Philadelphia: Texting While Walking Is No Joke

fromWHYY

Philadelphia has installed a pilot lane for distracted pedestrians. The first of its kind in the world, the lane was installed on a city sidewalk just in time for April Fools Day. The lane will be up all week as a creative campaign to raise awareness on pedestrian safety.

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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

And let's turn to another baseball city now, Philadelphia. Philadelphia's known as the city of firsts claiming bragging rights to America's first hospital, first zoo, first stock exchange, first daily newspaper. This weekend, April 1st to be exact, the city embraced the title once again with the world's first designated lane for distracted pedestrians.

Reporter Emma Jacobs of member station WHYY explains.

EMMA JACOBS, BYLINE: Carmella Navarro is waiting beside a pair of bus shelters on the corner. While she waits, she does what she always seems to be doing, typing away on her phone.

And you're texting right now?

CARMELLA NAVARRO: Mm-hmm.

JACOBS: What are you doing?

NAVARRO: Texting friends, boyfriends, girlfriends, everybody.

JACOBS: Then her phone rings and she answers it.

NAVARRO: So, tell her - I knew she was home. I didn't (unintelligible) on Facebook. And I told (unintelligible)...

JACOBS: Navarro happens to be standing right outside the newly painted white lines running down the middle of this downtown block. The lines mark a space specifically for people texting while walking - otherwise known as distracted walkers. Navarro says she likes the idea of a lane just for texting.

NAVARRO: I will definitely use it. I definitely would, because it's better. So I would have protection, instead of being texting and get - you know what I mean?

JACOBS: Navarro is practically the inspiration for the new lane. The official launch of the so called e-lane took place under a yellow sign with a texting pedestrian icon.

RINA CUTLER: Good morning.

MAYOR MICHAEL NUTTER: Good morning.

JACOBS: Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter was there to initiate the pilot project with a press conference.

NUTTER: So, this effort, the e-lane, a first in any major city in the country, once again reestablishing Philadelphia as a leader in the vanguard of public safety.

JACOBS: This line - which by the way is kind of an April Fools Joke - was the brainchild of Rina Cutler, deputy mayor for transportation and utilities. She said she was tired of seeing people texting and driving, texting and biking, and especially people texting and walking.

CUTLER: ...with their heads down, busy email, texting, and paying absolutely no attention when they cross the street. And I mean, they don't even lift up their heads to cross the street.

JACOBS: Cutler gives the lane an inaugural run using her BlackBerry, followed by Mayor Nutter who then directs the first phone wielding citizen to use the lane. She's a confused-looking woman with a cell phone and a stroller. Soon enough, another texting pedestrian comes along, unintentionally putting the lane to use.

MATT RELOADED: Texting on my phone completely obliviously to, you know, these markers that's down here now. Until it was explained to me, I had no idea this was a texting lane. That's so funny.

JACOBS: Matt Reloaded says he likes the pilot lane a lot, and wonders...

RELOADED: Are they going to put them all over the city?

JACOBS: When he learned it was actually an April Fools Day joke, he sighed and said he wasn't too disappointed. Philadelphia's distracted pedestrian lane will be up all week.

For NPR News, I'm Emma Jacobs in Philadelphia.

GREENE: In case you missed it, here's a roundup of some April Fools Day mischief on the Web. Google announced plans for their driverless cars to compete in NASCAR races. The company also unveiled a retro look for its maps with 8-bit graphics and '80s soundtrack that will probably make you nostalgic for the original Nintendo.

Sony, for its part, said it's rolling out a laptop that is the size of a quarter. And YouTube announced that you can now order every single YouTube video uploaded ever, now neatly collected in a DVD boxed set. And you can have the YouTube collection delivered right to your house by 175 trucks. April Fools.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

GREENE: And you are listening to NPR News.

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