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VDOT Tries Paint to Promote Road Safety

Zig Zag markings.jpg
Workers installed zigzag paint to slow drivers before this trail crossing. (Mike Salmon, VDOT)

Traffic engineers are always trying to get drivers to pay attention to the road. Virginia is experimenting with one of those methods on two roads in Loudoun County where the Washington & Old Dominion Trail crosses.

This week, Virginia Department of Transportation workers painted zigzag white lines along Belmont Ridge Road where it approaches the trail crossing. They will do the same on Sterling Boulevard next week, then study the results to see if the paint should be applied elsewhere as well.

The zigzag lines, painted right down the middle of each lane, will certainly cause drivers to focus on the road and probably cause them to slow down. These are good things, as they approach the crossings, which are marked by white stripes and yellow signs on poles, but not by signal lights.

Cars are moving fast as they approach the crossing. Chances are a reduction in the posted speed limit at the crosswalk approach, or another warning sign farther back, would not have the desired effect. In this case, pavement markings can be used to communicate the "slow down" message.

Painting zigzag Web.jpg The zigzag paint on Belmont Ridge Road stretches quite far. (VDOT)

While the technique is used overseas, this is still experimental in the United States. Virginia had to get permission from the U.S. Department of Transportation to set this up as an official experiment, and the Virginia Transportation Research Council will monitor the results to see if it has found an effective -- and relatively cheap -- traffic safety tool.

Erica Garman wrote about this on her Living in Loco blog in the online Loudoun Extra. Commenters have mixed feelings. One wonders if confused drivers will try to stay to the right of the zigzag. What's your guess on how this will work out?

By Robert Thomson  |  April 16, 2009; 6:38 AM ET
Categories:  Driving , Safety  
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Good for VDOT for trying something new, and good for USDOT for letting them try.

Posted by: echovector | April 16, 2009 8:54 AM | Report abuse

Interesting that they cite foreign experience. In the UK, the zigzag markings as you approach a pedestrian crossing indicate that no stopping along the curb (or "kerb" as they spell it) is permitted in that area, the intent being to keep an area clear so people crossing the street can see. They don't have anything to do with communicating a "slow down" message, especially given that they're placed over to the curb side of the lane and not down the middle. The markings in Loudoun County have a very different purpose. But I agree with the first poster, it's about time the US started trying different things.

Posted by: 1995hoo | April 16, 2009 9:32 AM | Report abuse

My prediction is that for a couple of weeks drivers will react by slowing down -- a "what's this all about" reaction.

After that, business as usual.

Posted by: ah___ | April 16, 2009 10:31 AM | Report abuse

Wow. Coming across those lines in darkness and rain would probably cause me to pull off the road and cry! They seem more potentially confusing than helpful.

Posted by: bored2tears | April 16, 2009 1:50 PM | Report abuse

I predict people will stare directly at the line, go "wth?" and NOT see the people crossing.

Posted by: koalatek | April 16, 2009 4:01 PM | Report abuse

Without some way of informing drivers what it means (such as a sign at the start of the zig-zag), I think most drivers will ignore the lines. But that's the fault of the driver's. I do applaud VDOT for trying something new and hope it works.

However, I think a better idea would be to install rumble strips like you get on toll roads when approaching the toll gate. There is no mistaking the intent of the rumble strip and it is something that is already understood by US drivers.

Posted by: DadWannaBe | April 16, 2009 4:15 PM | Report abuse

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