The Joy of Dancing Traffic Lights

The Joy of Dancing Traffic Lights

There is a video doing the rounds that shows a project that installed dancing traffic lights on a central square in Lisbon. It was sponsored by a car company but I hope it was real – I think faking it would have been more expensive. The premise is that people get bored waiting for the lights to change and risk their lives plunging into traffic. But keep them amused and they will be happy to wait. The idea is scarcely new – one of the case studies cited in Edward de Bono’s Lateral Thinking was of a lift lobby where the wait was too long. Rather than invest in expensive new lifts, the management installed mirrors. Once the staff were occupied preening themselves, they didn’t mind the wait.

In Lisbon the solution is more ingenious. The red light has replaced a static figure with a dancing one. There is a booth nearby in which the public can dance and their dancing is projected in real time (the phrase ‘throwing shapes’ is particularly appropriate here). Pedestrians are happy to enjoy the show on the traffic light, rather than precipiating themselves perilously in front of buses. It is a really fun intervention. Although doubtless it was time-limited, it does show how imaginative thinking about our cities can make them better places to live. Consider pleasure rather than problems, and our surroundings could improve rapidly.

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