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(Iakov Kalinin/Getty Images/iStockphoto)
(Iakov Kalinin/Getty Images/iStockphoto)

The Green Highway

Can green-tinted roads curb speeding? Add to ...

What a fortune we pay to put paint on roads.

Pavement markings help us stay on the road, but they don’t last long and are often near-impossible to see at night. And cheap they ain’t. As far as I can determine, painting a single white line on the road with white epoxy paint costs 25 cents a foot (82 cents a metre). Therefore, according to my math, one white line down the road from Toronto to Montreal costs almost half a million bucks.

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And the line will probably only last a year; maybe more in low-traffic areas. They’re always working on this stuff and the goals are to add reflectivity, increase longevity and lower the installation cost.

The first painted lines happened in Michigan in 1911. Since then, there’s been an argument about white versus yellow, but the bright yellow was lead chromate and highly toxic. White centre lines are now standard. So what’s my point? There’s an interesting experiment going on near Ithaca, N.Y., to determine if the colour of road paint can make a positive impression on drivers.

On the edges of Ithaca is Ellis Hollow Road. It was repaved in 2011 and New York State regulations required that the road be widened. But as soon as the road was widened, motorists started to speed, according to Tompkins County highway director Jeffrey Smith. To slow them down, the county decided on what Smith called a “shoulder-tinting research project.” This summer, the Tompkins County highway division painted a 1-1/2-mile stretch of the road shoulders bright green. The idea was that it would make the road look narrower to drivers and cause them to slow down.

It’s not a crazy idea. With the green shoulders, you can see clearly where the side of the road ends and that also makes it obvious where pedestrians and cyclists might be. It gives the impression of a narrower road. Local politicians said that municipalities in other parts of the country have used green-tinted roads to successfully reduce the speed of traffic

Ithaca is a good place to study this issue as it is home to Cornell University, an Ivy League school with more than 20,000 students. Cornell is usually ranked among the top 20 universities in the world. I hope somebody there pays attention to this highway-painting exercise.

Of course it’s controversial. An Ellis Hollow Road resident was quoted in the local newspaper: “Everybody who has come out here thinks it’s a joke. People haven’t slowed down and it’s a waste of money.” The local government is still on the fence but hopeful. Officials plan to study it by measuring the speed and counting the cars to decide one way or the other whether it’s making a difference.

Normally I would have written this off as a PR-inspired gimmick from some paint company to peddle more paint. But in certain circumstances, I can see the point of this. If you believe Ontario’s $155 fine for using hand-held devices while driving has had had an impact on reducing distracted driving, you haven’t looked around lately. The day I wrote this, a car came within a centimetre or two of slamming into me. In my rear-view mirror, I clearly saw the guy behind me gabbing on his hand-held phone.

Everybody today seems to think that driving a car is as automatic as walking, or in more contemporary terms, as surfing the net. Driving safely requires endless practise and unbroken concentration. I see less and less of both day after day.

If green paint can make some drivers more aware of where they’re driving and what they’re doing, then maybe paint (however expensive) is something we should pay for.

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