'Grim Reapers,' Zombies Spread Message of No Texting and Walking in Pittsburgh | NBC Chicago
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'Grim Reapers,' Zombies Spread Message of No Texting and Walking in Pittsburgh

National statistics show the number of fatal vehicle-pedestrian accidents have increased since 2009, as people have become more engrossed in their phones

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    A passenger car travels down the Duquesne Incline on September 8, 2008, in Pittsburgh.

    Pittsburgh pedestrians are being urged to "Look Alive" and not at their cellphones by folks dressed as though they're dead.

    The Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership and other groups are trying to "scare" pedestrians off their cellphones by having actors dressed as the Grim Reaper and zombies urging people to look up from their cellphones while they're walking downtown.

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    The $50,000 program rolled out Tuesday is driven by an increase nationally in accidents involving distracted pedestrians.

    National statistics show the number of fatal vehicle-pedestrian accidents was dropping steadily for decades, but has increased since 2009 as people have become more engrossed in their phones, said Jeremy Waldrup, president and CEO of the downtown partnership.

    The "Look Alive" campaign, which is similar to efforts in Chicago and New York City, uses a variety of reminders for people to get their eyes off their phones and on the sidewalks and streets in front of them. 

    Among them are chalk body outlines near busy intersections, reminder posters at transit stations and the ghoulishly dressed improv actors who will provide a gentle, comic reminder if they see a pedestrian too engrossed in their cellphone.

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    The Pittsburgh effort also involves the Port Authority of Allegheny County, the county health department and Bike Pittsburgh. One feature distinguishes it from similar programs.

    Red House Communications, a company based on the city's South Side has developed a geo-fencing service that will send messages to certain cellphone apps as people approach the city's busiest downtown intersections. Geo-fencing is location-based marketing that uses global-positioning technology to send advertisements or messages to cellphone users in certain specific geographic areas.

    Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald acknowledges everybody gets distracted by their cellphones and could be more careful.

    "Sometimes we get distracted, we're in a hurry, we have to get to the next meeting, we need to get the information about the next meeting, but it's a lesson to all of us: Safety first," he said.

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