Why the Scots Gave One of their Roads Wiggly Lines

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Stirling Council had a problem. The A811 road between Stirling and Loch Lomond, Scotland, was suffering from too many speeding drivers breaking the 30mph speed limit on the stretch of tarmac around Arnprior, a small village.

In an April 2013 meeting of the local council, the issue of traffic calming measures was debated. “Road markings plus additional traffic calming measures” were proposed near Arnprior. But what appeared on the road a few weeks ago was a surprise to residents.

Rather than straight, even lines demarcating the direction of traffic, residents and drivers on the A811 were presented with wiggly white lines that veered from side to side. Rather than it being a mistake, the look of the lines was planned.

Councillor Danny Gibson told The Daily Record, a Scottish newspaper, that “the center line markings are complemented by red road markings at the side. The combination influences driver behavior and encourages a reduction in vehicle speed. We have not been contacted by any local residents or road users to express any concerns about these markings.”

Local residents did complain to the press, though. One opposition councillor said that the cost of painting the lines wonky, rather than straight, was 50 percent higher than normal.

The aim is to trick drivers into thinking that the road surface is uneven, and that they should slow down. But the optical illusion seems less than convincing.

The theory behind it is sensible, even if the way it was carried out wasn’t. A study by Leeds University found that vertical shifts in the carriageway—which the road markings were meant to mimic—reduce average driving speed by more than any other suggested traffic calming measure, including narrowing the width of a road. Simply put, people don’t want to risk their car going airborne by speeding too fast over the brow of a hill. That’s how it works when there’s actually a hill.

Of course, the problem now is that Stirling Council’s illusion has been exposed. The road passing through Arnprior isn’t in fact bumpy, it’s just wiggly. Then again, we’re not wholly convinced anyone was really fooled in the first place.

What’s more, the road markings intended to reduce speed and increase safety may in fact have the opposite effect. The strange paintwork has drawn the world’s attention, and has become something of a tourist attraction. Drivers’ attentions may be on the road, but not on the other cars passing by.

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