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90. Z is for pedestrian

zebra
The city seems to be going "? although hesitatingly "? to the zebras, and that could mean a safer city for walkers. Zebra pedestrian crossings are beginning to turn up at some westside intersections as a replacement to the ubiquitous two-stripe crosswalk. The vertical variant of broad-strip marking "? there is a diagonal variant "? has been in use on British streets since the early 1950s. The one on London's Abby Road is famous.

According to studies, the two-stripe crosswalk (two full-length stripes perpendicular to traffic) can't be seen by drivers from farther than 100 feet. A zebra-striped crosswalk is visible from greater distances. Also, the greater contrast of the wide crosswalk lines highlights the presence of someone crossing.

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Zebras aren't without their own problems. The thermoplastic stripes can be slippery when wet. They wear out more quickly (as cars brake and accelerate over them). And they cost more to apply ($200 for zebras, $50 for two-line crosswalks). In response, some cities have begun to apply a narrower stripe. A variant called the "piano stripe" is placed so that traffic actually passes between the stripes.

More zebras might improve the troubled relationship between cars and pedestrians in L.A. Statistics tally a relatively high death count in the Los Angeles-Long Beach-Orange County region: 247 and 244 pedestrian deaths in 2007 and 2008 respectively. As passengers become safer in airbag equipped cars, the proportion of pedestrians killed goes up. Almost 27 percent of all highway deaths in the region are pedestrians. Significantly, 16 percent of these fatalities were pedestrians older than 70.

Anything that would make a walker more visible, particularly after dark, would be an improvement, even if the wide crosswalk markings were less durable.

Giving pedestrians more confidence in their traverse from curb to curb would seem to be a very good thing. Not necessarily. Traffic engineers have been removing crosswalks from midblock locations for at least twenty years on the theory that the lines give walkers too much confidence. Distracted pedestrians and distracted drivers combine lethally in Los Angeles too often.

Who to favor on the mean streets of the city doesn't have an easy answer. Motorists and bicyclists have competing claims. And pedestrians, in my experience, get little respect from either. Such is the power of wheels in Los Angeles; anything rolling beats anything on foot . . . in a zebra or out of it.

The image on this page was made by Flickr user Mats Lindh. It was used under a Creative Commons license.

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