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Pedestrians take a walk on the wild side

An end to pavement jams?

People in Zurich are being driven up the wall and round the bend as part of an unusual scheme to increase traffic awareness.

But what will visitors to the city make of a surreal landscape which features underwater stop signs and segregated “fast-slow” walkways?

Cornelia Schreier of the city’s public works department agreed to take swissinfo on a tour of the “Mobile Games” project, taking in some philosophical road signs, meandering green “detours” and manholes covered in word-search puzzles.

“It’s all part of the city’s ongoing work to create a traffic system suitable for the coming century,” Schreier claims, as we pause by a baffling pedestrian crossing.

Painted in the same garish green as all of the project’s signs and installations, the crossing stretches over a plain expanse of tarmac before making its way up a nearby wall.

“When we began to redevelop our traffic strategy, we realised that we had to include everybody because traffic patterns ultimately come down to the behaviour of individual humans.

One of the aims of this project is to show people some of the different aspects of traffic and remind them that we all have rights and needs when it comes to our mobility – but we also have obligations.”

Pedestrian rights

These obligations are hinted at on many of the bright green signs that have now sprung up around Zurich’s tram and bus stops.

“Do you come here often?” asks one, while another goes deeper, pondering whether “the journey is actually the destination?”

Few of the shoppers and tourists making their way down Zurich’s fashionable Bahnhofstrasse seem to notice the thin green line which urges them to separate into fast and slow channels.

But around the corner, several locals are raising their eyebrows at a stop sign planted beneath the shimmering surface of the Sihl canal.

The sign is causing some serious congestion among the canal’s duck population, but the watching humans seem unsure as to its exact purpose.

“No idea,” shrugs one man. “I noticed it as I crossed the bridge, but it doesn’t make me think of anything really.”

Street art?

Another passer-by is more impressed, although he appears to have mistaken the stop sign for the work of an avant-garde painter.

“I think the artist is trying to visualise our desire to slow down or even stop the river-like onslaught of traffic,” the man suggests. “I think it’s a great piece.”

Schreier is happy that the signs are at least attracting attention.

“Traditionally, traffic has always been seen as a very serious issue in Zurich,” she points out, “with people arguing over the various rights of cyclists or of car drivers.

“Hopefully this project can take some of the edge off that and show people that traffic isn’t something that’s separate from us or something that’s just smelly or loud.

“As well as making people think about their own mobility, it would be great if we could see a greater understanding emerge between the different types of traffic-users.”

Safety first

But isn’t there a danger that these unusual road signs could actually increase confusion, and perhaps even cause an accident?

“We were very keen to avoid that,” Schreier insists. “That’s why we have only used a shade of green that is not used anywhere else on Zurich’s traffic signs. And we also had everything approved first by the city police.

“The police have actually been very supportive of the project, although they did stop some of our ideas, including a zebra crossing that would have been painted to actually resemble the patterned hide of a zebra.

“But the police thought that would have been mixing up reality and fiction a little too much.”

Zurich’s alternative traffic signs can be seen in the city centre until mid-October.

swissinfo, Mark Ledsom in Zurich

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SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR

SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR