Caught up between bikes, buses, taxis, trucks and general traffic, those who explore the city on foot are still the most vulnerable on the street. But help is at hand from some clever souls who focus on protecting pedestrians – with ingenious ideas being developed around the globe.

1. Zebra crossings – without the stripes

One of the earliest pedestrian safety measures, the zebra crossing, has been around since 1948 – back then drawing eyes with its vibrant blue-yellow color scheme. Four years after its British debut, today’s monochrome version arrived in Berlin. Still, the moment our brains get used to something, they tend to pay less attention. In the US city of Portland, officials alighted on a creative countermeasure to revive the crossing’s eye-catching potential with an artistic twist: Tried-and-tested stripes were replaced by raindrops and a huge umbrella in Old Town-Chinatown. Meanwhile, similarly creative crosswalks alert drivers to walkers in all corners of the world, from the South African literal take on “zebra crossing” to Korea’s “ergo crosswalk.”

2. Pedestrians count

While we’re on the topic of zebra crossings, London – which incidentally boasts the world’s most famous example, immortalized on The Beatles’ “Abbey Road” cover – has been testing a less ostentatious, yet infinitely smarter version at its Balham and Tooting subway stops. Here, cameras register the number of waiting pedestrians and adjust traffic light phases accordingly. Parts of this tongue-twisting SCOOT (Pedestrian Split Cycle Offset Optimization Technique) system for a more tailored traffic flow are currently being tried in Toronto and Beijing. Of course, Big Brother is co-watching here. But at least the British have already gotten used to this nearly total surveillance by CCTV during the last decade.

Scoot crosswalk smart magazine
SCOOT – traffic lights that are aware of pedestrians
Photo: London Public Transport/ CNN

3. Expansive illuminations

Another means of traffic direction, traffic lights, were invented back in 1868 when an intrepid engineer installed the first ever version on London’s Parliament Square. Yet despite their by now ubiquitous use, they still have one design flaw that makes driving and walking less secure: Under certain circumstances, conventional traffic lights are blocked from view by large trucks or buses, thus increasing the risk of accidents. Now, four designers from South Korea have come up with a new offset model reminiscent of a modern loudspeaker – its placement and design ensure visibility across 180 degrees. And while these aptly named panorama traffic lights remain a study at this stage, they certainly give traffic planners something to think about.

4. Heads-up for smartphones

While traffic planning plays a part in pedestrian safety, those who travel the city on foot also engage in risky behavior. Smartphone addicts, for example, often can’t bear to look away from the beloved screens and neglect to scan their surroundings for potential obstacles. To raise awareness of this fixation and danger, so-called text walking lanes were installed recently in the Belgian city of Antwerp. Their simple goal: to prevent unnecessary collisions with absent-minded smart and cell phone users by giving them their very own lane.
Well, this particular initiative was not instigated by official channels, research institutions, or concerned A&E departments: Coined to promote a smartphone shop, the clever marketing idea nevertheless highlights a well-known and serious problem.

text walking lanes smart magazine
In Antwerp, phone addicts get their own text walking lanes
Photo: Rob Pegoraro / Flickr

5. Humorous guidance

Translating such guidance to a grander scale, an ambitious campaign in Tokyo tries to teach 23 million people new navigation skills. To avoid collisions and falls in the city’s subway system, operators increasingly supplement their announcements with manga-style safety posters and the power of bright-yellow paint – coupled with a touch of humor. Worried about passenger safety, they not only plastered entire sets of stairs with warnings for smartphone users, to give them a heads-up on oncoming obstacles, but fully aware of the low impact such measures tend to have, they also add a tongue-in-cheek subline: “Walking while using a smartphone is dangerous (but those people probably didn’t see this announcement).”

Header image: Getty Images / Richard Bolt