We live in a time where simple solutions to problems are often overlooked for technological answers. It’s no surprise given that many people perceive technology as helpful, and in many instances it is. But it’s always important to figure out what the problem is that a technological answer seeks to solve.

Take a look at this installation at a traffic intersection in Singapore that allows a senior citizen (who has the requisite senior citizen’s card) to “swipe” the pedestrian crossing button to get up to thirteen seconds extra crossing time on a busy street. The “Green Man Plus” system was introduced in 2009 for seniors and “those with disabilities” to be allowed extra crossing time. As ABC reporter Stephen Dziedzic stated on Twitter

“At some Singapore intersections you can swipe your Senior Card and the crossing light will stay green for a little longer, giving you extra time to reach the other side of the road. I find this very touching.”


While the Twitterverse thought this was indeed a very good idea to enhance equity, the question really is who is equal here? And instead of installing hundreds of these pedestrian installations that require a card to activate them, why not increase the crossing time on the timing of the light cycle in favour of all pedestrians, no matter who they are or when they are crossing? If people using the sidewalks and crosswalks are truly the most valued and most vulnerable users, why not treat them that way, and allow everyone a longer crossing time without a card to ask permission?

Locally, another example of technological invention also focuses on the wrong end of the problem.

The Richmond News reported on the award winning innovative design developed by Philip Siwek that is much in the same category. Mr. Siwek has developed “an innovative cycling jacket that lets self-driving cars detect cyclists on the road” which is an “emerging problem” as autonomous vehicles become more prevalent. You will be surprised at how it works- “by having barcodes placed on the jacket that are scanned by vehicles, thus lessening the risk of accidents involving self-driving cars and cyclists.” 

The actual jacket has “ integrated machine-readable retro-reflective bar codes that are detectable to AV camera sensors in situations where visibility and correct identification would normally be hindered: at night and in heavy rain, fog or snow.” 

But wait a minute~despite this genius invention, the fact that autonomous vehicles cannot “read” cyclists should not be a problem that cyclists need to correct but one that vehicular manufacturers need to figure out. It of course also calls for better road design and protected cycling facilities which should be done anyway to encourage cycling. And what happens to pedestrians and anyone using the sidewalks or intersections in inclement weather? Do they borrow a barcode to cross the street?

The YouTube video below is from the Singapore Land Transport Authority on how to use the Green Man Plus system for those extra few crossing seconds.

 Image: Philipsiwek.com


  1. “If people using the sidewalks and crosswalks are truly the most valued…” Where does this sentiment come from? By current convention people on the sidewalk are the least valued, at least by space per person, engineering dollars per person, seconds on the street per person, etc — in fact by almost any metric. Equally valued is all I’m hoping for.

    When I was in architecture school, I spent a term with the famous Dutch architect Herman Hertzberger who asked “What is it about you people in North America? You make a street wide enough for a car on each side, then double it incase another car wants to use it, and double it again in case somebody wants to get out of their car without putting it away, and then double it again in case there’s a fire truck. And then you double it again in case there’s a plane.”

  2. Very perplexing, even more so in Singapore, which for many years monitored its citizens even more closely than the PRC—and where the press is essentially government controlled.
    Of note, of course, is all the personal information stored in that barcode. Where else is it going and what’s it really doing?

  3. In the United States, an engineering guideline on traffic signal timing records the results of a survey of pedestrian speeds. In calculating how much time to allocate for people to cross the street, the guideline uses the 85-percentile walking speed, which excludes 15% of walkers whose walking pace is slower—that is, traffic engineers are authoritatively advised to design intersections to provide insufficient time for the mobility-impaired to cross.

    Transportation Research Board. Transit Cooperative Research Program and Cooperative Highway Research Program. “Improving pedestrian safety at unsignalized crossings.” Washington, DC: Transportation Research Board, 2006.

  4. There’s a timer device most of us use every day – on the microwave. How hard could it be to have push buttons with timer devices, say with 5 second increments up to a certain limit. Sure, kids would pound it to the max, but most of us would be judicious. I need 3 seconds to cross on my bike. You might feel carbon smug on a bicycle , but it’s not ecological to stop a pile of vehicles just for half a minute while you’re long gong.

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