One eye-popping intersection in northwest Iceland is getting a lot of attention, by design. To encourage drivers to slow down, Ísafjörður’s city officials took a page from the centuries-old art of trompe-l’œil painting and installed a new pedestrian crossing lane that looks like it’s levitating a few inches from the pavement.
Unveiled last month, the project is a road safety experiment conceived by the town’s environment officer Ralf Trylla. Trylla was inspired by similar “floating” pedestrian crossings in India he spotted on the internet. “I was looking for other possibilities and different solutions to slow down traffic other than the regular speed bumps,” he explains. Speed bumps have been getting a lot of flack after a 2016 study by the UK National Institute for Health suggested that they contributed to an increase in air pollution. Car owners have also complained that the crude, 1970s-era intervention wreck vehicle suspension and even cause back pain.
Gautur Ívar Halldórsson, co-owner of the local pavement marking company GÍH Vegamálun, was tapped to paint the optical illusion on a one-way street in the town center. Halldórsson says creating the effect was fairly straightforward. He used wooden floor planks, a small handheld paint gun, and chalk to mark the lines on the pavement, and sorted out the right angles to create the illusion. Trylla adds that they’re currently experimenting with reflective, pearlescent paints so the 3-D effect could still be visible at night.
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So has the Ísafjörður’s levitating crosswalk actually improved road safety in town? Trylla says that it’s hard to say because no accidents were ever recorded in that particular intersection in the town of 2,600 residents. “What is clear so far is that it has received lot of attention and people are for sure driving differently over this crossing, even if they’re eventually getting used to seeing it…So in that way, I would say that it’s a success so far.”
Buoyed by the internet popularity of its first floating crosswalk, Halldórsson tells Quartz that more floating crosswalks are planned for the town best known for its fishing industry and dramatic fjord vista. One planned crosswalk will even guarantee the safety of photo-op enthusiasts. Says Halldórsson, “we are thinking of making one zebra crossing not located on a road, but at a photo point with a nice view of our town.”