The picture was originally created by Swedish artist Karl Jilg, who was commissioned by the Swedish Road Administration to explain new Vision Zero initiatives.

The ideas behind the initiatives were that

  1. The responsibility for preventing deaths and injuries on the road transportation system partly rests with the people who design that infrastructure, and
  2. Deaths and injuries on the road ultimately come down to kinetic energy.

The picture is intended to turn the kinetic energy of a moving car into a height to show the consequences of simple human mistakes in the road system. Research shows that the highest acceptable speed on a street with active users like this is 30km/h.

The full illustration of a city block with bottomless pits for streets. The pedestrians on the narrow sidewalks are acting normally, oblivious to the apparent danger of the situation. A businessman walks confidently across a small, bowed plank across the chasm. The illustration is much taller than it is wide, with the people concentrated in the upper half, drawing focus to the height of the chasm.
Pedestrians navigate the dangerous chasms of city streets. (Karl Jilg / Vägverket)

The image has been widely shared, thanks in part to a 2014 Vox article that used it to call attention to other pedestrian-hostile aspects about many cities’ street designs:

Most roads in the US are built for cars, not for pedestrians. This brilliant illustration shows just how lopsided the the proportions of a normal urban street corner really are.

The city sidewalk picture is just one of a series of four that Jilg illustrated for the Swedish government. The other one I found is set on a highway.

An illustration of a car speeding along a road high in the mountains. The road is narrow, the width of a single lane, with a cliff face on one side and a sheer drop on the other. The road continues over the ravine and into the distant mountains across similarly narrow truss arch bridges with no rails.
A car moving at highway speeds has a lot of kinetic energy. (Karl Jilg / Vägverket)

I’m not sure whether Jilg did any calculations to create these, but a head-on collision between two cars at highway speed is approximately equivalent to a single car being dropped from a height of 200m. Sweden added median barriers to many highways in the late ’90s, which reduced the incidence of head-on collisions and the risk of fatalities by 80%.

I have unfortunately not been able to find the other two illustrations in the set. Jilg has, however, done other work for the Swedish government.

A page out of a government manual about decision-making processes. Bullet points written in Swedish are illustrated with a drawing of five professional-looking people seated around a table at a meeting, and a person presenting some point about a proposed road on a topographic map.
A less striking example of Jilg's work. (Karl Jilg / Vägverket)