Even if we don’t drive a car or motorbike, for most of us, the road markings which cover our highways are instantly recognisable. Whether it’s double yellows, “give way” dashes or zebra crossings, we all start learning the language of our roads from childhood, and a lot of thought has gone into making these symbols as universal and easily understood as possible.
Much of this recognisability is due to the fact that most of our road markings have been in use for decades (and are likely to remain so), but the changing needs of road users and developing aims of local authorities means that there is also room for innovation in how our roads are marked and organised. The difficulty in enacting these changes, however, lies in the fact that it’s vital not to confuse drivers if we want to preserve safety standards on the road, and any additions to the bank of symbols we use to communicate with road users inevitably require careful planning.
A Quick History of Road Markings
The earliest road markings were seen in the UK in 1918, just 32 years after the motorcar was first patented by Carl Benz. This started with the now-iconic centre white line, although it wasn’t until 1926 that official guidelines on where and how white lines on roads should be used were introduced.
Over the next several decades, new road markings were created and rolled out as the need for them arose, with white lines evolving to help control the flow of traffic. In the 1950s, yellow lines were introduced to ensure rational parking, while the 60s saw the introduction of box junctions. As time has gone on, road markings have been refined and developed – a process that continues to this day.
The Clevedon Seafront Backlash
While they are very much part of our everyday environment, (and something we are obviously very interested in here at Hi-Way Services!) it’s not very often that road markings hit the national news, but a new project on Clevedon Seafront has done just that.
In an effort to reduce speed, control the flow of traffic, improve safety and discourage parking, the local council have begun a new road scheme that includes wavy lines and a roundabout that currently consists of a single line circle, with existing give-way markings having been removed.
A council spokesperson has stressed that the project is not yet complete, with the full effect scheduled to be on show by the Spring. The short stretch of wavy line has been installed as a design feature that “creates an unconventional highway environment with the combined effect of both slowing traffic down and discouraging parking at the roadside” and “a road safety audit was completed when the scheme was designed. There will also be a further one undertaken when it’s completed.”
Unfortunately, however, the public and RAC reception to the scheme has been rather cool, with Simon Williams, RAC road safety spokesperson, describing the new initiative as “bizarre”.
Acknowledging that this is the opposite of what the council intended, he expressed fears that the “new wavy road markings could accidentally prove to be a road safety risk due to the confusion they create for drivers”. While wondering if “imagination may have got the better of the council”, he “hope[s] that the scheme delivers on its active travel objectives and proves money well spent – and that more road users of all types get to enjoy Clevedon’s seafront and historic pier.”
Residents are also concerned that the markings will be confusing to drivers and therefore dangerous to all road users, with some having signed a petition to have them redesigned.
Learnings and Considerations for New Road Schemes
It is a fact that, when it comes to our public spaces, new initiatives do often have teething problems. The ultimate goals of North Somerset Council are valuable ones, and as the number of vehicles on our roads continues to increase, those in charge of our highways are going to have to innovate new methods of traffic management to improve our urban environments and keep road users safe.
Projects such as this one requires not only careful planning but careful communication, and it’s important that the public are well informed. While the response to this road scheme has been poor, it could simply be a painful point on the learning curve that always comes with trying something new. Like the RAC, we hope the local council does achieve its aims and the project is a success – but if it transpires that there is a need to go back to the drawing board, hopefully the experience is a useful one that other councils can draw guidance on.
With every road marking and sign we see every day on our roads, there was a point when they were entirely new, and something road users had to adapt to. We shall watch the future of this project with interest.