Phone Lanes: Coming Soon?


It all started with a joke. In 2012, Philadelphia’s mayor decided to celebrate April’s fool by pretending to create “e-lanes” in the city: following the model of cycle lanes, parts of the sidewalk would be reserved to pedestrians using their phones while walking. The fake program was presented in a short video where “e-lanes” were introduced as a security measure as well as the solution to crowded sidewalks. At that time, the video appeared as a dorky joke that just sounded a bit too farfetched to be true. Some of us probably even laughed at the surprised Philadelphians who had obviously forgotten what day it was.

However, 2 years later, the prank almost appears as a premonitory vision of 21st century urban organization. Indeed, phones lanes were actually implemented last summer in Washington D.C. as well as in Chongqing, a Chinese city. Nevertheless, in both cases, the phone lanes were not “real”, if we consider the fact  that they were merely an experiment in Washington and had only been applied in one theme park in China.

Yet, after a prank, a sociological experiment and a theme park attraction, the logical follow-up would be actual phone lanes put into effect in a major city. The thin line between fiction and reality could very well be crossed in the near future, and while the phone lanes have not yet become real, their actual physical lines –separating moving phone users from ordinary (and soon to be old-fashioned) pedestrians – might soon become a reality in our own urban spaces.

The phone lane solution presents itself as a peculiar idea at first but let’s think about it for a minute. Who has never complained about a rude and hasty co-pedestrian too busy checking his e-mails or answering a text to avoid a collision? It might not be the number one security issue but it still might be a way to bring fluidity to streets and sidewalks.

After all, it always comes down to this issue of circulation. Congestion was, and still is, the main problem in most cities. It is the case with cars (especially in European cities with medieval centres) but also with men. If we look back to 19th century Paris, Haussmann’s “Grands Travaux” were supposed to facilitate the movement of goods and men. Nowadays, phone lanes might, in that same manner, be able to do the trick. Indeed, it would conciliate two different paces in urban spaces and it would certainly be quite easy to implement. Moreover, this separation between the slow and the fast already exists. We can find it in motorways, escalators, stairs… A tacit rule exists: one side is reserved for the slow users and the other for the fast ones; and if you do not abide by it, you might actually encounter problems with other drivers, commuters, or pedestrians (or at least get some passive-aggressive looks from them).

That being said, the issue of phone lanes also raises questions about how urban spaces will adapt to new technologies. Becoming a “smart city” seems to be the current ideal in urban development and phones lanes could very well be a part of this evolution. Indeed, smart cities are supposed to improve their architecture to become more efficient, Phone lanes evidently seem to share the same purpose.

Though this issue is still up for debate, let’s just bear in mind that for the moment, according to the result of the sociological experiment held in Washington D.C, the lanes turned out to be a failure since very few people actually noticed them and simply ignored the separation. Even though phone lanes appear to be a good idea for our cities, The greater public might not be ready just yet.

Les “phone lanes” fonctionnent sur le même principe que les pistes cyclables: sur le trottoir, une ligne tracée au sol sépare les piétons lambdas des piétons utilisant leurs téléphones en marchant. Le concept peut sembler absurde, mais ces « pistes » commencent pourtant à se matérialiser, à la fois en tant qu’expérience sociologique qu’attraction dans un parc à thème grandeur nature.

L’heure est-elle venue pour l’espace urbain de s’adapter à cette technologie, et verra-t-on un jour se développer de vraies « phone lanes » dans nos villes ?

Par Mathilde LUCCHINI

Credits: Dailymail online


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