At night, a new glow-in-the-dark highway in the Netherlands lights up like a scene from Tron. Instead of power-hungry streetlights, the road is painted with photo-luminescent stripes that suck up sunshine during the day and start to glow when the sun goes down.
The stretch of road, about an hour south of Amsterdam, is a pilot test of the “smart highways” project from the design firm Studio Roosegaarde. After testing concepts in the lab, the designers wanted to try out the design in real life to see if it was durable, weatherproof, and offered a good user experience.
Drivers were so stunned by the road that it initially stopped traffic. “The reaction has been great,” says Daan Roosegaarde, the studio’s founder. “We even had a local traffic jam because people wanted to see it.” Roosegaarde also describes it as “going through a fairy tale.”
The glowing stripes completely replace streetlights, wiring, and heavy electricity use. The design is also a new take on the potential for sustainable technology to look like art, and maybe even a make-out spot. “The Glowing Lines . . . shows that an energy-neutral world can also be very beautiful,” Roosegaarde says. “It’s something you would like to take your girlfriend or boyfriend to visit.”
The concept was first unveiled two years ago, but has been challenging to bring to life. “The combination of a design studio working with a road industry has never been done before–our world is millimeters, their world is kilometers,” the designer explains. “There’s also the brutal impact cars and trucks can have on a smart design. But we managed to merge these practical and poetic worlds.”
After the successful pilot test, the team plans to build glowing highways in China and Japan, as well as a larger project in the Netherlands. The cost of the projects should soon be comparable to installing a normal streetlight system.
“Our target is that after two or three more projects the Glowing Lines will be price-competitive with standard streetlights since you can skip cables and the energy bill,” Roosegaarde explains. “The lines are much, much [more] energy-friendly than a streetlamp.”
The design is just one of 20 ideas the firm has for reinventing modern roads–other designs include inductive charging for electric cars, roads that automatically light up with snowflakes to show that the surface is slippery, and interactive lighting that illuminates only when a car passes. Next up is a glowing bicycle path that will open in the Netherlands later in November.