A Chinese city’s “no cellphones” sidewalk lane isn’t original—and it’s not on a real street

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The Chinese city of Chongqing’s “no cellphones” lane for pedestrians has struck a global chord—perhaps because just about every mobile phone user has been guilty of walking-while-texting at least a few times, even though it is an annoying hazard to fellow walkers.

But it’s not like the urban planners of Chongqing, a fast-growing mega-city in China’s southwest, are breaking new ground in urban traffic management: Instead, it turns out that the new signage only appears on a single 50-meter (164-foot) walkway, and it’s located in a bizarre theme park called Yangren Jie (“Foreigner Street”) that is also home to the world’s largest public toilet.

Why a cellphone-only lane on Foreigner Street? Perhaps because the idea and even the signage itself came from a US reality show that set up a nearly identical sidewalk in Washington, DC earlier this year—for one day only—to test people’s ability to follow directions. The National Geographic show “Mind Over Masses” discovered that it had very little effect at all. The Chongqing signs use almost identical language and even the same Nokia-esque cellphone icon as the ones in DC.

DC on the left, Chongqing on the right.
DC on the left, Chongqing on the right.
Image: AP Photo / China Daily

“I knew there were such sidewalks in Washington’s central business district, which are very necessary for the [cellphone] addicts, especially in the busy streets,” said college student Li Zhijiang, in a suspiciously on-the-nose quote to the state-owned China Daily.