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Mrunal Manmay Dash

Everybody knows what those black and white striped lines are on city roads and what the usage is. The zebra crossing is an integral part of city planning and road designs. These are, perhaps, the most people-friendly parts of our cities because traffic has to stop to allow pedestrians to cross road safely.

If we dig deep into the etymology of the term ‘Zebra Crossing’, it will point to the British politicians and aristocrats in the 1930s. However, there are multiple views and historical anecdotes.

According to one view, when the English drove their cars on Indian streets in the 1930s, bus and tram conductors in Kolkata would shout ‘pleasure car’ and everything moving on road would stand still to give way to them.

In those times, there were a few zebra pulled passenger carts. Unlike horses, zebras were known for disobeying orders. In fact, the first one to revolt against the English command was probably a zebra. Whenever this happened, the Englishmen, out of fear had to stop and give way to the zebra cart on road.

Later, zebra carts were banned. But their stripes were put on the road and called' zebra crossing to halt traffic and give way to pedestrians.

According to another theory, during the late 1930’s, experiments with different road markings were conducted at a thousand locations around the UK. After all the tests, the black and white pattern was the one that proved to be the most effective.

The stripes were visible from far away, giving drivers enough time to reduce their speed, and the pedestrians walking across the street were also much clearer. One day, a British politician, Jim Callaghan visiting a trial crossing spontaneously called them ‘Zebra Crossing’ and the name stuck!

There are a few exceptions to the stripes though. A town in Spain, for example, decided to replace the stripes with polka dots. This was because cows in their area had dotted patches on their skin. These were called “Cow Crossings” to highlight how important cows were to their area.

In Hong Kong, a yellow-and-black pattern was called “Tiger Crossings”.

There are even rainbow-striped pedestrian crossings in Finland, Sweden, and Paris, inspired by gay pride.

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