New York Highways Get Texting Zones For Safety

Taking a road trip and want to send a text with your ETA? In New York, you’ll have to wait until you see signs for the next “texting zone.” Part of an initiative to crack down on distracted driving, New York has designated more than 90 rest stops and parking areas along state highways as safe places to stop and send text messages. Governor Andrew Cuomo unveiled 300 signs with the message “It can wait” and the number of miles to the next texting zone. If caught texting while driving, motorists can face a fine of $150 and points on their license.

Philadelphia cracks down on texting and walking

Philadelphia has taken what most savvy travelers would call a “safety” issue and turning it into a legal one … sort of. The city is issuing warnings to pedestrians who walk down the street and text or play on their smartphones.

The practice, while annoying to other pedestrians and motorists who may suffer from your lack of paying attention, isn’t illegal, but highly discouraged.

“Pedestrians may be reminded to be more aware of their surroundings; however, there are no citations issued by the PPD for texting while walking,” said Rina Cutler, Philadelphia Deputy Mayor for Transportation and Public Utilities, in a statement obtained by NBC Philadelphia.

The only offense for which one can receive a ticket is jaywalking.

The city is using grant money to fund the cost of increased enforcement.

What do you think, friends of the City of Brotherly Love? Should texting and walking be a ticket-able or warn-able offense? Will you be more cognizant of your texting behavior when you next visit Philadelphia?

[Flickr via Ed Yourdon]

Gallery: More travel sketches from BBC’s Tim Baynes

We wrote yesterday about Tim Baynes’ delightful travel sketches from around the world on BBC and liked them so much we came back for more. You can (and should!) get lost for hours looking at his drawings on Flickr with fun anecdotes and scribbles bringing depth and humor to his slice-of-life artwork.

Check out some of our favorites in the gallery below, from a look inside the BBC Starbucks to the madness of Dubai immigration during the ash cloud to a quiet barbershop in Tripoli.


See more of Tim Baynes’ work on the BBC, his personal Flickr stream, or order a copy of his book Doors to Automatic and Cross Check, direct from the artist.

All photos courtesy of Tim Baynes.

Twitter reaches Ireland and Indonesia

Twitter addicts don’t need to worry about hopping a flight to Indonesia or Ireland any more. The white-hot microblogging service has expanded its footprint to these two countries, with local mobile carriers making Twitter available by SMS without charging any extra fees. Twitter was worried about overseas expansion for a while, because texting costs outside the United States were likely to prevent user adoption.

If you’re in Indonesia and are a customer of 3 Indonesia, the local carrier, Twitter becomes even more valuable. TwitPic is incorporated via MMS, making it possible to tweet pictures easily.And, the folks over at Twitter say more countries are coming, but there’s already a pretty impressive list on board already.

Product review – Knowledge Generation Bureau (KGB)

If you have watched any TV in recent weeks, you’ll have probably seen a commercial for a new service called KGB.

The concept is simple – you send them a text message with your question, and a real person gets you an answer.

Nothing in life is free, so you’ll pay 50 cents for the luxury of having a personal assistant answer your query. Since many of us travel, and often run into a situation that requires a quick answer, I decided to take the KGB for a spin, to see if they have what it takes to help me out when I’m stuck and in need of instant answers.

The advantage of using text messages for the question is that virtually any mobile phone can use it, you don’t need a data plan, and you don’t have to rely on a slow and unreliable browser. Of course, people with an advanced (3G) smartphone may find it easier to use their Internet browser, but I’ve found that the KGB service is sometimes able to get an answer back to me quicker than I could using the Internet on the road.

Getting in touch with the KGB is simple – you create a new text message, enter your question, and send it to KGBKGB (542542).

So, how well did they perform on the questions I asked?


Question number 1: “I am at o’hare terminal 2, what gate does United 110 depart from tonight?”

Answer: “United 110 scheduled departure 8:50 PM Terminal 1 Concourse C Gate C26”

I tried to trick them by giving the wrong terminal number, but they were kind enough to include the correct terminal in their answer. Despite having just 160 characters to work with, they provided me with all the information I needed. It took them 5 minutes to get back to me, which is fairly reasonable.


Question number 2: “What is the best way to fly from Brisbane to Detroit on Skyteam. Can it be done in 2 legs or less?”

Answer: “Yes flights from Brisbane Australia to Detroit, MI can be done without stops. Check out”

WOW. I would never have thought to check Expedia. Thanks KGB! Of course, the answer is fairly useless, and incorrect, as there are no non stop flights from Brisbane to Detroit. Despite the poor answer, it took them 6 minutes to respond to me this time.


Question number 3: “What’s the least expensive way to get to Godthab, Greenland from the East coast in April?”

Answer: “We were able to find a 1-way flight from New York to Godthab in Apr. for $2694.04. Care for more info?”

Not bad, of course I had not specifically told them I wanted a round trip, but one way tickets are pretty rare so I’m not sure why they decided to look it up like that. Their “more?” question allows you to get some more information when their answer does not fit in the message.

Answer: “The Godthab flight departs NYC at 5:40pm & arrives at 11:20am. Two stops enroute.

By now it would have been nice if they had provided an airline and some flight numbers, so I asked for even more info (and spend another 50 cents for it).

Answer: “SAS flight 910, transferring to flight 781 in Copenhagen and finally flight 551 in Kangerlussauq.”

This one was bound to be a tricky question, and it is not entirely fair to judge them too harshly on the information they provide. It is rather silly to waste 3 questions to get the answer that could have been in the first response.

The “more” feature is pretty handy, as it allows you to bypass the silly 160 character limit of text messaging. I sent the initial question at 8:54pm, the response to this took 20 minutes, the second response took 6 minutes, and the third response with the flight numbers took just 3 minutes.

Still, the question was very tough, and it isn’t exactly the kind of answer you can easily find on Expedia, so kudos to them for delivering the correct answer.


Question number 4: “Help, I’m at Macy’s in downtown San Francisco and need a nearby hotel for the night. Has to be under $55!”

Answer: I never got an answer to this question. The service kept sending me a message telling me that each answer costs $0.30-$0.99, which is rather weird since the initial message told me that answers cost $0.50.

This is exactly the kind of question I could see myself using the service for – it involves them looking up where I am, which hotels are in my area, what their rates are, and whether they are available for the night. It’s the kind of thing that could take 20 minutes to figure out if you are stranded somewhere.


Question number 5: “I’m flying flight AA86 tomorrow in business class, will my seat have a laptop power outlet, and if so, what kind of plug do I need?”

Answer: “A Cigarette lighter style power outlet is available at each seat in business and first”

Perfect answer – short, and with the correct information. There isn’t much more they could have added. This answer took them 8 minutes to research.


Question number 6: “Fastest way from Lusaka, Zambia to Lilongwe, Malawi?”

Answer: “Taking a flight would be the fastest. From Lusaka, Zambia to Lilongwe is 45 min by air.”

Once again, no flight numbers, no airline name and no price. Of course, I did not specifically ask for this, but a little more effort would not have taken up too much of their time. From question to answer took just 5 minutes.


Final thoughts

I did what I could to make things challenging for the human agents at KGB, but they are not easily scared. Whether the service is worth $0.50 is up to you – I don’t see myself using it on a daily basis, but I’ll certainly keep their number stored in my phone.

The 160 character limitation is annoying, but is a shortcoming of text messages, not the KGB service.

The most annoying issue though is the lack of information in some of their answers. I’m sure a lot of people send silly questions that don’t really require a very detailed answer, but when it comes to travel questions I would have preferred a little more effort. Their answers seem to be the kind of answer you’d give in a game of Trivial Pursuit, not the way you help someone with a legitimate query.

Still, having instant access to someone who can look stuff up could occasionally be handy.