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Glow In The Dark Highways

11-glowing-lines-roosegaarde-1600.jpg__1600x0_q69_crop-scale crop_subsampling-2Have you ever been driving along a road at night and suddenly had that moment of disorientation as you realise that something has happened to the road markings?  It’s pretty disconcerting and if you have been a little drowsy, that tends to snap you awake… well, it snaps me into full alert, anyway. It’s particularly alarming on rural roads, where there isn’t much other light from streetlights and the like around to guide you.

The safe and sane thing to do here is to slow down a tad and to look around you more carefully. Usually, you’ll be able to spot the white lines and yellow lines showing you where you ought to be and where the road is going. The posts marking the sides of the roads can be a different story. Although they’re vital for road safety, things always happen to them.  Cows use them as scratching posts and snap them. People who tackle corners far too quickly clip them and take them out (there’s only so much all the active safety features in any car can do and the laws of angular momentum still apply). Idiots think that it’s fun to pull them out and do goodness knows what with them. Bushes and grass grow over them and obscure them.

If only the markings telling you where the road begins and ends were a bit more visible.

Well, they can be.  In the Netherlands, where they really pull out the stops and concentrate on designing safer roads, an urban and transport design company called Heijmans has come up with the Smart Highway. This looks like just a normal road during the daytime but at night, the lines glow. They don’t just reflect light, like normal road markings do; they actually give out light.  It’s similar to the concept of glow-in-the-dark paint. During the daytime when there’s lots of light, the paint charges up. When it’s dark, it starts glowing.  When you think about how many other things we use every day come in glow-in-the-dark (including nail polish, condoms and basketballs), it’s kind of surprising that glow-in-the-dark road markings haven’t been tried earlier.

The other bonus with having glowing lines is that it reduces the need for having quite as much other lighting provided by the roading companies and town councils. With the glow-in-the-dark technology, you get all the advantages of having lights at the side of the road but without the hassle of setting up electrical systems for this. This means that you get all the advantages of good lighting but without the energy demands.

A pilot Smart Highway is in place in the Netherlands – the N329 in Oss, found about roughly in the middle of the country not too far from the border with Germany.

More information is available at the Heijmans website.

The other thing about the Glowing Lines smart highway is that it has had some design input from an artist. This means that it isn’t bland and boring like a lot of road safety features. It’s designed to be pretty as well as practical. The artist behind the concept has also worked on a cycleway (in the Netherlands again) that uses the same glow-in-the-dark technology but has based the arrangement of the lights on a Van Gogh painting so you can bike through “Starry Night” come to life.

The question I have to ask is why on earth other road design companies don’t have artists on their team. Just imagine what our roads and road signs could look like if they weren’t just boring and utilitarian. Car designers have cottoned on – just compare the bland boxes of the 1980s with, say, the Toyota Corolla of today with its interesting angles and lines. So why don’t road designers give it a go?