Scientists have found that setting up sculptures alongside the road can slow drivers down, potentially making for safer and more liveable towns.
Researchers placed brightly coloured works of art near two German communities and then measured the effect these had on drivers.
Speeding drivers drove more slowly, they found, observing traffic activity in Amelinghausen and Ottersberg, in northern Germany.
The works of art encouraged motorists to think. They attracted drivers’ attention, but did not pose a threat to road safety, the scientists say, based on an assessment of resident surveys, traffic measurements and recording drivers’ eye movements.
After the first sculptures were installed in Ottersberg, the number of speeding violations – faster than 50 kilometres per hour – decreased by up to 24%.
“It had an effect, but art alone doesn’t change everything,” says Rainer Höger, a professor of industrial psychology specializing in mobility at Germany’s University Lüneburg.
He is now calling for sculptures to be erected in combination with further infrastructural measures to calm traffic.
“As a major result of the project, it was found that artistic installations at the roadside can lower inner-city speed levels substantially in some cases, but the exact extent depends on inner-city characteristics,” says the team from Ottersberg University of Applied Sciences, TU Hamburg and Leuphana University of Lüneburg.
Drivers did not slow down right away after passing the first sculptures. Given that, the scientists recommend placing art works at the approach of some towns, or near to the entrance signs, to benefit from the slowing effect.
But that could be tricky in some places if there are traffic regulations that ban the placing of objects directly at roadsides outside built-up areas.
“It would be worth considering whether the rigid legal requirements could be relaxed, perhaps with an exemption, to initiate a speed reduction in the approach to a town by means of appropriate art installations,” the researchers suggest.
Art installations only change part of the local atmosphere, the experiment concludes. To permanently slow down speeding drivers, further changes are needed to the townscape, alongside speed limits.