Jaywalking as a Marker of Livable Streets

Today on the Streetsblog Network, a couple of very thought-provoking posts.

First, Living Car-Free in BigD calls jaywalking an indicator of livability, connected to the idea of the woonerf,
or shared street space. Car-Free’s author notes how in his city —
where jaywalking is not the norm — a good traffic day for pedestrians
is one where the signals aren’t working at all. That’s when drivers are
forced to negotiate each intersection as human beings rather than as

2252504963_68e81d2cdd.jpgTaking to the streets in Midtown Manhattan. (Photo: nydiscovery via Flickr)

Have you ever noticed how much safer and more polite Dallas drivers are
when traffic lights are out, operating as blinking reds and the drivers
are left to their own devices, responsible for their own safety.
Interesting how they begin to cooperate with other drivers, no? Well, I have noticed.

four-way stops are drastically much safer than any other form of
regulated intersection. One reason is because of reduced speed in areas
where stop signs are utilized rather than signals. The other primary
contributive factor, is that (although not necessary due to literally
written protocol for who goes first at 4-way stops) there is a
necessary communication to some extent between the drivers: eye
contact, a slow roll to indicate that "I’m moving. Hold back buddy," maybe even a honk or two…or this.

Over at The Urbanophile,
Aaron Renn takes on the always difficult topic of race in a post called
"The White City." Renn writes about how Midwestern Rust Belt cities
need to engage their African-American citizens in any move toward more
progressive transportation policy, and that successful policy change
must arise from the local community, no matter what color it is:

What’s needed in places like the Rust Belt are a mixture of indigenous
solutions and imported ideas that are tailored to the local community.
It can’t just be trying to buy urban widgets from elsewhere like some
sort of "public transit in a box" solution. The Midwest would do well
to consider developing an indigenous urban R&D program to mitigate

aside, Renn has a point. What we see every day across the Streetsblog
Network is the incredible variation in regional experience. What’s
right for Portland won’t necessarily be right for Atlanta. What’s
exciting is that people around the country and the world are learning
from each other as never before.

  • Virginia Balogh-Rosenthal

    Growing up in Manhattan, I learned to take jaywalking for granted (and yes, I did walk to school by myself beginning in second grade!)

    Living in SF, I do as the natives do, crossing on the green, and have taught my children accordingly. But my kids seem to think that crossing with the light will somehow keep them safe in itself. It has been quite a battle to convince them that they still have to look both ways, so I have started carefully crossing with them against the light while making a big deal of the importance of looking all around when doing so. Since SF allows cars to turn on a red light (NYC does not allow this), pedestrians are at a distinct disadvantage here. I would prefer my kids to be alert jaywalkers rather than lazy law abiding citizens!

  • mcas

    I’d like to see ‘jaywalking’ eliminated from the Livable Streets movement’s vocabulary– it’s like referring collisions as ‘accidents’ or estate tax as ‘death tax’ or anti-choice as ‘pro-life’ — Jaywalking was the norm, until cars took over streets and the pro-car movement used the term to get pedestrians out of the way. See Peterson’s “Street Rivals: Jaywalking and the Invention of the Motor Age Street” –

  • mcas

    So, I already wrote this once, and I think Sblog’s spam-bot ate my comment because I linked to the article…

    I think that it’s important for Livable Streets folks to stop using the phrase ‘jaywalking’– it’s like the ‘Death Tax’ or ‘Pro-Life’– ‘jaywalking’ was created and promoted by pro-car folks to dominate the streets with cars. See Peter Norton’s “Street Rivals: Jaywalking and the Invention of the Motor Age Street”

  • Peter Smith

    What’s needed in places like the Rust Belt are a mixture of indigenous solutions and imported ideas that are tailored to the local community.

    every city/town needs well-designed streets and places and infrastructure and policy. let local flavors shine thru? of course. but to suggest that we should not first look to ‘urban widgets’ (aka design patterns) to get solutions is wrong.

    no ‘R&D’ is necessary. it’s been done. design the cycletrack, and install it. design the wider sidewalk and stop rounding the edges so much at intersections, and install it. change your zoning regs and implement them. this stuff is not rocket science. it takes a special kind of conceit to believe that we’re all so special that we can’t live off the hard work that others have done before us.

    SF is diverse? no. we have no black middle class to speak of. that, to me, means ‘no diversity’.

    outside of that, though, i’m begging SF for the infrastructure that Toronto has — streetcars — in what is probably the most totally diverse city on the planet — and i don’t give a rat’s tail who lives there or why — just that they have awesome public transit. give me that cookie-cutter stuff, please. and i’ll take the cookie-cutter bike infrastructure from New York and Portland and any other place that has it — i don’t care how big or white those towns are. bring on the cookie-cutter — no ego problems over this way.

    the whole ‘wait wait wait, we need cultural sensitivity because our kids are different from your kids — they don’t need safe infrastructure the way you have provided it to your kids, White Portland,’ is maddening.

    sometimes race is not the pertinent issue.