WATCH: New Philly PSA Tells Pedestrians to Get Off Their Phones

A new campaign tells Philadelphia pedestrians — and drivers — to get off their phones and pay attention to their surroundings. But some people think pedestrians get too much blame.

The video above was released this week by the Mayor’s Office of Transportation and Utilities. It’s part of a campaign by Philadelphia government to improve pedestrian safety. The campaign? It’s road safety, not rocket science.

It’s cute: Pedestrians in Philadelphia wear ridiculous costumes — a bubble wrap suit, lit-up outfits — in order to avoid being hit by cars. You know, instead of just looking up from their phones. This is, indeed, an issue with walkers: My colleague Victor Fiorillo named walking texters the seventh-worst pedestrians on city sidewalks. But Fiorillo merely targets them as a danger for other pedestrians. 

Philadelphia has a pedestrian safety issue. Between 2003 and 2012, 959 pedestrians were killed in the city. That ranks us fairly poorly among major Northeast/Mid-Atlantic cities; the only city nearby that’s more dangerous for pedestrians is Baltimore. On average, 1,700 pedestrians are hit by cars in Philadelphia each year. Traffic deaths were up in Philadelphia last year while the state hit record lows.

But is a PSA targeting pedestrians really the best way to do it?

To be fair, the entire campaign — which was funded with federal Pedestrian Safety Focus grant — is not just telling pedestrians to look up from their phones. The website, which you can visit at itsroadsafety.com, is split between telling pedestrians to get off their phones and telling drivers to pay attention to the road.

But pedestrians do come off as the main focus of the campaign; they’re even first in the above pamphlet.

PSA on a bus stop spotted in East Falls

PSA on a bus stop spotted in East Falls

And sometimes it’s just weird: Above is a PSA for pedestrians, which makes sense at a bus stop. But why is the driver on his phone, too? I mean, no one’s blameless in this scenario. (Thank God they’re just cartoons!)

There has already been blowback.

Last night, Plan Philly’s Jon Geeting published a report on the “mixed reviews” the project is getting. He notes New York City used the same federal grant money for a motorist-focused campaign.

There’s nothing wrong with telling pedestrians to watch where they’re going. But would the campaign have been more successful if it focused on drivers more? A distracted pedestrian is more annoying than dangerous. A distracted driver is both.

Previously: Op-Ed: Let’s Stop Accepting “Accidents” as Inevitable

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