VDOT tries 'optical speed bars' to slow Zuni speeders
By the Associated Press
July 16, 2006
ISLE OF WIGHT, Va. -- An estimated 10,000 vehicles each day travel U.S. Route 460 near Zuni, many of them speeding through the hamlet.
"We see accidents through here all the time," said John Munsford, who works at the Zuni Trading Post off Route 460.
Now, the Virginia Department of Transportation is trying to trick drivers into slowing down.
"Optical speed bars"--white, parallel lines--have been installed along the route heading into Zuni, which is near the Southampton County line. The bars work to slow traffic by giving motorists the sense they are driving faster than they actually are.
"If you're driving along and you have these series of lines that are equally spaced, you get an impression of speed," said Eugene Arnold Jr., one of the senior research scientists behind the experiment. "We've spaced them closer together. You're getting to them sooner, so you think you're going faster, and we hope you slow down."
There's also the element of surprise, Arnold said.
"Just the impact of having all these bars hitting you, motorists are going to take notice," he said. "'There's something ahead I should slow down for.' "
Rumble strips were a little too loud for Zuni residents, so researchers came up with the optical illusion plan. It has been used in European countries and is being studied elsewhere in the United States, Arnold said.
On Route 460, VDOT installed 32 bars along westbound lanes and 40 bars on the eastbound lanes. Workers cut the plastic tape and used a tool like a blowtorch to melt the stripes onto the pavement.
Drivers likely will feel them when they drive over them, said Kenneth Lantz Jr., senior research scientist.
Residents asked VDOT to do something to slow traffic. About 85 percent of vehicles travel up to 51 mph or 52 mph through that section of 460. The speed limit drops to 45 mph through Zuni, with a 35 mph advisory sign before a sharp curve.
Fairfax County is the only other location where the optical strips are in use.
VDOT researchers will track the speeds to find out whether the illusions are working.