German city embeds traffic lights in the sidewalk for people who are looking at their phones

traffic lights in pavement
© City of Augsburg

Now this is clever: The City of Augsburg in Germany has installed traffic lights in the pavement so that people who are looking down at their phones won’t miss the fact that they are at a red light. It is in reaction to the death of a 15 year old girl in Munich, killed by a streetcar while looking at her smart phone while listening to music through earbuds.

Of course the Washington Post titled their story “Clueless smartphone users keep walking in front of trains” and every single commenter talks about Darwin and that the clueless smartphone users deserve what they get. No doubt these are the same people who complain about the money wasted on highway guardrails and air bags and all those costly things that save drivers' lives when they make a mistake.


In fact it is a really good idea. Doug Gordon is right; technology changes the way people behave. So instead of talking about Darwin and and about how stupid people are, why not adapt our environment to the new circumstances. Not everyone has terrific vision and can see a light on the other side of the street; as you can see in the top photo, this is in an area under a bridge where it is suddenly darker than the outdoors and eyes have to adjust. And really, isn't it better to anticipate that people are looking at their phones instead of just yelling at them.

lights in platformLloyd Alter/ Lights in Washington Metro platform/CC BY 2.0

Right in Washington, where these dumb articles were written, they have had red lights in the Metro platforms to warn people that a train is coming; I thought they were such a good idea that I took a photo. And those were installed in the seventies, long before cellphones. But the reason is the same: an additional layer of warning for greater safety.

In the translated Panorama article that was the source of these stories, a city spokesperson notes that “It creates a whole new level of attention.” And that is a good thing for everyone, not just the people looking at their phones. Instead of calling people jerks, make the world a safer place.

Tags: Germany | Urban Life | Urban Planning | Walking

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