Should all pedestrians be clad in lime green?

shirt arm
© Vollebak

Over on Co.Design, Mark Wilson writes about Why We Should All Wear The World’s Most Visible Color:

Thousands of pedestrians and bike riders are hit by cars every year in a terrible trend that’s only growing. It’s a problem of our infrastructure, but the best defense can simply be making yourself as visible to drivers as possible. Which is why the young athletic wear brand Vollebak is designed specifically to stand out.

It turns out that this shade of lime green with a wavelength of 555 nanometers is the most visible colour of all because it is “the point at which the greatest number of cones of your eye are stimulated the most.” They have also added a series of reflective dots that work much like the dots worn by Andy Serkis when filming the Lord of the Rings for motion capture. Evidently when we see this pattern of dots, we read it as a person. Steve Tidball of Vollebak tells Wilson about a study in Sweden:

By attaching small lights to people’s elbows, hips, and other joints, and filming them walking and climbing, they showed that just eight points of light on the front of a torso surrounded by darkness were enough to enable us to accurately perceive three-dimensional human motion. In other words, we can tell we’re looking at a person, as well as what direction they’re moving and at what speed.

hi viz newspaperNewspaper clipping/Screen capture

Hi-Viz has become controversial lately; in the UK and Ireland in particular, they have become obsessed with it. Some are calling for it to be a mandatory requirement for all pedestrians and cyclists.


Kids cannot go out on the street without it.


Car manufacturers are running ads promoting it for children, while at the same time promoting giant touchscreen dashboards.


But as the joking tweets, and many more serious ones note, buildings and people on sidewalks and inside restaurants being hard to see is not the problem.

hi viz lloydLloyd Alter dressed for winter ride/CC BY 2.0

I wear a hi-viz vest (and a helmet) at night when I ride, especially in winter, given that all my clothing is black and I am often forced to travel in car lanes when bike lanes are full of snow. I just feel safer in it. But demanding Hi-viz for pedestrians is turning into the same thing as the drivers complaining about helmets for cyclists- shifting the burden of responsibility from the driver to the pedestrian. Just like you see when cyclists get squished by big trucks where the helmet is a total irrelevance, you now get “the pedestrian was dressed in black and had no hi-viz.” It is not a surprise that big promoters of this are car companies like Volvo and BMW; as I wrote earlier (I write about this a lot):

It is inculcating a culture of fear, that the only safe place to be is encased inside an automobile. And if you get in their way and do not have the proper attitude or defences, you will be squished like a bug. And you will be blamed for it.

Vollebak shirt© Vollebak

I actually like this shirt from Vollebak, and wouldn’t mind wearing it on an early morning run. But I don’t think I want to wear it out to dinner or the theatre. And being an architect, my entire wardrobe is black. If I am walking on a sidewalk or crossing a street with the right of way, I shouldn’t have to worry about this. But all the drivers and the police are pushing hi-viz as a way of blaming the victim: "I couldn’t see her, she wasn’t wearing anything reflective.” It sends a message that walking isn’t safe.


So please, Mark Wilson and others, don’t say “it’s a problem with our infrastructure but the best defense can simply be making yourself as visible to drivers as possible.” It probably makes things more dangerous for the people not wearing vests since the drivers come to expect them. It scares people off the streets. It’s like saying we have a problem with guns so everyone should wear bulletproof vests.

Fix the problem, don’t blame the victim.

Tags: Cities | Clothing | Walking

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