Imagine cruising through a school zone when you see something strange in the road. It looks like a little girl laying down, but her proportions are all wrong. As you get nearer, the little girl suddenly looks much more real, in 3D, and chasing a little pink ball. You’ve just experienced Canada’s latest deterrent for traffic accidents: street art in the shape of a child playing in the road. The image, which has recently been referred to in the media as a ‘speed bump’ or ‘pavement Patty’ is a forced perspective artwork which appears 3D from the right location. The British Columbia Automobile Association, along with The Community Against Preventable Injuries, has temporarily placed the ‘speed bump’ near a school in West Vancouver for a week. They hope that it will remind drivers that they need to pay special attention to children in streets during the back to school season. It’s certainly an inventive solution to driver safety, but there are doubts as to whether it will be effective. Watch the video of the 3D girl ‘speed bump’ below and judge for yourself. Is 3D art a smart way to prevent accidents, or just another way to cause them?
Before we can address the intelligence of using street art as a safety measure, we should probably get a better idea of what it actually looks like. The top image you see above is from the appropriate perspective to make the little girl look upright and three dimensional. The next image shows the artwork in a different location and from a different angle. Here you can see how the image is actually two dimensional but painted in an elongated fashion. This is what gives it the 3D look. As you can see in the video below, the image of the girl is only 3D and life-like for a split second. Before and after it simply looks like a weird painting on the road.
Actually watching the image in action, you have to wonder what all the hype is about. When you just see a photo the little girl looks very jarring, but with the slow video approach it’s clear that this image is not a real person. I don’t think that drivers are going to become startled and swerve when they see ‘pavement Patty’, I think they’re just going to shrug and drive over her. They might get a little distracted thinking about why someone put such an image on the road, but I doubt it will seriously affect their driving.
The only real benefit to the 3D girl ‘speed bump’ is that it may get drivers to pay more attention to what they are doing. We already have various means of alerting drivers that they’re entering a school zone or other location where they need to watch for pedestrians. We have crosswalk bars, signs that warn about children, and sometimes the words “slow down” will be painted directly onto the road. All of these warning signs, however, appear frequently enough that drivers may become inured to their presence. The little girl chasing the ball is a new, definitely unexpected, way to get drivers to start paying attention to the signs again.
Eventually, however, drivers would become accustomed to street art as well. Which is why I find this whole campaign a little stupid. Sure, it’s created some good publicity for The Community Against Preventable Injuries, and they’ve used that publicity to discuss the importance of driver safety and awareness. They’re doing good work. But give it a few weeks and I think that driving habits in West Vancouver will be back to normal, and the media attention will die down even sooner. Is the temporary spike in awareness worth the $15,000 it costs to put the image in place? Maybe.
I would have rather seen the money, and the focus, placed on technologies that could actually have long term affects on pedestrian safety. We could require vehicles to install proximity sensors that sound alerts when you’re approaching an object in the road. Or perhaps such sensors should be in the road themselves and flash a light when someone steps off a sidewalk into the crosswalk or street. Either way. Maybe we should actually invest in robotic cars that never get distracted. Despite a lot of effort to that end we still haven’t seen one that could handle a little girl chasing a ball into the road. Still, if the public at large demanded robotic vehicles I have no doubt it would accelerate their arrival. In any case, street art traffic signs are an interesting gimmick but they’re not a long term solution. I applaud the BCAA for getting creative, but there are better uses of our time.
On a completely different note, I find this type of street art pretty damn cool. I thought you might like to see two more examples. In the first video below, the camera walks around the image and you can see how it suddenly clicks from 2D to 3D when you get to the right point of view. The second video actually shows a larger piece being built over time. Street art may not be the way to fix traffic problems, but it is amazing looking. Anybody want to paint one of these in front of my apartment?