"Ergo Crosswalk" Design Anticipates Pedestrian Behavior

February 12, 2011

Designer Jae Min Lim observed that pedestrians tend to swerve, veer and cut corners, rather than adhere to the rigid, regularity of the urban landscape.

Submitted by Wayne Walker at

Humanity follows its own path.

In observing his native Korea, designer Jae Min Lim noted that pedestrians tend to swerve, veer and cut corners, rather than adhere to the rigid, regularity of the urban landscape.

Those observations formed the basis for Jae’s curving “ergo crosswalk,” which was unveiled at the 2010 Seoul International Design Competition. Instead of following the standard, rectangular design, he created a crosswalk that fans out near each curb, anticipating pedestrian behavior.  Read full article

“When people cross roads, they tend to take the fastest shortcut,” Jae said. “They sometimes do it intentionally, but mostly it is an unconscious act. This kind of action violates the traffic regulations and sometimes threatens the safety of the pedestrians.”

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety reports that a pedestrian dies in a U.S. traffic accident every 110 minutes and one is injured every nine minutes. A common cause, researchers seem to agree, is confusion about traffic laws and right-of-way among both pedestrians and motorists.

Jae’s intuitive design essentially legalizes what once was a form of jaywalking. In a column written for Slate, “In Defense of Jaywalking,” Tom Vanderbilt proposed several ideas for improving pedestrian safety.

“The answer is not jaywalking crackdowns,” Vanderbilt wrote. “These tend to be hard to enforce, lower the public opinion of the police, reinforce the idea of car dominance on city streets, and, most importantly, do not provide an effective bang for the buck.”

Take, for example, the case of Takara Davis, 13, who was struck by a vehicle while crossing a Las Vegas street. Paramedics transported the girl to a nearby hospital, where police delivered a jaywalking ticket to her mother. How was the public interest served in this instance?

With his design, Jae hopes to stimulate a conversation about pedestrian safety and, possibly, save lives.

“The ‘ergo crosswalk’ is a design that makes people follow the law, as well as consider their habits or unconscious actions,” said Jae, whose work was sponsored by Designboom. “It will encourage pedestrians to follow the lines of the crosswalk and protect them from any potential danger.”

For his “ergo” crosswalk, Jae has proposed the installation of LED light strips in the roadway, in addition to a curved version of what are known as “zebra stripes,” to increase visibility for both pedestrians and motorists. A glowing green or red pathway would certainly make Jae’s design appear even more futuristic.

And while this might seem far-fetched, it is worth noting that the most innovative approaches to pedestrian safety seem to have been rewarded with the greatest success. In Tucson, Arizona, the installation of the HAWK (High-intensity Activated crossWalK) device has coincided with a drop in the pedestrian fatality rate from 3.26 per 100,000 people to 2.54.

Tucson Traffic Engineeer Richard Nassi said the device is used at marked crosswalks where there is no signal and allows pedestrians to activate a flashing, yellow warning that provides motorists with ample time to stop. The yellow signal then changes to red while pedestrians cross and, finally, blinking red, allowing vehicles to proceed when safe.

In Oakland, California, the Traffic Safety Center (TSC) installed an experimental pedestrian “scramble” at the corner of 8th Street and Webster Street, partly in response to the high number of elderly pedestrians in the area. A scramble halts vehicular traffic in all four directions, allowing pedestrians to cross in unconventional ways, such as diagonally.

Through the use of mounted cameras, TSC researchers determined that while scrambled signalization increased occurrences of pedestrian non-compliance, it also reduced the number of conflicts between vehicles and pedestrians from 77 to 35 over a three-hour period.

The TSC, based at the University of California at Berkeley clearly considers innovative crosswalk design as just one prong in its three-e approach: engineering, education and enforcement.

“While engineering countermeasures offer significant potential for reducing pedestrian crash risk, not every intersection is in need of an engineering treatment,” TSC researchers wrote in a joint study with researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. “Prioritizing implementation of engineering countermeasures to the areas with the highest risk and potential for the greatest improvement represents the best use of limited resources.”

Designs such as the curving “ergo” crosswalk could yield benefits at the most dangerous pedestrian crossings. And if this creative streak finds its way into the playbook for urban planners, perhaps law books are not far behind.

Jae has wondered: “If regulations cannot force people to follow the law, wouldn’t it be more reasonable to change the law and fulfill the main purpose of keeping the safety and convenience of the pedestrian?”