I’ve always been interested in the walking patterns of people along sidewalks, in public places, or in hallways so this TV test of cellphone lanes on sidewalks looks fascinating:
Sidewalk collisions involving pedestrians engrossed in their electronic devices have become an irritating (and sometimes dangerous) fact of city life. To prevent them, what about just creating a “no cellphones” lane on the sidewalk? Would people follow the signs? That’s what a TV crew decided to find out on a Washington, D.C., street last week as part of a behavioral science experiment for a new National Geographic TV series.
As might be expected, some pedestrians ignored the chalk markings designating a no-cellphones lane and a lane that warned pedestrians to walk “at your own risk.” Others didn’t even see them because they were too busy staring at their phones. But others stopped, took pictures and posted them—from their phones, of course.
Of course, you have to watch the show to find out the complete outcome. But, I would guess most people didn’t pay much attention to the markings. While the experiment targets cell phones, there are lots of ways pedestrians can create problems on sidewalks. Cell phones may be particularly dangerous because people keep moving while not paying attention but other issues abound including people who suddenly stop right in the middle of walking people or others who walk at least three people across and force others to move out of the way.
There are places where such signs or markings do seem to work. It is common in Europe to see signs telling people on escalators or moving walkways to stand to one side to let others pass on the other side. In contrast, Americans tend to clog up such pathways. Similarly, the BART in San Fransisco has markings indicating where to line up for train cars while waiting. This works with a system where the train always stops at the same place but it does create a more orderly system than the free-for-all that is often common around train car doors.
It would be interesting to know why people might or might not follow such directions. Are they not paying attention while walking (this is common amongst drivers who can tune out all of the signs)? Is there a lack of enforcement? Are sidewalks and other walkways seen as more democratic settings (they are public property after all) where people should be able to do what they want?