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Texting and Walking through Shibuya, World’s Busiest Intersection

by Ron Duwell | April 5, 2014April 5, 2014 8:00 am PDT

Shibuya, Tokyo’s most bustling shopping center, is home to the world’s busiest pedestrian intersection. Five roads converge on one spot just outside of a major train station and popular meeting landmark, the Hachiko Statue. Crossing the Shibuya intersection is a masterful exercise of mass human movement and is quite a bizarre experience. If you’ve ever been there and have survived the pandemonium, my thoughts are with you. As many as 1,500 people cross the intersection in opposing directions each time the traffic light turns blue.

Yes, it’s still green in Japan, but they say blue. I still can’t wrap my mind around it.

I’m sure you’ve seen plenty of texting and driving campaigns urging you not partake in such dangerous activity. NTT DoCoMo, Japan’s leading carrier, has been leading the charge in the campaign against people walking while using their smartphones. Accidents are on the rise and people are getting hurt. To illustrate its point, NTT DoCoMo has created this simulation to show what would happen if every person of a crowd of 1,500 people crossed looking at their smartphone.

Taking the average Japanese height of 160.3 centimeters (5’3″) and weight 58.8 kilograms (129.4 lbs.) and setting them at varying speeds between 3 to 6 kmph (1.9 to 3.7 mph), NTT DoCoMo sends their simulated models through the pedestrian gauntlet.

NTT DoCoMo claims that when walking and looking at your smartphone, you can only see roughly 5 percent of the area around you, cutting down to a visual range of just a meter and a half (5 feet). That is just while looking at a smartphone, I imagine cognitive responses are even more impaired when texting too. Pedestrians will have no idea where and when their fellow crossers will be coming from. The simulation also assumes that when two people come into contact, most will allow one to go first, but accidents are bound to happen.

Three potential outcomes are possible with a collision: an apology from one pedestrian, a dropped smartphone, or a person just completely falling over onto all fours. Plus, what better place than the world’s busiest intersection in Shibuya.

When the chaos lets up and peace ensues, NTT DoCoMo calculates that roughly 446 collisions and apologies occurred, 103 people were knocked down, and 21 smartphones were dropped. Of the 1,500 people who started across the street, only 547, just over a third, went unhindered, and the intersection isn’t nearly emptied when it comes time for cars to continue. This modeling certainly makes a case to cease texting while walking.

Keep in mind that this was only after a single blue (green) light, and this crossing occurs hundreds of times in a single day. Could you imagine the casualties and traffic situation if this simulation proved to be an exact science every single time? Please be careful when walking with your smartphone, especially in Shibuya.


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Ron Duwell

Ron has been living it up in Japan for the last decade, and he has no intention of leaving this technical wonderland any time soon. When he's not...


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