First, out of Philadelphia, officials set off a frenzy in April by announcing what they said was a first in the nation: a sidewalk lane for cell phone users.

Turns out it was anApril Fool's Dayprank by the city. But plenty of folks were more than ready to believe.

A city spokesman called it a laugh and told the Philadelphia Daily News that the city hoped the deluge of press it got raised some awareness.

Then reports came out that the town of Fort Lee, N.J. was going to start ticketing people caught walking while texting. Turns out, story wasn't quite right — Fort Lee is only going to start ticketing jaywalkers, many of whom are texting. But no one found that out until the story went viral, with smartphone addicts fuming and those annoyed with them toasting the town.

Though Baltimore bicycle messenger Eric Lipstein considers distracted drivers his number-one threat, he's had regular run-ins — almost literally — with texting pedestrians. Once he was cycling past Lexington Market and someone with his nose in a phone emerged from between two parked cars, about to walk into the street. The guy never saw Lipstein, who had to swerve to avoid hitting him.

"I see them all the time, people just stopped in mid-step to text or stopped in the middle of a crosswalk," he says. "They're just wandering off and almost into things."

Just before lunch one day last week, the intersection of St. Paul Streetand 33rd in Charles Village buzzed with activity — students and workers hurried across the intersection from every direction as cars sped by toward downtown. If one couldn't spot someone walking and texting, one wasn't trying. Of those who weren't messaging or chatting, most had phones poised in their palms ... ready.

Michelle May, a Johns Hopkins University junior was in the mix, heading south on St. Paul, pecking away at her pink smartphone. Asked about it, she smiled, a bit sheepishly, and said she had just finished exams and wanted to text everyone to see what they were up to.

The irony was, just a week or so earlier, at the university's Spring Fair, she had signed a pledge to be a safe pedestrian in exchange for a T-shirt that said, "I Practice Safe X-ing."

May admits that she isn't exactly living up to the motto, saying, "I guess I'm still walking and texting, so ..."

Hopkins students tend to need a little Crosswalk 101 — and university officials are the first to admit it.

Recently someone posted a tongue-in-cheek help-wanted ad on Craigslist, posing as Hopkins. It said the university was looking to fill two full-time faculty positions "to equip our students with the basic ability to cross a moderately busy street in an adult fashion."

When school officials saw the ad, they thought about complaining then figured, hey, maybe it could help.

"Most of us concluded that it was not only obviously fake but pretty funny," said spokesman Dennis O'Shea. "So no one was going to be fooled by it and it might do some good."

After a recent history of pedestrian-vehicle accidents near the Homewood campus, university officials are desperate to improve students' walking skills — and getting them to put down the smartphones is a key aspect.

It's important enough that Hopkins plans to launch an expansive safe-walking campaign this fall. Students got a taste of it at Spring Fair, with the "I Practice Safe X-ing" shirts and little yellow stickers made to slap onto cellphones as a reminder not to use them on the move.

In the fall, the school will also be installing what O'Shea called "visible, dramatic reminders" at crossings.

This isn't about subtlety.

"One of our employees tells me that right after the giveaway, he spotted a student crossing the street, texting, completely oblivious to everything around him — and wearing one of the shirts," O'Shea said. "We still have work to do."

jill.rosen@baltsun.com