Co.Design

Ingenious Flipper Bridge Melds Left-Side Drivers With Right-Side Drivers

Chinese Flipper bridge

One of the most vexing aspects of traveling between mainland China andHong Kong is the car travel: People in the former drive on the rightside of the road; people in the latter drive on the left (a vestige of the British empire).

So to quellconfusion at the border and, more importantly, to keep cars fromsmashing into each other, the Dutch firm NL Architects proposed a brilliant, simple solution, the Flipper bridge.

Flipper bridge

The bridge does exactly what the name suggests: It flips trafficaround. The key here is separating the two sides of traffic, using a figure-eight shape. One side of the road dips underthe other, funneling cars that were traveling on the left to theright (and vice versa), without forcing them to encounter head-on traffic at an intersection. The bridgemakes what should be a disorienting switch exquisitely easy. Check outPixelActive's 3D model of the traffic flowbelow:

Say, for instance, you're coming from Zhuhai. As you cross thebridge on the right into Hong Kong, the highway slopes downward to letyou pass under the oncoming traffic. As it slopes back up, you reemergeon the left. No cars barreling straight at you. No concrete labyrinthto maneuver through. No sweat (and, ostensibly, no blood).

Flipper bridge

The bridge is part of a master plan NL Architects floated for an ideascompetition on the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau Bridge, a complex of bridges andtunnels connecting the west side of Hong Kong to mainland China andMacau. (As clever as their idea was, NL Architects, alas, didn't prevail;first prize in the professional category went to a proposal called"Under One Roof" that unctuously billed itself as "China, Macau andHong Kong as one big family," all but ensuring a win.)


In some ways, though, perhaps the Flipper bridge may be too good of an idea. One of the great paradoxes of driving, as Tom Vanderbilt highlights in his terrific book Traffic, isthat dangerous roads are actually safer precisely because they'reperceived as dangerous; that is, they make drivers more vigilant andtherefore less likely to get into a collision. (Which explains theseemingly inexplicable appeal of European roundabouts.)

In 1967,Sweden switched over to right-side driving, after years on the left, and everyone steeled themselves for a spike in accidents. Instead, incidents plummeted. Facing apparent peril, people became more cautious behind the wheel (and others probably stayed off the road altogether).

Sure, the Flipper bridgeseems like a fail-safe idea. But what if a driver, lulled by the easy left-right transition, forgot that the change over had even been made? You can bet a horrifying accident would result. Sometimes, a little danger is a goodthing.

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