What started out as a pilot project is here to stay. Vienna’s pedestrian cross walks have gone viral. The New York Times, Guardian, NPR, BBC, — the whole world’s abuzz with Vienna’s traffic lights. And now everyone wants one too. Innsbruck, Salzburg, Linz – hold onto your Lederhosen because they’re coming to town!
There hasn’t been this much chatter about traffic lights and pedestrian crossings since the Beatles released the cover of their Abbey Road album and protests broke out after German Reunification when the West German Ampelmännchen tried to strong-arm his way onto all the traffic lights in the country and bid the old DDR Ost-Ampelmännchen Auf Nie-Wiedersehen.
Way back in 1961, traffic psychologist, Karl Peglau, suggested to the East German Department of Transportation that every traffic participant should receive his or her own traffic light due to the psychological impact of the images on the behavior of pedestrians.
Or maybe the Austrian Green Party, which introduced the Vienna initiative, was inspired by Czech artist, Roman Týc, who won the public award of the Sidewalk Cinema Festival in Vienna in 2007. On April 8, 2007, Mr. Týc donned a pair of red overalls and ascended a ladder at 50 traffic lights throughout Prague, changing all the lights to figures depicting women, the disabled, golfers, and a bunch of other groups. Rather than paying the 2500 Euro fine his creativity cost him, he spent a month in prison in 2008. Too bad crowdfunding wasn’t a thing yet,
I’m sure he would have had no problem raising the money for his cause. But – hey – will someone donate some good music to the guy’s Youtube video? It’s a pity not to have good tunes to go with such a great coup d’état.
But Vienna’s change isn’t the work of Mr. Týc. Alongside the WHO’s May traffic safety week, wedged between the Vienna Lifeball and the Eurovision Song contest, the Austrian Green Party moved to install 49 traffic lights throughout the city that blink not one lonely red guy waiting or green guy walking, but suddenly two people waiting and walking – sometimes arm-in-arm, sometimes holding hands, or accompanied by a sweet little heart, but the always in pairs – hetereosexual or homosexual.
The lights aren’t just a sign of safety, but a symbol of tolerance. And Maria Vassilakou of the Green Party who is also the Vienna Council Member in charge of traffic safety, just announced that the lights are here to stay.
I’m not sure about the safety aspect, though. In attempting to get some pix for you, both red AND green, I had to keep one eye on the traffic and one on the on-coming bims. Want a photo of the lights? Use mine. Don’t risk your life! Those bims move fast and brake slow.
See the Video on Roman’s Guerrilla Traffic Light Initiative here (who knew traffic lights could be so much fun?)
Now say “Ampelpärchen” 3 times fast followed by “Vassilakou” 3 times faster.