What started with a simple tweet about whether London should have LGBT pedestrian signals like they do in Vienna, ended up in my lap as a request from London’s new Mayor – Sadiq Khan – to make happen for this year’s Pride in London festival. Me and my big mouth.
This actually goes back a long way. In May 2015 Vienna rather cannily changed a number of pedestrian signals around the Rathaus district to celebrate Eurovision in capital. It was an instant success changing the familiar stick-male image to two males, two females or male and female holding hands with a love heart. Simple, clever and very effective. Within 24-hours I was being asked if we could do the same in London, and I mooted the idea with my Leadership Team.
We were however last year half-way through our #RidewithPride campaign, having launched a unique rainbow bus and taxi on our network. I also had the world’s first rainbow train up my sleeve for Pride in London 2015 launching one month later. I’m against simply copying another city, the network’s senior sponsor (and my boss) also felt it might dilute the #RidewithPride campaign and I had to agree. So we parked the idea.
I visited Vienna this May, and had almost forgotten about the traffic signals. My hotel was in Rathaus, and all of a sudden I was surrounded by these fabulous symbols of diversity lighting up the area. An idea that I thought was quirky and fun, suddenly took on new meaning and I said to my travelling companion ‘I think I could make this happen in London’.
That weekend the new Mayor took office in London– one that promised to make diversity a priority. I tweeted the signal idea and within two weeks an email from the Mayor’s office was the green light (sorry awful pun) to make it happen. It wasn’t a request either – we actually did had to do this!
Luckily, time spent in the previous year mooting the idea proved very valuable. I already had the links I needed and I immediately contacted the MD of Surface Transport (OUTbound’s new senior sponsor), Leon Daniels for his support. Leon is used to my crazy ideas and he oiled the wheels and I started engagement with TfL’s Traffic Technology Team (TTT). We had to do this in double quick time, just four weeks to Pride in London for design, procurement and installation.
The first job was to come up with a new design; my idea was to have a twist on the Vienna scheme by introducing gender symbols. By using gender symbols we could include Trans for the first time, and the TTT set to work on the artwork. Prototype stickers were produced and we were ready to view in the secret traffic technology lab two and half weeks before Pride.
The prototypes were not perfect the stickers leaked light but it gave us an indication of what they could look like. It proved that lights need to be manufactured from scratch oh, and another thing City Hall really wanted some holding hands designs too.
Thankfully at this meeting I met Rory Svensson the talented guy the designed our lights, and he set to work on what I think was an inspirational design. The holding hands image had a love heart neatly embedded within the people holding hands – so clever, I wish I had thought of it. We now had seven designs to unleash on London – awesome!
The next thing to do was ask our contractor Siemens Traffic if they wouldn’t mind producing, supplying and fitting these lights for us in the week before Pride. This was now less than two weeks away – oh and would they mind doing it for free! Thankfully, they got the whole diversity idea and pulled out all the stops to make it happen for a photo shoot with the Mayor on 19 June.
The final, and probably most important piece of the puzzle was where and how many; Soho? Yes but there aren’t really that many lights to make an impact. How about Trafalgar Square, an iconic location where the main event is held? Sounded perfect to me and after doing a site survey with Dave Parkyns for TTT I sat down with all the stakeholders to plan the final installation for 48 lights. It was important to get this right as we wanted the best possible photo opportunity for people.
The funniest image I have in my head of this whole project is me sitting in a room full people suited and booted, with a plan of Trafalgar Square and me saying ‘Gay one here, lesbian there…trans on this one…’ If anyone had walked in on us I can’t imagine what they would have thought. It was however really important to me that the pictures I knew people would take of the lights captured the spirit of London.
Finally, on 19 June we launched the signals. The Mayor turned up and (genuinely) said me what a great job we had done and how pleased he was with our work. He shook my hand and we got on with the photoshoot. Five minutes before we had finished the shoot a couple of the Pride in London team turned up for a photo with the Mayor and lights and had a photo taken. That was the photo that went around the world, and our (my) involvement and the hard work that went into making this happen evaporated – but as someone told me afterwards; that’s politics!