High Street. Two more are on the periphery of Hyde Park Square on the other side of Edgware Road. All three are too new to appear on Google Streetview, though the one on Strathearn Place, at the southwestern corner of Hyde Park Square, was half-way installed last time the cameras visited.

On the corner of Hyde Park Square, a series of brand new 3D effect stripes. Click to enlarge
On the corner of Hyde Park Square, a series of brand new 3D effect stripes. Click to enlarge

It's not clear whether they are also part of the experiment, or whether Westminster is now just installing them as a matter of course, but the evidence suggests that the council are conducting a trial at multiple sites, not just at the one location in St John's Wood that was widely reported last year.

For one thing, all the crossings are new: no existing zebra crossings seem to have been converted to use the new design. The other evidence in favour of that idea is that they all appear to have been installed in July 2019, three months in to the St John's Wood trial, when no meaningful conclusions could yet have been drawn. Local blog Hyde Park Now covered the installation of the crossing on Blandford Street in July last year, and the Streetview images showing the Strathearn Place crossing as a work-in-progress were taken the same month.

A strange new crossing on Strathearn Place. Click to enlarge
A strange new crossing on Strathearn Place. Click to enlarge

At the time the St John's Wood crossing was installed, Westminster City Council made much of a study from New Delhi in India, where 3D crossing markings had reduced traffic speeds from 50km/h to 30km/h on average. But observations of the crossings here suggested that a similar drastic impact was unlikely to happen. Indeed, every other mention of the crossings that has appeared online since then has been fairly sceptical.

We will, of course, keep an eye out for the results of Westminster's 3D experiment, if and when it appears. Until then our advice would be to visit this specific corner of central London if you want to see a 3D zebra in the flesh, because we're not convinced the herd will grow much bigger.


Bigmac 12 August 2020

Very strange crossing

Fraser Mitchell 12 August 2020

The usual, (and sadly typical) way our councils throughout the land waste our money.

Gryph 14 August 2020

This is the sort of thing, like those fake speed humps, that if it works at all, will only work once. People soon get wise to nonsense like this and it seems like it'd only ever have very limited effect, if any at all.

You're massively underestimating the psychological effect of illusions, and massively overestimating the number of people that are in constant awareness as they drive, most drive only semi-consciously, performing certain actions automatically without much conscious thought, and this includes slowing down in response to basic environmental clues

I'd argue that most of those drivers would probably have slowed down anyway; if you want to bring the numbers further down it needs harsher regiments of enforcement.

Honestly if the design could be an actual hump instead (where the road goes up to meet the 100-150 mm (4-6 in) high pavement, rather than the other way around) it'd be both better for calming measures and for the pedestrians themselves. You can paint them if you want to after that. Other than that the zig-zag lines before a zebra crossing should provide enough cue that something's up ahead.

Chris 15 August 2020

This is a really interesting idea - those who remember the gradually closer lines at the end of the M10 (now fading out as the A414) knows how effective the illusions of space and distance on human psychology can be. Certainly in many years I didn't feel the "slow down" effect of those lines diminish. I think in London they have slightly more effective roads maintenance, without a doubt those would never be maintained here until worn away entirely. Thanks for highlighting and interesting road marking Chris.

Barrie Davis 5 September 2020

I feel it is fundamentally wrong to give driver's a FALSE impression of the road ahead and the potential hazards it presents.
If a certain percentage of what we see is the authorities playing tricks on us, and that percentage increases across our roads, this kind of messing about with our perceptions will be the CAUSE of accidents.
We know this happens.
It has been SHOWN to happen at mere carpark speeds.

Experimental 3D direction arrows were painted with this kind of perspective distortion making them appear to be standing up vertically ON the road's surface. It was hoped that this would make them more "noticeable." It certainly did that! So it was that when a driver rounded a rank of cars, only to see a white arrow STANDING UP right in front him like a solid barrier, he jambed on the anchors and got shunted from behind !!

Road signage should make the true situation more clear, so that we can drive accordingly, NOT falsify truth to make reality unclear, and our responses ones of confusion. That can't lead to better driving... just more stress.

Matthias Prime 9 September 2020

It shouldn't fool anyone with even a small amount of common sense: "I see a series of hard-edged bars protruding from the road, which cannot be there because of road planning regulations, therefore they are not there and I shall ignore them."

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