New York hosts about 54 million tourists a year, and it’s pretty easy to tell who they are. They are the people who keep looking up, move about three miles an hour too slowly and meander along the sidewalks. The locals keep focused on what’s in front of them, walk at a pace that outsiders would consider close to a run, and they move in pretty straight lines. At least, they used to.
Now, thanks to texting, life-long New Yorkers are not paying attention to the foot traffic on the sidewalk in front of them, they get caught actually waiting at traffic lights while they read or thumb type, and they are back down to the human average of about three miles an hour on foot. It drives me guano crazy. I was in a hurry before I got to New York some 28 years ago. New Yorkers playing tourists have the same effect on the locals there, and I was a Londoner for three years.
And it is abroad that we residents of the City that Never Sleeps should look for a solution to this text-walking. Specifically, we need to take a page out of the book the good people of Antwerp, Belgium, are using. They have created “texting lanes” for pedestrians. If you are going to text and walk, you need to be between lines painted on the sidewalk.
The lanes were painted on a few sidewalks by Mlab, a chain of mobile phone stores in Belgium. “You probably walk through the streets while texting or sending WhatsApp messages to your friends and don’t really pay attention to your surroundings — only to whatever is happening on your screen,” explained David Verbeyst, Mlab’s marketing director. “This causes collisions with poles or other pedestrians. You could, unknowingly, even be endangering your own life while you ‘textwalk’ when you cross the street without looking up.”
Worse, you might be text-walking in front of me. When I am dictator-for-life, such people will be sent to re-education camps in Wyoming (along with people who speak too loudly on their phones in public, those who end arguments they have lost by saying, “Well, you’re entitled to your opinion” and those who believe the designated hitter rule has improved baseball).
Sadly, Mlab’s revolutionary break-through was merely a marketing gimmick. Indeed, the company found itself in trouble with the authorities. The mayor’s office showed a distinct lack of imagination as well as no sense of humor (Belgian stereotypes successfully reinforced). Spokesman Johan Vermant stated, “Spraying alternative lines on a street as to make people believe it has an official character, can be very confusing and even lead to accidents.” Mlab didn’t ask permission, so their lanes were considered “a form of graffiti which is strictly forbidden in our city.” The city has removed the paint and sent Mlab a bill as well as fined the company for breaking the law.
Now, I’ve never met Antwerp’s Mayor Bart de Wever, but I can’t believe he doesn’t see the merits of this idea. After all, he once appeared on a TV awards show as a presenter dressed as a panda bear — while candidate for the job of Prime Minister of Belgium. That shows some sort of imagination, but not enough apparently.
So, I guess we New Yorkers are going to have to import this idea despite it being unwelcome in its homeland. But just imagine for a moment walking at a New York City pace along 34th Street, down Broadway or in or along Central Park West secure in the knowledge that no one is about to slow down to read a text. A radical idea? Mayor Bloomberg rid Times Square of cars. Dare to dream, New York.
We could even call them “de Blasio lanes” after our mayor. Come on, Bill. London has Boris Bikes, you could go down as a household name. To de Blasio would be to text while walking in an appropriate pedestrian lane.
Oh, who the hell am I kidding? New Yorkers will walk wherever they damn well want. I’m more likely to get my camps in Wyoming than I am to change that.
Jeff Myhre is a contributing journalist for TheBlot Magazine.