Beam Me Across the Street, Scotty


From online mag Yanko Design comes a wacked out concept in pedestrian safety:

The Virtual Wall provides a barrier made up of plasma laser beams depicting pedestrians doing what they do best and any car that crosses that barrier suffers the consequences. Okay so maybe those lasers aren’t powerful enough to do any harm but the effect is enough to make drivers and pedestrians alike follow crosswalk rules to the tee.

Not that these should ever be necessary in a civilized urban environment, but we can almost hear Richard Brodsky spouting off about the high-falutin’ walled-off elitist pedestrian class.


  • ddartley

    I think it looks like an excellent idea.

    If I understand it correctly, it is precisely one of these “mental speed bumps” many readers here seem to support.

    But the explanation on the site is a little lacking:

    Can motorists see the “virtual pedestrians” BEFORE motorists arrive at the crosswalk?

    Does the light show only activate when people are entering it? Or is it on all the time?

    I think it would be most effective if it only activated when pedestrians are actually approaching and/or using the crosswalk, rather than being active all the time. If it’s on all the time, motorists might get desensitized to its presence.

    EXCELLENT IDEA, though, I think.

  • Eric

    Wow, that’s cool. But will it zap me if I roll through on my bike (after making sure there are no real pedestrians in the x-walk, of course)?

  • ok, I kind of love it. Pedestrians and cyclists get fenced in all the time in this city – now it’s the cars’ turn. Though of course I would prefer a physical barrier. pop-up bollards, perhaps?

  • epc

    I love it.

    The solution to not getting zapped when “rolling through” on your bike is: don’t roll through on your bike.

  • Geck

    Telling a biker not to carefully roll through an empty intersection is like telling a New York pedestrian not to J-walk. Let’s try to stop sniping at each other but rather look out for each other and work for our common good.

  • gecko

    Great idea, plain and simple.

  • vnm

    I love it!!

    Cars need to be penned in like that because every time they are stopped at a red light, they unthinkingly creep forward into the crosswalk.

    A slight easing of the break pedal leads to great annoyance for others, but they don’t care.

    Build these things!!!

  • Eric

    epc, I’m New Yorker. If I’m walking and encounter a red light and no car is coming, I cross the street. If I’m on my bike and no car is coming andno pedestrians are crossing, I’ll roll through the light. I’ve never come close to hitting anyone on my bike, and I don’t plan on ending that streak.

  • Dave

    I have no problem with a biker going through an empty intersection but in my neighborhood that is never the case and what about:

    – the biker who is going the wrong way on a cross-street and yells at me for crossing the street in front of them
    – the biker on a bike-laned street not using the bike lane but blocking traffic by using a traffic lane
    – the biker racing through a pedestrian corsswalk (against traffic) yelling at the pedestrians to “get the f*** out of my way)

    I hate to say that my impression (living on a bike-laned street in the village) is that a higher percentage of bikers break the rules of the road than drivers.

    Bikers flame away but a lot of street space is being given to you and you still don’t play by the rules. Explain.

  • gecko

    It would be even better if the plasma beams created force fields protecting pedestrians and cyclists.

    In any case, urban compatible vehicles should have acceleration and speed governors especially, so that they can’t speed up to make lights. Adding intelligence to these governors in areas where there are a lot of people could provide even more limiting and even provide awareness-raising alarms to drivers.

    Of course, it would be better not to have cars and trucks in these areas at all.

  • gecko

    #9 Dave, There’s no excuse for the bad actions of the cyclists you describe but, safety on the streets is skewed way against pedestrians and cyclists and is totally unfair since the streets are public spaces. Cyclists have to ride in the streets by law but have the same physical protections as pedestrians which is virtually nothing.

    A pedestrian is something like 2.5 times more likely to be killed by a car than someone in a car. Car and truck accidents kill something like 300 people a year in this city. The numbers are so low for deaths caused bicycles that they are meaningless but, the last I heard it was about one-third of a person per year or 1 person every three years.

  • Christopher Crowe

    I love the idea in concept but I have two reservations: 1) Aren’t lasers really bad for the eyes? 2) How much does one of these things cost? If those issues can be addressed, I say put these things up tomorrow.

  • ddartley

    Dave @9,
    Do cyclists who use a car lane instead of a dangerous little bike lane really “block” traffic? Or do they more often go as fast as or faster than the cars around them? The latter is certainly my experience.

    Please don’t complain about cyclists spurning crummy little bike lanes. Respectable bike lanes, maybe, but not those dinky meaningless white lines.

  • epc

    I must have extraordinary bad luck with cyclists because I’ve been hit or clipped three times this year (last week: cyclist hits me from behind and knocks my dog over while we’re walking on the sidewalk).

    Cycling is only going to increase in the city, I hope. But as a pedestrian (and ex-cyclist: Bus, Pittsburgh, 1990), I’d ask, beg, plead, warn, scream that the cyclists here need to drop the holier-than-thou attitude and be more mindful of pedestrians, you need them (us) on your side. Yes, more pedestrians are killed by vehicles in the city than by cyclists. Could it possibly be related to there being more vehicles than bikes in the city?

    Riding a bike doesn’t make the behavior any less anti-social or more careful than the same behavior in a car, truck or bus.

  • epc

    And yes, that seems to be the same pace I was on last year.

    Maybe I should drive more, walk less.

  • Shifting people from cars to bicycles (or even from transit to bicycles) is not going to make them stop being assholes. You want to reduce the number of assholes in the world, become a social worker. This is all about reducing the damage that assholes can do.

  • You do have bad luck epc, or maybe it’s the neighborhood you live or work in. (I think midtown is where things get really nasty?) I’ve never been hit by a bike, and have been startled (and momentarily pissed off) only twice in seven years here.

    As far as attitudes go, they can be bad all around but the fact is that attitudes and carelessness ARE a lot less dangerous on a bicycle or in shoes than in 3,000 lbs of metal. There’s not much reason to look beyond Newtonian physics for an explanation of the disparity in death rates, but if anyone has solid VMT numbers for bikes vs. autos it would be easy to factor that out. (Given the distances delivery people cover on bikes, largely invisibly, I wonder how great the VMT difference would be?) What surprises me is that we do average almost one pedestrian death a year from bicycles. It’s definitely something to look at after dealing with the 150x higher death rate from autos.

    Please don’t drive more.

  • Spud Spudly

    I wonder in person-miles-traveled how the pedestrian death ratio works out between bikes and cars/trucks. A lot of those cars are transporting multiple people while bikes rarely do.

    A lot of bicyclists — who require no license, no registration, no insurance and no demonstration of minimum qualifications — have a lot of room for improvement, and you thoughtful bikers would be well served if they did. Just yesterday I saw a biker going west on 92nd or 93rd street (some cross street with a clearly marked and unobstructed bike lane) non-chalantly coasting down the center of the street glancing back over his shoulder at a car that was following slowly behind him. Then the light turned red and the biker went through it and made a right without even slowing down. The car of course stopped. I wouldn’t be surprised if that driver thinks twice before yielding to the next bike he comes across.

  • “A lot of those cars are transporting multiple people while bikes rarely do.”

    Sure, that would have to be part of the calculation but unfortunately I don’t think our carpooling rate is high enough to redeem personal cars in a comparison that breaks things out by busses, comercial vehicles, personal cars, and cyclists. Honestly. The emphasis on bad bikers, the endless anecdotes (thanks for providing another!) is a grim joke. Talk to me when the auto-to-ped kill rate is below 100 a year for this city. If we can keep up the decline of the past few years, that isn’t too far off.

    p.s. You know I’m not a “you thoughtful biker” ! I’m a thoughtful pedestrian, thank you very much, who doesn’t see much point in a stereotype-inflamed “mode war” among those of us who do very little of the killing and very much of the dying.

  • epc

    Back to the initial topic: I thought of a way to actually get the city interested in this: display advertising on the virtual barriers.

  • Ira

    All fine and dandy, great design, but there’s no physical way of actually making something like that happen, pictures in the middle of the air, by laser or any other means. this is fiction, not a technology.

  • gecko

    Caution, any sufficiently technologically advanced group of people suddenly exposed to a group lacking such advancements may appear as gods.

    Regarding the seemingly futuristic red 2D-laser display of people crossing at a crosswalk, it’s pretty easy to say something is impossible if you do not have immediate experience on how a proposed idea might work.

    Your mission – if you should decide to take it — is to do a little research to determine how this might work.

  • SenatorIvy

    Looks like Transmetropolitan.

  • ddartley


  • Alfredo Louro

    Excuse, but what is a laser plasma beam? And how is it visible from the side?

  • gecko

    25. Alfred Louro, Supposedly you can contact designer at

    You can also check holographic and volumetric displays on Wikipedia.


Will “Crash-Proof” Cars Make Drivers More Dangerous?

Via TreeHugger, Copenhagenize reports that Volvo is in the final stages of testing technology to improve safety for people outside its products — a "pedestrian detection" system available in S60 models next year: It is meant to spot all pedestrians in front of the car as well as off to the sides in a 60 […]

The Phantom Pedestrian Menace

In case you missed it, here’s the blog post by TWU 100 spokesperson Pete Donohue that set off a local Twitterstorm yesterday, in its entirety: Pedestrian Menace BY PETE DONOHUE JANUARY 11 — Pedestrians are a menace — to themselves. Not all the time, but more often than you might think. “Dangerous pedestrian choices,” including crossing the street […]