Considering all of the unexpected things that one might encounter at a UNESCO Heritage Site, the pedestrian speed bumps that now line a major footpath in the ancient Chinese canal town of Tai’erzhuang could very well be a first.
Purportedly installed by officials to slow the pace of fleet-footed visitors, 50 so-called “calming devices” almost completely blanket a 100-meter (328 foot) pedestrian pathway leading to this popular heritage site located along a picturesque stretch of the Beijing-Hangzhou Grand Canal — the longest man-made waterway in the world and one of eastern China’s top tourism draws — in Zaozhuang, Shandong province.
Looking at photos of the site, it appears that the path itself is at an incline, which does lead one to wonder if the black and yellow speed bumps were installed to prevent visitors from slipping in wet weather or loosing their footing and rolling down the hill en masse. Or perhaps the speed bumps were put in place as a sort of makeshift staircase to better help visitors better gain their footing climb up the path, which has been renamed “Washboard Road” by locals due to the washboard-esque appearance of the devices.
Yet according to reporting from the Daily Mail, the purpose of the speed bumps is indeed to slow scrums of camera-wielding tourists moving at a speed that would suggest that there’s a hot sale on designer handbags at the end of the path, not a revered cultural site. By forcing hurried visitors to move at a more leisurely pace, officials at Tai’erzhuanghope hope that they will gain a “greater appreciate of its beauty and heritage.”
Noting that the speed bumps are in “stark contrast to the natural beauty of the site,” the Daily Mail goes on to explain that “there were concerns that increased footfall was becoming too frenetic — and thus compromising the experience.”
Whatever the case, there is room on both sides of the path, albeit limited, for tourists to avoid the mini-obstacle course and traverse the path unencumbered.
Slow down and smell the roses
Covering roughly .8 square miles and stuffed with cultural relics, classical bridges and scenic canal-side parks, Tai’erzhuang is often billed as China's most stunning "water town." Built during the Qin (221–207 BC) and Han (206 BC – 220 AD) dynasties, the district was flattened during 1938's Battle of Tai’erzhuang but later painstakingly rebuilt and declared a national monument. It's located near the center of the UNESCO Heritage Site-listed Grand Canal, which in itself is a major tourist attraction.
Normally installed to keep pedestrians safe by forcing vehicular traffic to slow down when traveling through a specific area, speed bumps for pedestrians are certainly a novel concept. In 2014, however, human gridlock-wary officials in the Chinese city of Chongqing unveiled dedicated “mobile phone sidewalks” to be used by sluggish and distracted pedestrians preoccupied with their handheld devices.
Conversely, a bustling shopping zone in the English city of Liverpool was blessed with a dedicated pedestrian fast lane in 2015 although that scheme, however popular with shoppers, was a one-off PR stunt devised to move foot traffic more quickly into stores.
Ancient Chinese heritage sites aside, are there any specific places with high foot traffic, particularly touristy spots in which folks tend to scamper in a rather stressful manner, where you’d actually like to see pedestrian speed bumps?