Well, here we are again, standing once more at the threshold of modern convenience and actively undermining the Darwin Awards. The city of Augsburg, Germany has installed traffic lights directly into the sidewalk so that smartphone users will know what color the light is without looking up.
City spokesperson Stephanie Lermen spoke in defense of the project saying that it “creates a whole new level of attention,” but detractors believe that the project serves as an unnecessary crutch for bad habits. City leaders point out that nearly 20 percent of pedestrians are distracted by their smartphones, according to a recent European study. Young people in particular are more likely to engage in these potentially dangerous behaviors more frequently.
While it’s true that the Department of Transportation in the United States has determined that there is an increased incidence of pedestrian deaths associated with texting while walking near dangerous intersections, many believe the solution is not to install technology that enables people to continue these habits, but rather to encourage an increased awareness of one’s surroundings. One Augsberger told the local newspaper that he didn’t even notice the sidewalk lights until the reporter pointed them out, and many commentators are complaining that the initiative wasted valuable tax dollars.
Officials counter that the project will save lives, citing the case of a local 15-year-old girl who was struck and killed by a tram after walking onto the tracks while looking down at her cell phone. Whether or not the plan will work is yet to be determined, but while we wait for the numbers to come out over the next year or so, let us know what you think of the concept of sidewalk-embedded traffic lights in the comments below!