This Is What It's Like to Drive on a Glow-in-the-Dark Highway

Energy-trapping paint is bringing a Tron-like aesthetic to the roads of the Netherlands.

In the Dutch city of Oss, 60 miles southeast of Amsterdam, there's a highway named N329. During the day, N329 is a stretch of road like so many others around the world—paved, painted, studded with signs. At night, however, N329—a 500-meter stretch of it, anyway—transforms. Its markings glow in the dark. 

It's an experiment that's been in the works for a couple of years at this point—an attempt to solve the problem of too-dark roads not with lights, but with glowing strips of paint. This week, crews painted the Oss stretch of N329 with a "photo-luminizing" powder that charges in the daytime and then releases a green glow at night. And Dutch TV was there to document the beautiful strangeness.

The paint is temperature-sensitive, as well, meaning that it can light up to alert drivers of perils like icy road conditions. 

The idea for all this—lane markers as signs—comes courtesy of the interactive artist Daan Roosegaarde, who worked with the Dutch civil engineering firm Heijmans to develop the paint. Roosegaarde sees the project not as what it might seem to be on the surface—a "Cosmic Bowling" take on road-tripping—but rather as a way to save energy. As Roosegaarde told the BBC last year: "The government is shutting down streetlights at night to save money, energy is becoming much more important than we could have imagined 50 years ago. This road is about safety and envisaging a more self-sustainable and more interactive world."

And the locus of the interaction is, significantly, the road itself. "I was completely amazed that we somehow spend billions on the design and R&D of cars but somehow the roads—which actually determine the way our landscape looks—are completely immune to that process," Roosegaarde explained. Roads that light themselves are an attempt to bring innovation to cars' infrastructure, rather than to cars themselves. And while the Oss highway is at this point a small pilot project, it could spread internationally later this year. Buckle your seatbelts.

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Megan Garber is a staff writer at The Atlantic. She was formerly an assistant editor at the Nieman Journalism Lab, where she wrote about innovations in the media.

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