Xiaolüren (Hsiao-lu-jen; Chinese: 小綠人; pinyin: Xiǎolǜrén; Wade–Giles: Hsiao3-lü4-jen2; "Little Green Man"; officially Chinese: 行人倒數計時顯示, "Pedestrian Countdown Display"; German: Ampelmännchen, "little traffic light man") is the animated traffic light system in Taiwan. It was first implemented in Taipei City, between Songshou Road and Songzhi Road, in 1999, and came into widespread use around the country within a few years.
The light displays an image of a little green man with a hat, animated in seven frames at varying speed to suggest relative urgency. It is also used in some parts of Spain, especially in Seville, where it is accompanied by a countdown timer indicating the time remaining before the light turns red.
Xiaolüren, a sign on traffic signals for pedestrians, was created in 1961 by traffic psychologist Karl Peglau (1927–2009) as part of a proposal for a new traffic lights layout in East Berlin, Germany. The sign is generally for pedestrian road-crossings. The frontal-facing red man denotes "stop", while the animated side-facing green man in the striding motion denotes "go ahead". Until 2000, however, the green man was static rather than animated in other cities of the world, including Berlin.
In 1998, following the lead of cities such as those in Spain, the Taipei City Government intended on adding a count-down timer to all static Xiaoren (little green man) traffic signals. Together, The Department of Transportation (Chinese: 臺北市政府交通局) and the Chinese Signal Company (Chinese: 中華號誌協會) and other participating companies created the “dynamic crossroad signal for pedestrians”. By the end of that year, the Taipei City Government had started testing and installing these new animated Xiaolürens.
This specially designed sign follows the Traffic Signs, Marking and Lights Installation Regulation issued by the Taiwan Ministry of Transportation and Communications. Its main function is to improve perceptibility of traffic signals for pedestrians. Other than retaining the general concept of “go at green, stop at red”, features of a count-down timer and the walking animation of Xiaolüren are added.
The animated pedestrian signs test-driven by the Taipei City Government were built along these guidelines:
- Walking animation: The green walking signal is constructed by seven differently shaped and positioned icons, and the walking or running movements are a result of persistence of vision. The Little Green Man moves in two or three different velocities: slow, fast, and occasionally, extremely fast. When the sign turns green, the little green man would first move slowly. After a certain duration of time (usually 14 seconds left on the countdown display, depending on width of pedestrian crossing), the animation would start moving at a faster speed. When there is only ten seconds left to cross the street, the animation would move at its fastest speed and flicker.
- Countdown display: When the sign turns green, the other window shows the amount of time left before the sign turns red again. It is usually allotted a specific two-digit seconds to countdown to zero. Because there are only two digits on the display, if the allotted duration of time exceeds 99 seconds, the display would only start counting down when there are 99 seconds left until the sign turns red. In addition, the “6” and “9” figures on the display are designed differently from conventional digital numbers. The top bar of “6” and the bottom bar of “9” are eliminated. The numbers are yellow or green when counting down the green lights, and red when otherwise.
- Red standing figure: When the system sends out a “stop walking” signal to the device, the countdown display originally on the top window becomes replaced by a red standing figure. The bottom window, previously showing the walking animation, becomes a countdown display in red.
Testing and launch
From the end of 1998 to March 1999, Taipei City Hall set three experimental count-down pedestrian signals at Sun Yat-sen Memorial Hall (Guangfu S. Rd.), Daan Forest Park (Xinsheng South Rd.) and VIESHOW Cinemas (Songzhi Rd.). All were made with similar concepts but different designs. The three count-down pedestrian signals were sponsored by non-governmental organizations in Taiwan.
At start of 1999, Xiaolüren device at the intersection of Songzhi Rd. and Songshou Rd. was adopted by Taipei City Hall after the run-off. On 18 March 1999, Taipei City Hall not only officially started using Xiaolüren at the intersection, but also decided to use this signal as the model of all the pedestrian signals in Taipei and started replacing previous signals.
By the end of 2003, there were already 1,139 intersections among all the 1,364 with three-colored traffic lights at which there were retrofitted Xiaolürens in Taipei, and over 1,300 in year 2007. Xiaolüren signal has been included in the Traffic Signs, Marking and Lights Installation Rules amended by the Ministry of Transportation and Communications, Republic of China.
According to Taipei City Traffic Engineering Office’s statistics, there were 11,848 original light bulb pedestrian signals; all were re-equipped with LED light signals until the end of 2010. The re-equipped ones and the newly built ones add up to 16,832 LED count-down pedestrian signals in Taipei City.
Featuring a friendly, smile-inducing design of personified animation, the little green man has been on duty since 2000, guarding more than a thousand intersections in Taipei City. Later, its footprint spread further to New Taipei City, Taoyuan, Hsinchu, Taichung, Tainan and Kaohsiung; now it can be seen island-wide as well as overseas. With its ubiquitous presence, the little green man has become part of the folk culture, amusing visitors from abroad and inspiring commercial ideas.
Aside from pedestrian signals, traffic lights are now equipped with countdown timers, too. There were red-light and green-light timers, but the latter were mostly taken down due to the accidents they induced by encouraging drivers to speed up as the green-light timers ended. As for red-light timers, they cannot only inform the time remains for waiting but also make the drivers focus on their own signal instead of green light of the other direction. This reduces clashes between cars that start too early and cars that run yellow light.
There are a number of urban legends associated with the Xiaoluren in Taiwan, with the most popular version being that the figure will fall down every 20,000 steps, or when the traffic becomes too busy. Other urban legends are that the Xiaoluren would turn sideways or walk upside down from time to time to fool the pedestrians.
Ming Shiun Chang, the chief manager of Eucertec, has protested through a councilman, claiming that he was the inventor of the little green man. Since The Ministry of Transportation & Communication proclaimed that the device is an aggregative creation and thus should be public property, Chang has stated his will to resort to the law.