Trying to get drivers to stop their vehicles for pedestrians crossing the road can be a trying experience. The Atlantic Monthly describes the innovative attempts of the City of La Paz Bolivia in changing driver behaviour in the streets, slowing traffic, and helping pedestrians survive. The “cebritas” program is a hybrid to that first introduced in the 1990’s in Bogota where mimes were sent out on the street to tease and admonish drivers breaking the rules.
La Paz is the highest capital city in the world, and decided to do things a bit differently. They have 265 local volunteers dressed in full-body zebra costumes who nudge “people toward good behavior. “On a lot of busy corners you will have police directing traffic, but their method of doing it is whistling at you, yelling at you, pulling you over, giving you a ticket,” says Derren Patterson, an American who owns a walking-tour agency in La Paz. “Whereas the way the zebras do it, if a car stops in the crosswalk, they will lay across his hood.” The volunteer zebras are popular at schools and hospitals, are interviewed on media, and participate in parades. Many are students.
The program is so well accepted that there is a “day program” that allows tourists to dress up as zebras and join the La Paz zebras in the streets. As an early program organizer noted ” “They may be dressed up as zebras, but they defend what is human about the city.” Last December the Zebras won the “Guangzhou International Award for Urban Innovation, which recognizes cities and regions with innovative approaches to improving public life. The award’s organizers commended La Paz for its response to a “very serious challenge” confronting cities worldwide—the subordination of pedestrians to cars—with “great humor and understanding,” and said they hoped the project might inspire “more civilized streets” around the world.”