Pavement Patty

One doesn’t think of Canada as being on the cutting edge of anything except perhaps political correctness, and its kissin’ cousin, politeness, but a recent news story out of British Columbia suggests that our northern neighbo(u)r may be leading the pack with regard to high-tech speed limit enforcement: the virtual pedestrian. It seems that the good townsfolk of West Vancouver, BC, dissatisfied with the policing effects of the low-tech old standby, the speed bump, have upped the ante on scofflaws by painting a weirdly wonderful trompe-l’oeil mural of sorts on the pavement adjacent to a local school, depicting a young child chasing a ball into the street. As the driver approaches the painting, it appears to “rise up” off the surface of the street, an effect not unlike the painted eyes of a portrait “following” the viewer around the viewing room. For a remarkable visual demonstration on just how effective an illusion this is, have a look at this short video on YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8r26AwT7PTM&feature=player_embedded

The girl in the video is nicknamed “Pavement Patty,” no doubt an allusion to her two-dimensionality (think “hamburger patty”). Discover magazine had this to say about PP: “In what sounds like a terrifying experience, the girl’s elongated form appears to rise from the ground as cars approach, reaching 3D realism at around 100 feet, and then returning to 2D distortion once cars pass that ideal viewing distance. Its designers created the image to give drivers who travel at the street’s recommended 18 miles per hour (30 km per hour) enough time to stop before hitting Pavement Patty—acknowledging the spectacle before they continue to safely roll over her.”

Note that last: “…before they continue to safely roll over her.” Now there’s a concept that merits some discussion, or at least a bit of forethought. A tongue-in-cheek observation from thehighdefinite.com hits the mark, no pun intended: “Nothing promotes vehicular safety like desensitizing the act of running over children with your car. I’m sure this will end well.” Certainly there is the potential of Three Stooges scenarios in which one driver slams on the brakes to avoid hitting the “child”, setting off a chain reaction of rear-end collisions; the drivers of the second-through-the-umpteenth cars would see no looming danger, as flat Patty would be effectively blocked from their vision by the first vehicle in the line. It’d be a hoot to watch, though. Conversely, might drivers who become used to Patty and her soon-to-be-ubiquitous playmates inadvertently neglect to slow down for a real child? British Columbia Automobile Association Traffic Safety Foundation Spokesperson (does he really fit all that onto a standard business card?) David Dunne brooks no such balderdash: “It’s a static image. If a driver can’t respond to this appropriately, that person shouldn’t be driving, and that’s a whole different problem.” Well, harrumph, David! Me, I’m going to look on eBay and see if I can find a vintage bumper sticker from my halcyon hippie days: “Warning! I brake for hallucinations.”

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