I commute to, and work in, New York City.
It’s not the densest city in the world, but more than eight million people sure make it feel like that way.
And when that many pedestrians navigate crowded streets, train stations, subways, sidewalks, retail stores, restaurants, elevators, parks and paths, it’s important that they pay attention.
Paying attention is foremost a safety concern. A distracted pedestrian is a risk in the presence of aggressive, raging and sleep-deprived drivers and motorcycling messengers — and they are on every block. Distracted pedestrians also are a risk in the presence of construction-site scaffolding, open sidewalk basement doors, water fountains and train platform edges.
I’m not sure there are any nationwide or global studies on the dangers of texting while walking, but regional and anecdotal evidence is mounting. The volume of news reports and legal posturing is growing as well, as reflected, for example, in a trend story this week by the AP’s transportation reporter, Joan Lowy.
I’m highly against overbearing and frivolous legislation. But if the safety of innocent victims is at stake, and it involves countering distracting and addictive behaviors like texting, I’m in support of legal intervention. I’ve seen little kids get hit by texting walkers, and babies in strollers get pushed into unsafe intersections by texting moms and babysitters. It’s a real problem.
Yet texting while walking is more than just a safety concern. It can be highly annoying for fellow pedestrians. These days, it seems like half the pedestrians on any sidewalk have their heads down on their screens instead of watching where they’re going. If you’re not focused on texting, you have to allocate your focus to monitoring those who are.
Some busy passageways — like Grand Central Station at 7:30 a.m .on a weekday — require you to walk with your arms extended, both to warn texting walkers and to physically deflect them. The worst are cigarette smokers who text while walking.
Finally, when extraterrestrial life forms observe us from outer space, you’ve got to wonder what they think about our species. Is it normal for half of us to walk with our heads angled down, gazing into ittle glowing screens? Is that evolution?
With smartphone adoption continuing to ubiquity, you can’t help but question texting’s impact to pedestrian safety and quality of life. The problem is getting worse, not better.
So until behavior changes or smartphone technologies solve the challenge for us, I’m in support of legislation to ban texting while walking.
Mayor Bloomberg: After you win your war on supersized sugary drinks, would you please shift your focus to texting while walking?
I decided to write this article after witnessing a vacationer trample a kid’s sandcastle on the beech. He was texting and walking.
This article also ran in MediaPost.
(Photo: -Ben Thompson)