April Fool's Day Joke Raises Awareness on Distracted Walking

The Mayor's Office played an April Fool's Day joke on the media in order to raise awareness on distracted walking.

The Philadelphia Mayor’s Office is raising awareness on a serious issue by having a bit of fun on April Fool’s Day.

The Office first sent a press release to all media describing a pilot program for an "E-Lane," a designated sidewalk space for distracted pedestrians who are walking while using their electronic devices.

“Philadelphia is the city of firsts,” said Mayor Nutter in the press release. “On April 1st, 2012, the world again sees a first in Philadelphia. Stand on any sidewalk in Philadelphia you will see fellow citizens with busy lives who can’t take the time to look up from their iPhones, BlackBerries and other electronic devices. The E-Lane is a safe and convenient option for those distracted walkers and should make sidewalks safer for the rest of us. More Philadelphians than ever before rely on mobile technology to do business and stay in touch with family and friends. We need to accommodate them.”

The stretch of sidewalk, across the street from City Hall on the 1400 block of JFK Boulevard, featured a painted lane and signs.  Various media outlets, including NBC10, reported the story after receiving the press release on Saturday. The Mayor’s Office revealed one more detail on Sunday however. The whole thing is an elaborate April Fool’s Day joke.

Yet while the "E-Lane" may be fake, the Mayor’s Office still considers texting while walking to be a very real and serious issue. Andrew Stober of the Mayor’s Office of Transportation told NBC10 that the joke was a way to generate buzz about the dangers of distracted walking. According to Stober, a pedestrian is struck by a car nearly every four hours in the city.

“Too many of those incidents come from actually distracted driving and drunk driving and drivers not doing what they should do,” said Stober.  “But pedestrians also have a role to play. It’s something that we see all over the city, pedestrians who aren’t paying attention. It’s one of the first things you’re taught growing up. Look both ways when you cross the street. You’re never taught to cross the street with your eyes closed and that’s what people are doing with their smart phones and we need people to pay attention for their own safety.”

Stober also says people have taken the joke pretty well.

“People actually have been pretty compliant with the lane when we’ve told them about it,” said Stober. “Other people have gotten the joke right away and some people are like ‘What is this? This is crazy, nanny state government.’ We prefer to think of it as your joking Uncle government. It gets you engaged in an issue that’s important and hopefully makes people think about it this week.”

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