The latest way to stop speeders in South Florida? Trick them with an optical illusion.
The "magic" involves marking a road with hash marks, similar to those on a football field. With the lines spaced at gradually closer intervals, drivers get the illusion they're going faster than they really are -- and tap the brakes, traffic engineers say.
The technique for the first time will be tested in Fort Lauderdale later this year or early next year. It will start on a curving stretch of Andrews Avenue and if it works, it may be used on other roads in Broward and Palm Beach counties.
"As is the case with all these types of pilot programs, we want to see test cases that are well-conceived, and have a high probability of mitigating or improving the problem," said Broward County Traffic Engineer Scott Brunner.
Palm Beach County traffic engineers, too, said they would be open to the idea, which is similar to an experiment tried in the '90s on Skees Road in West Palm Beach. That work has since been paved over or worn out.
"As I recall, most of the research showed that there was some reduction, but [it] was in the 1-2 mph range," said Dan Weisberg, director of Palm Beach County's traffic engineering division.
Researchers at the Federal Highway Administration say by spacing the lines gradually closer together, it creates the illusion that drivers are getting to them sooner. Therefore, drivers think they're traveling faster than they are and slow down. The pattern of lines also grabs their attention.
Other states have used the low-cost illusion since 2004, with studies in Kansas and Virginia showing they cut average speeds by up to 5 mph, depending on location.
However, a Florida-based test of the stripes at the junction of Interstates 4 and 95 near Daytona Beach a few years ago showed "not much of a difference," said state Department of Transportation spokesman Steve Olson. Motorists, particularly during wet weather, were losing control on the curved ramp from eastbound I-4 to northbound I-95.
Still, Fort Lauderdale decided to give optical speed bars a try on Andrews, between Northeast 15th and 17th streets, after pleas from residents in the surrounding South Middle River neighborhood. The north-south road, with a 35 mph speed limit, is a major link between downtown and suburbs to the north.
"Our residents have, for years, complained about the dangerous speeding and aggressive driving on Andrews," said Lawrence Jackson-Rosen, the civic association's vice president. "There are frequent collisions. Vehicles have plowed into yards, fences and houses along Andrews. It is unsafe for our schoolchildren, seniors and others."
Traffic engineers will use thermoplastic tape to create white, perpendicular lines on both sides of the travel lanes, about a foot wide and 18 inches long. The project is still being designed and it hasn't been determined how long the test will last.
The targeted stretch of Andrews leads into a curve which connects the street in Fort Lauderdale with what used to be known as the North Andrews Avenue Extension.
Research by the highway administration said the "illusion" is best used on road segments where vehicles traveling at high speeds need to slow to navigate curves.
Staff writer Dan Tracy contributed to this report.
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