My Low Cost Campaign For Zig-Zag Lines

I’m sorry, but apparently planning talk is like a siren’s call to me.

As I mentioned in a previous post, city commission candidate Patti Garrett is proposing ideas on how to improve pedestrian safety along that car sewer we call College Avenue over on her new blog.  Among the ideas are “low cost bandaids”.  Patti writes…

Certainly there are interim measures that can help calm the traffic, increase the alertness of pedestrians, walkers and bikers, and increase awareness of everyone involved that they all have a role to play in making this work.

Is there a way to call attention to the intersections that alerts pedestrians, bicyclers, drivers that those marked are “dangerous intersections”? Mark the pavement? Use crossing flags? Place pedestrian makers in street similar to those used at intersections without a light? Other traffic calming measures that increase pedestrian safety?

This reminded me of a quick and relatively cheap ped-friendly idea I saw while on my recent trip to Bermuda: zig-zag lines!

I think this is genius.  Instead of the familiar double yellow line causally leading a zoned-out driver headlong into a white, striped crosswalk, this change to a broken zig-zag unnerves and alerts the driver that something is about to change and that they should sit up and pay attention.

I’d guess that about 90% of the reason cars don’t stop for pedestrians in crosswalks has to do with not seeing them.  I know that as a driver, I often find myself swearing at the dashboard as I blow through a crosswalk having not seen the now-disappointed dog walker waiting to cross.  Zig-zag lines can help remedy this problem, giving the driver a cheap and effective heads-up.

Do I hear a second?

10 thoughts on “My Low Cost Campaign For Zig-Zag Lines”


  1. I sort of like the outline of a bike laying on the pavement. Like “splat !” – got one there.

    And don’t all those people know they’re on the wrong side of the street – that sure would slow things down on College Ave.

  2. I like this idea a lot. I’ve also seen places where that wide, striped pedestrian crosswalk is on top of a nice wide speed bump. Between the zig zags, the bike lanes, the crosswalk, and the speed bump, they’d pretty much *have* to slow down.

    Any of this is better than those damn “bulb-outs” that they did here in Lake Claire, on McLendon Ave. For those of us who bike, those things are a disaster. I would much rather have seen zig zag lines and speedbump/crosswallks. (But I didn’t go to the meetings, so I guess I can’t complain!)

  3. Amen to the McLendon bulb-outs. I hate cycling that street now. Cyclists just weren’t paying attention during the design phase and it ended up that Atlanta made the bulb-outs too big and was then unwilling to spend the money to remake them. (They cut them out of granite.)

    I study all these different traffic calming designs. Folks send me links about them from all over the place and I surely wish we could try some of them. Unfortunately, there are two publications considered the bibles of transportation – the “Green Book” and the MUTCD.

    The Green Book is the design guidebook for traffic engineers – and nearly 100% of the time – “if it ain’t in the Green Book, it ain’t going to get built that way”. Last updated in 2005, the current revision is in the works and pedestrian/bicycle facility design engineers are trying really hard to get the new version to reflect more design options like the “zig-zag”. I know a number of folks involved in that effort and it’s a hard go – engineers are a conservative lot and there’s a good deal of “but we’ve always done it this way”

    The MUTCD (Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices) covers every road sign & signal used in the USA. It also covers where to place them and what “warrants” their need. I think it was last updated in 2003. Again – “if it ain’t in the MUTCD, we’re not going to put it up” And again, I know a number of folks trying to get updated information in the current revision. Two good examples are the green bike boxes that Roswell recently installed and the “sharrows” that Athens has installed on some shared car/bike lanes. (A sharrow is an arrow with a bike symbol added to it painted along the edge of the street indicating to the cyclist where to ride and alerting drivers to share the road. Neither are “official” and I bet there is some question of liability, but both cities decided to use them. Decatur has sharrows listed in the Transportation Plan, but they aren’t “official” because they aren’t in the MUTCD.

    If I haven’t put anyone to sleep yet – and you’ve made it this far – now you know why it is so hard to get the “okay” to try some of this stuff.

    1. Are you a civil engineer? If you are, do you know my father in law, Kenneth Courage?
      Just curious.

    2. I wonder if DeKalb County traffic engineering ever read the MUTCD? Those people could mess up a stop sign.

      Fred, how locked in is the City to those people? Could we fire them and contract the work out to someone who knows what they’re doing?

    3. Don’t forget “Context Sensitive Solutions in Designing Major Urban Thoroughfares for Walkable Communities,” which is the ITE-blessed, common sense antidote to the gawd-forsaken Green Book. It’s not perfect — it still calls for streets that are over-engineered speedwise — but it’s a massive improvement.

      The most important thing about it is that, if you cite it, status-quo DOT engineers will listen. That, in and of itself, is monumental.

  4. My favorite part of UK traffic design is the bollards erected to protect the corner street furniture and pedestrians. Ignorant drivers and oversized vehicles get their vehicles violently gutted in place rather than endanger peds and tear up the infrastructure like we tolerate here.

  5. I’m not a civil engineer, but I learned early on that you have to learn some “engineer speak” and know a bit about their reference materials to ever get one to listen to you. Plus you have to find other engineers who’ve gone “outside the box” with stuff that you can show the folks you’re trying to convince. AND you have to find regional examples – if not local – or you get the “we don’t care how they do it in *pick one* -Portland, Seattle, San Francisco, California, Oregon, wherever”.

    I have the ITE “Context Sensitive…” guide in my reference collection – many others too. ITE is a great source for material, but their stuff sure is pricey. I get really good results by reading and asking questions on some of the transportation listservs I’m on.

    As far as working with the County, all city residents in DeKalb pay taxes to the County for roads, water, and sewer. The City does not have access to any traffic signal boxes in the city limits – all signal timing changes, broken pedestrian buttons, burnt out bulbs, you name it, have to be requested from the County and the City is dependent on DeKalb’s schedule to get the work done. I will say we have good relations with the Roads & Drainage folks and most things work pretty smoothly as far as water and sewer goes.

    The cities in DeKalb County have refused to sign a new Service Delivery Agreement – which is required by the state to allow the County to collect these taxes from city residents to perform these services. We keep extending the old agreement because the County cannot break out how the cities’ tax payments are being spent. The cities believe we are overpaying, the County disagrees, yet they can’t tell us where the tax money goes. Imagine if you went to City Hall and the staff couldn’t break out where your tax money went.

    Gwinnett County and its cities are having a big battle over the same issue and the courts are now involved. Gwinnett hasn’t even been able to send out its first tax bill for this year. They are in a major mess, but luckily DeKalb hasn’t gotten to that point. We’re still agreeing to disagree.

Comments are closed.