It's a fact of modern life that people walk down the street looking at their phones. Whether it's because you need to fire off that good tweet (which is probably bad anyway), you're one of those lousy millennials sending a text because you'd rather die than actually talk on the phone, or you really think that playing enough Game Of War means you get to meet Kate Upton, everyone loves their dang phones. A town in the Netherlands, which has decided that this is a problem, is trying to fix it by installing traffic lights in the sidewalk to catch people's eyes. Good idea here or nah? Nah, right?
According to Quartz, the Dutch town of Bodegraven has begun a pilot program of putting L.E.D. lights on the sidewalk of intersections in order to deal with the apparent massive problem of people looking at their phones while they walk. The sidewalk traffic light project has been installed at a single intersection in Bodegraven at the moment, but at least one local politician there is into the idea.
"The attraction of social media, games, WhatsApp and music is great and at the expense of attention to traffic. As a government, we probably can not easily reverse this trend, but we want to anticipate it in there," Kees Oskam, a local councilor, said about the lights according to Quartz. The site also endorsed seemed to endorse the idea, decrying "zombie-like" pedestrians who look at their phones while they walk, seemingly unaware that their habit could make them more prone to getting hit by a car, according to a Wall Street Journal article from last year.
Should/could this addition to the traffic system be brought to New York City and other places? Eh, I don't think so. This is, I hope anyway, a mild take, but at the moment, drivers behind the wheel of cars and trucks are responsible for way more traffic deaths and injuries than pedestrians. Rather than being a bold, exciting, disruptive way to keep pedestrians from being killed, the sidewalk L.E.D. lights bring to mind David Letterman's "We've got to put diapers on horses" example of people searching for a solution to a small problem.
The lights fit more into the narrative of attempting to criminalize pedestrians for daring to be distracted while they walk, one that has come to New York before, only to fail. As we pointed out when state Senator Carl Kruger proposed fining pedestrians for using electronics in intersections, there are many ways to define who's "distracted":
People are definitely distracted when they are plugged into their iPods or messaging on their cells, but what about the drivers who are just as distracted? Maybe they shouldn't be listening to the radio or music. How about we ban parents from pushing their kids in strollers? Couples walking together (they might get into fights)? Tourists who take pictures as they walk? Dog walkers? The law has infinite possibilities!
And besides, even that WSJ article on how distracted walkers are landing in the hospital more than ever has some problems. There's nothing in the data pegged to the Journal article about whether pedestrians looking at their phones who were hit by cars had the right of way, or were on the sidewalk or were otherwise not on fault. And the same critique of the article points out that while people who text while walking move more slowly than people who don't, the same can be said about the elderly, the injured and disabled and the very young. It all adds up, at least in my opinion, to just another way to shift the responsibility from the people in control of two-ton death machines onto people who aren't in charge of them. Far be it from me to stand in the way of Dutch traffic engineering firm HIG Traffic Systems getting some of that sweet, sweet government project scratch, but let's please solve the problems of drivers injuring and killing people before we move on to allegedly saving pedestrians from themselves.