Why did the bird cross the road in Salt Lake City?

I was in Salt Lake City for my job thingy. I expected craziness. I expected Mormons proselytizing me at every corner. I expected to have to buy a club membership to get a drink. But it hasn’t happened that way; so far, you get a drink just like anywhere else. And the locals I met have been pleasant and polite.

I wasn’t expecting new modes and methods of crossing the street. Who knew?

First off, Salt Lake City’s Walk/Don’t Walk electronic signs at crosswalks (you know, the white walking man and the red hand) are supplemented with bird chirps and whistles, piped into little crosswalk speaker boxes.

I kid you not.

“Cross now” is translated into bird tweet (which bird species’ dialect, I don’t know), and it sounds like a high pitched “chee.” The “don’t walk” cheep is a lower-register “wee-ert.”

This immediately caused my conference colleagues to make smart-ass remarks. I may have made one or two myself. Good for the blind, right? But what if you hear a bird that sounds like the “cross now” bird, and end up stepping into the path of a semi? What if, God forbid, a mockingbird takes up nearby residence?

And, as my friend Margery said, “Why would you listen to a bird anyway?” Birds, with their teeny-weeny brains, are not particularly renowned for their street-crossing advice.

Well, don’t worry. Because you can wave an orange flag around furiously instead.

In lieu of crosswalks, here and there, there are semi crosswalks. Pseudo crosswalks. They aren’t at lights. They’re in-between lights. No walking man, no red hand. Just the crosswalk hash painted on the street with the word “look,” and little orange flags to carry with you.

Again, with the me, the you, and the not kidding.

The sign says to wave the orange flag as you walk across, “to help increase your visibility.” I tried it out, and let me tell you, I waved the heck out of that flag. I waved that flag as I have never waved anything before.

So if you hear the bird say “go!” in Utah, grab your flag, close your eyes, and run like hell.

3 Responses to Why did the bird cross the road in Salt Lake City?

  1. Phil says:

    I noticed something similar in Prague. When it was time to walk, the light would start to chirp, and then always stop chirping when you were halfway across the street. At which point I would have been happy to have a flag to wave at the approaching motorists who seemed to go on green regardless of any (human) obstacles.

  2. dbay says:

    The chirping crosswalk is common in lots of parts of the world. Usually in places that have the money to modernize, or that pay attention to urban design progress in terms of transit and pedestrian issues. It’s a helpful aid for the disabled at busy intersections.

    I know it’s in major cities in Europe and Canada (or maybe everywhere there, but I’ve only been to the major cities). Supposedly they’ll be introducing it in the Twin Cities in some places next year, according to a city-planning engineer I heard speak recently.

    The orange-flag-waving thing sounds very entertaining! And useful, especially in a country famous for being willing to plow over pedestrians. One time Pulao and I crossed a big bright crosswalk that had giant signs and flashing orange lights hanging over it. Nonetheless, a dumb woman in big dumb car ignored all that and nearly drove over us. The best I could do was swear at and punch her fleeing car, but I bet the waving orange flag would’ve helped!

  3. krystal says:

    Yeah, I remember the chirping birds in the downtown area of Cheyenne, Wyoming back when I was only four or so. You can do the math. I can’t say that Cheyenne is one of the most progressive cities on the globe, but they sure know how to entertain four year olds. I couldn’t get enough of the chirpy birds.

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