How can you make your city's streets safer? Same-sex traffic lights, says Vienna

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Carol Hills: If you were a city planner and you wanted to show your city’s support for gay rights, where would you do it? In Vienna, Austria, the answer is apparently a crosswalk. I’m not kidding. The Austrian capital has just installed a bunch of new crosswalk lights, and they feature a variety of stick figure couples: straight, gay, and lesbian. This is how Peter Krauss describes them. He’s with Vienna’s Urban Planning department.

 

Peter Krauss: Well, we have 49 crossings on Vienna streets with new lights for pedestrians, and they show the diversity of people in Vienna and around the world. They show homosexual and heterosexual couples with small hearts, so they are a nice message for acceptance, and tolerance, and for diversity in the city.

 

Hills: If I’m standing on a street corner, I look across, here in the US it might say “walk” or it might be a number countdown, so how many seconds. So, you just see a couple, either two males or two females?

 

Krauss: Yes. Usually, on the traditional lights in Vienna, you had a green or a red stickman who shows you either to walk or not, and now with the new traffic lights, you will have couples who show you if you’re allowed to work or not.

 

Hills: So, how did you come up with this idea?

 

Krauss: Actually, we have been to a conference in Sydney, Australia, and we met the mayor of Wellington. She was doing the same with female stickwomen on her pedestrian lights, and we went back to Vienna and said, “Well, with the Eurovision song contest coming up this week, why don’t we have a symbol for tolerance and acceptance, and for equal rights?” and then we decided to have these diverse couples on our traffic lights.

 

Hills: I imagine people are partly going to these streets to actually look at them. Are they actually following what they’re indicating, either to walk or not walk, or are the people just kind of gawking at the signs?

 

Krauss: Well, they are following, and this was the second thought of our campaign: we wanted to raise awareness at pedestrian crossings because a lot of accidents in Vienna happen because people do not look at the traffic lights. So, our idea was if we change the symbols, maybe we get the attention of people walking around in the city. We only have our first impressions, but our first impressions are that people--yeah, they really enjoy the time waiting for a green light because they now have something to look at, something to take a picture of, and something”¦ yeah, to smile, maybe.

 

Hills: Has anyone come forward and said, “You know, I think this is a terrible idea.”

 

Krauss: Yes, of course. When you have changes, there are always people who don’t like the idea and they think the money is not spent well. But the support was so overwhelming that, after this one week, we decided to keep the traffic lights permanently because, at first, we wanted to keep it for a month and the support was really immense, and so we decided to keep the new traffic lights.

 

Hills: Is this part of a larger plan to be gay-friendly or celebrate that aspect of Vienna?

 

Krauss: Yes. Vienna, for many years now, really wants to push for equal rights and for an open-minded and tolerant city, and we really try on every level, from (?)discrimination to law. But also, little symbols on traffic lights can make a difference because it starts the conversation, and the conversation is always the first start to have changes and to have a better tomorrow.

 

Hills: I understand there’s already t-shirts to celebrate your traffic lights.

 

Krauss: Yes, we started selling t-shirts yesterday. There’s a (?) on that.  And you can imagine there are thousands of tourists now in the city for the Eurovision song contest, and they all want to get a t-shirt. We really try to produce as much that we can satisfy all with the t-shirts.

 

Hills: Well, I guess we have to close with a question about the Eurovision song contest: Do you have a favorite song yet?

 

Krauss: Oh, my favorite--I have so many favorite songs, I’m not decided on my favorite song. But I think I will go for Israel this year.

 

Hills: Why? What’s their song like?

 

Krauss: The song is “Golden Boy,” and it’s a really dancy tune, and I really like that. And it’s, you know, good fun.”

 

Hill: Hum it for us.

 

[Excerpt from “Golden Boy]

 

Hills: Alrighty. Peter Krauss is with Vienna’s Urban Planning department. He’s been speaking to us about the new crosswalk signs in Vienna. Thank you so much, Peter.

 

Krauss: Thank you very much.

 

[Excerpt from “Golden Boy”]