Want a quieter street? Create a virtual traffic jam


How many old mobile phones do you have lying around at home? If you and your friends can rustle up 100 between you, you’re halfway towards creating a quieter street.

By slowly wheeling a bunch of phones down the road you can trick Google maps into thinking drivers are stuck in traffic. A previously ‘green’ street turns ‘red’ which in turn has an impact in the physical world by diverting cars onto another route to avoid being stuck in your virtual traffic jam. Hey presto, your own DIY quiet street.

The guerrilla street calming idea can be credited to Simon Weckert – an artist from Berlin with a focus on the digital world. Weckert explains his work thus:

With its Geo Tools, Google has created a platform that allows users and businesses to interact with maps in a novel way. This means that questions relating to power in the discourse of cartography have to be reformulated. But what is the relationship between the art of enabling and techniques of supervision, control and regulation in Google’s maps? Do these maps function as dispositive nets that determine the behaviour, opinions and images of living beings, exercising power and controlling knowledge? Maps, which themselves are the product of a combination of states of knowledge and states of power, have an inscribed power dispositive. Google’s simulation-based map and world models determine the actuality and perception of physical spaces and the development of action models.” simonweckert.com

Over the last 50 years and more, Britain’s streets have been designed and built for cars. The resulting road danger has meant fewer journeys on foot or by bike, a loss of independence for kids and air pollution that kills 40,000 a year. The term liveable streets refers to streets and designed for people: no matter their age, ability or mode of transport. Weckert’s Google Maps hack offers a tantalising glimpse of liveable streets in areas otherwise dominated by cars.

When is a zebra crossing not a zebra crossing?

pop-up zebra crossing

When we were approached by a group of parents in London whose request for a zebra crossing at a road traffic collision black spot outside their local infant school had been turned down on grounds of cost, we went about building one ourselves as cheaply as possible.

The result was a pop-up zebra crossing that could be erected in less than two minutes. And with no need to consider drainage, the excavation of existing pavement, disposal of material, new kerbing and paving, anti-skid surfacing, road markings, traffic signs, electrical connections and pillars, the total cost came to £50 – considerably less than the £114,000 quoted by the Highways Agency.

Faced with coverage of the campaign in the Sunday Times, Daily Mail, Evening Standard and Metro newspapers and on numerous radio stations, the local authority quickly installed the much-needed real zebra crossing.

The ethical choice

The ETA was established in 1990 as an ethical provider of green, reliable travel services. 30 years on, we continue to offer cycle insurance, travel insurancebreakdown cover  and home insurance while putting concern for the environment at the heart of all we do.


  1. Tony Williams


    Ha ha. Reminds me of the “work of art” that consisted of a pile of bricks, or Tracey Emin’s bed.

    Meanwhile, back in the real world, where most people needn’t worry about having an “inscribed power dispositive”, I do have two surplus mobile phones, but they’re no longer connected to a network, so putting them in a trolley won’t have any impact on anything. If they were connected, I think it’s unlikely that the majority of drivers around where I live are so firmly wedded to Google that wheeling them down the street would instantly cause everyone to divert somewhere else. They might divert, though, when word got round that someone was wheeling a trolley full of old phones down the middle of the road. “It’s a work of art!” I would shout at them reassuringly, but they might not believe me. That probably explains the empty streets shown in the photos accompanying this article.

  2. Joel


    I couldn’t find a satisfactory answer online as to why Google Maps didn’t think he was just a group of pedestrians. Did he drive the phones around in a car first?

    I’ve always wondered how Google tells the difference between when I walk, cycle, moped, drive, or catch the bus or train and how this translates into the traffic results. It must be easier in the US where the default is to drive but what about Amsterdam where you could have cars travelling the same speed as pedestrians and cyclists going much faster (and a large volume of all three so averages don’t work).

Add your comment

Your email address will not be published. Your name and email are required.