I spent the better part of last week in London, and like any city-going American, it took a little while to mentally get used to the city's standard of driving on the left. My usual left-right-left routine had to be reversed, making for street crossings with an unnecessarily heightened emotional state.
But just as well, I found that sidewalk traffic had the same issue. In New York City, where I lived for many years, the habit of pedestrians is to pass on the right. This kind of order keeps the sidewalk unclogged; when a person deviates from the unspoken rule, he or she will receive nothing but harsh stares from rushed-but-rule-abiding New Yorkers.
But what is the standard in London? If vehicle traffic is reversed, is foot traffic, too? I struggled with this for a week without finding a definitive answer, but researchers at the University of Electro-Communications in Japan suggest another option: lenticular flooring.
The flooring system is designed to encourage pedestrians to move to the right by using tiles comprised of lenticular lenses to give the pedestrian the illusion that he or she is deviating from a straight walk, when in reality, it's the patterned floor beneath his or her feet.
Since people have a tendency to give priority to their visual sense to maintain their balance when they walk, their eyes will be attracted in that direction.
An interesting idea, although I'm not sure how effective it could really be in the real world. (After all, won't we just all walk our way right off the sidewalk? Or train platform?) Not to mention finding a material durable enough to handle the foot traffic it intends to direct, all while avoiding the buildup of a city's grit and grime.
Nevertheless, an interesting example of how subtle design can change the way we interact with our environment.
This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com