Last October the small fishing village of Isafjorour, Iceland, painted a pedestrian crosswalk illusion on a narrow street. To approaching drivers, the crosswalks look like a set of above-ground barrier-bars capable of tearing up the vehicle’s undercarriage, so the motorist automatically slows down.
This creative zebra crossing has had such a positive impact on local traffic speeds that town officials are thinking about rolling it out in other areas of the village. It looks like a skillful and strategic paint job may be able to do what other road safety measures struggle to achieve: make intersections safer for vehicles and pedestrians alike.
Last September, the Maine Bureau of Highway Safety confirmed that traffic deaths throughout the state reached 101 for 2017, up from 88 over the same period last year. This data covered only the period up until September 1, so it did not include the Labor Day weekend, Thanksgiving and the December holidays, all of which are statistically deadly times to be on the road.
Distracted driving is a leading factor in this growing number of traffic accidents. According to the Maine Department of Transportation, in 2016 an estimated 750 drivers were involved in collisions attributable to cell phone or electronic device use. That same year, nationwide, more than 100 people were killed every day in vehicle-related accidents — the first time the country experienced such a high fatality rate in more than a decade. Coincidentally, between 2014 and 2016 the number of people who owned a smartphone rose from 75 percent to 81 percent.
Last November, the Department of Transportation confirmed that up to that point in 2017, more pedestrians had been struck and killed by motor vehicles than in any year since 1994. There had been 18 deaths so far, surpassing the 17 reported in 2016, making it a historically dangerous time for pedestrians.
In 2015 the most dangerous intersections for motor vehicles in Lewiston were East Avenue and Sabattus Street and Lisbon Street and South Avenue, both of which reported 17 accidents that year. For pedestrians and cyclists, the danger zones were Main and Bates Street (five crashes) and Main and Sabattus Street (four crashes).
The goal of the visually tricky crosswalk is not to alarm speeding drivers into screeching to a stop or swerving to avoid a perceived obstacle at the intersection. It is meant to shake drivers out of a routine-related attention mode and take serious notice of what, or who, is on the road ahead of them. Anything that makes motorists stay alert and slow down is a positive measure that should be supported and replicated, given the fact that traditional safety signage and messaging is no longer making an appreciable difference.
Anthony and Jennifer Ferguson are attorneys with the law offices of Fales & Fales in Lewiston.
A representation of the painted crosswalk at East Ave. and Sabattus St. in Lewiston.
A suggested painted crosswalk at Lisbon St. and South Ave. in Lewiston