Dropping out of sight through an open manhole might be funny in cartoons but in real life, not so much. China's capital city of Beijing is testing out a possible solution, installing safety nets under 1,000 manhole covers along with a reflective pylon that pops up if the cover is removed.
If this seems akin to swatting a fly with a sledgehammer, consider the fact that since 2004 close to a quarter of a million manhole covers have been stolen and sold for scrap in Beijing alone! Naturally, the thieves don't bother leaving non-metallic replacement covers over the open holes and with more and more pedestrians only having eyes for their smartphone screens these days, the problem is serious indeed.
As fussy as the net & pylon combo appears, it's still cheaper than retrofitting Beijing's hundreds of thousands of manhole covers with locks and chains – why give metal thieves more to steal? The pylons also act as a visual warning while maintenance crews are working beneath street level.
Once all 1,000 safety nets and pylons are installed, the city will monitor their effectiveness with an eye to eventually upgrading all of Beijing's currently unprotected covered drains. (via Shanghaiist, The Beijinger, and SINA Weibo IOBMPG)