Though rumors swirled last summer that Philadelphia made texting while walking a ticketable offense, the city announced yesterday that it will be going a different route: dedicating a lane of sidewalk traffic to the preoccupied pedestrians.
Pedestrians were perplexed this afternoon at the bizarre debut of the city's first "E-Lane" of sidewalk traffic, designated for those who wish to use electronic devices while walking, on the 1400 block of JFK Boulevard in Center City.
Some kept to their designated direction in the two-way lane demarcated by white paint. Some tip-toed carefully on the margins, while others avoided the lane altogether or burst into giggles at the signs depicting a stick figure holding up a mobile device.
Perhaps most tellingly, those buried in their cell phones seemed not to notice it at all. "I looked down, but I didn't know what it was," said T.J. Jizzi of Bensalem as he and two friends texted on their touch screens. Jizzi said that he thought the lane was a good idea, as he and his friends often bump into people while walking and using their phones.
But not everyone was sold. "I think it's a waste of money, honestly," said Philadelphia resident Gary Dixon as he waited for the bus. "There's a lot of issues you could address, confront and deal with that are very much more important. This would be way at the bottom."
Mayor Michael Nutter and the city's Office of Transportation and Utilities rolled out the lane at a press conference on Saturday. In honor of April Fool's Day, the pedestrian thoroughfare is what Chief of Staff Andrew Stober calls a "serious prank."
"It’s not something we’re going to keep after the pilot period," Stober said. "The pilot period is an opportunity over the course of the next week to start a dialogue about pedestrian safety and people looking out for themselves while walking around the city."
"We noticed an increasing problem with people not paying attention to where they're going and being distracted by phones and smartphones and thought this was a fun way to draw attention to the issue and hopefully make the city safer."
Stober said that the effort was entirely financed by donations, down to the tape marking off the lane.
Photos and video of the pilot will be available here.