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Thread: Why you should jaywalk

  1. #1

    Why you should jaywalk

    my latest column in maisonneuve magazine. click on the link when you're done so it gets more hits to please my bosses.

    THE TRUTH ABOUT JAYWALKING
    BESIDES BEING DANGEROUS, IS THERE A SILVER LINING TO PEDESTRIANS’ UNRULY HABITS?


    BY CHRISTOPHER DEWOLF
    FEBRUARY 22, 2006

    When Montreal’s police department announced last month that it had hired 133 officers to whip the city’s unruly pedestrians, drivers and cyclists into shape, Montrealers responded with a collective roll of the eyes. We’ve seen this before—les flics hand out a few tickets here and there, wag their finger at people crossing against the light and then go home. It’s all a distant memory within a week.

    This time, though, the police seem serious—or at least as serious as Montreal police can be about these sorts of things. They have a mountain of a challenge ahead of them: Montreal’s drivers are notoriously aggressive and so are its pedestrians. When it comes to jaywalking, Montreal strides in solidarity with the best of the world’s jaywalking capitals. This much is obvious at the busy corner of Saint Catherine and Stanley, where I found myself on a frigid Saturday afternoon not too long ago. Stopping to observe the Montreal jaywalker in his or her natural habitat, I conducted an informal head count—one, two, three, four ... a dozen. In less than five minutes, I witnessed close to a hundred people crossing the street illegally. (See accompanying slideshow)

    It’s no wonder that a high-publicity crackdown on jaywalking does little to change Montrealers’ walking habits. It’s hard to fault police officers for simply upholding the law, but should jaywalking even be illegal in the first place? Maybe it’s time to rethink the entire notion of jaywalking. Maybe, just maybe, jaywalking is actually good for cities.

    Hear me out. Of course jaywalking can be dangerous—by dashing out into six lanes of traffic, you’re putting your life at risk. But most people don’t do that. Around 1,700 pedestrians are injured by cars each year in Montreal, a miniscule fraction of the number of the people who actually jaywalk.

    Traffic engineers want streets to act as traffic funnels; to them, pedestrians are mere nuisances. Regulating pedestrian crossings is a way to keep cars flowing, but the failure of lawmakers to control pedestrian behaviour shows that this approach simply does not work. Instead of trying to force pedestrians to conform to streets designed primarily for cars, why not adapt them to the behaviour of pedestrians?

    The first step is to accept walking as a legitimate form of transportation, one that is equal—or even superior—to vehicle transport. “What we need to do is to shift our mentality and conceive of pedestrians as part of traffic,” says Dylan Reid, member of the Toronto Pedestrian Committee, a pedestrian watchdog group created by the City of Toronto. “Being a pedestrian is the most efficient form of transport. The more people you have walking, the safer [the streets are] and the less pollution there is.” On streets that already bustle with pedestrians, Reid suggests that narrowing lanes and widening sidewalks is a good way to encourage walking and slow down traffic. “The speed of traffic is not related to efficiency,” he explains. Consistently slow traffic makes for streets that are less dangerous, less noisy and a lot more pleasant—while still moving cars along at a steady pace.

    Amy Pfeiffer, a program director at the New York advocacy group Transportation Alternatives, chimes in with even more ways to make streets pedestrian-friendly. Corner bulb-outs give pedestrians greater visibility at intersections; mid-block crossings, especially signalized ones, allow for more opportunities to safely cross the street and advance signal timing gives people crossing the street a head start over vehicles. Similarly, pedestrian-exclusive signals are ideal for busy corners, letting people cross the intersection in every direction at once. “It’s made a big difference in rationalizing what people do,” explains Pfeiffer. “It’s really hard to control pedestrian behaviour.” Pedestrians aren’t sheep. They will go where they want, when they want, as long as it’s safe—and in many cases, that involves taking a calculated risk by crossing the street mid-block or against the light. “If it’s safe to cross, they will,” says Pfeiffer. “It’s also about safety in numbers: you’ll get a huge platoon of people crossing [against the light] at the same time and they just assume that a car won’t run down twenty people.”

    It isn’t a coincidence that the cities with the most robust jaywalking culture are those in which walking rules: Montreal, Boston, New York, Philadelphia—to mention just a handful. Jaywalking is the pedestrian’s way of reclaiming the street. Drivers and their footloose counterparts might not get along in these cities, but they’re keenly aware of each others’ presence. “There should be some sort of interaction between cars and pedestrians,” says Reid. Pedestrians already know that cars are around; cars should learn to accept that pedestrians will be around.” Or, as Pfeiffer puts it quite plainly, “If you make pedestrians more visible, drivers will be aware of them.” Surely it shouldn’t come as a surprise, then, that the deadliest cities for pedestrians are also the most auto-oriented.

    The notion that safety comes from constant interaction between different modes of transport is not a new one. In the nineteen-seventies, in fact, the Dutch pioneered a form of street that makes this concept its guiding principle; the woonerf. Woonerfs—known as “living streets” in the UK—eliminate the division between pedestrians and drivers altogether. The resulting hive of activity—complimented by trees and various kinds of street furniture—ensures that drivers intuitively slow down to near-pedestrian speeds. When I mention woonerfs, Pfeiffer is enthusiastic: “They’re awesome!” she exclaims. “Any street could be a woonerf except for really big ones.” Reid is a bit more sceptical, but he agrees that most cities have at least some areas where woonerfs could work. Toronto’s Kensington Market is a good example—its narrow streets, constant flow of pedestrians and cyclists and virtual lack of sidewalks (they’re taken up by fruit stands and cafes) already ensure a relatively harmonious existence between different modes of transport.

    But there are barriers. “We [North Americans] like to define our spaces. We don’t like ambiguity,” says Reid. Traffic engineers and transportation planners often see cities in profoundly different ways, so getting them to agree on pedestrian-oriented street design can be quite a feat. Improving the pedestrian environment requires the involvement of diverse government agencies, many of which are engaged in perpetual state of civil war.

    But there’s hope. Pfeiffer tells me that Transportation Alternatives (TA) might have found a way to bypass the bureaucracy altogether. By convincing business associations of the benefits of pedestrian-friendly streets, TA found that it can indirectly prod city governments into taking action. “Walkers are shoppers—that’s something that gets the mayor’s ear,” quips Pfeiffer.

    It will be a long time until city leaders realize the potential of pedestrian-oriented streets. In the meantime, make a statement by engaging in an everyday act of civil disobedience. Step into the street, look both ways and jaywalk.

    slideshow


    Pedestrians crossing against the light at Saint Catherine and Stanley in downtown Montreal.


    Even on a frigid day with below-average pedestrian traffic, jaywalkers abound.


    A flawlessly executed mid-block jaywalk on Parc Avenue in Montreal.

    please click here to see the full slideshow, read comments and bump up my column's hit count!

  2. #2

    Registered
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    Awesome article, Chris. I've forwarded it to our Traffic Engineers. We are still, alas, widening intersections..

  3. #3
    I second that!

    I think a quick fix solution to making four lane streets attract more pedestrians is to just make the outer two lanes parking, therby insulation the peds from traffic.

    And, there is talk in Toronto about making some car-free streets, notably in Kensington Market, and the main street cutting thru Ryerson University's campus. Whether it will ever happen is unlikely, but one can dream!

  4. #4
    Cyburbian
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    Great piece!! I tapped your link twice I will forward to our Public Works Director.

  5. #5
    Conservatives: see pedestrians as targets
    Liberals: see pedestrians as dumb people who need to be educated on how to avoid slowing down cars.

  6. #6

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    Quote Originally posted by Gotta Speakup
    Conservatives: see pedestrians as targets
    Liberals: see pedestrians as dumb people who need to be educated on how to avoid slowing down cars.
    LOL. Awesome observation.

  7. #7

    Thank You

    Timely article for myself. The mayor in my parts had the audacity to recommend pedestrianizing a side street that is maybe a quarter mile in length and is centrally located to restaurants, galleries and an art center as well as unbuilt midrises in the form of a hotel and condo's. The auto-ist' completely freaked out, most business owners seemed open to the idea because it wasn't perceived as a potential loss of revenue. I'm writing a letter to the editior of a local fishwrap and to the local politicos and wholeheartedly recommending a Woonerf. Not that I have any clout.
    Thanks for the great article.

  8. #8
    Cyburbian jmello's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Yorke790
    I second that! I think a quick fix solution to making four lane streets attract more pedestrians is to just make the outer two lanes parking, therby insulation the peds from traffic.
    We have plenty of main throughfares that allow on-street parking. The problem: no one uses it, unless there is absolutely no alternative, for fear of being side-swiped.

  9. #9
    Quote Originally posted by jmello
    We have plenty of main throughfares that allow on-street parking. The problem: no one uses it, unless there is absolutely no alternative, for fear of being side-swiped.
    Hmm...perhaps angle-ing (angling?) the spots might help with that? Though I guess it might just change the fear into a fear of backing out of the spot....

    Is there enough street level retail to make the convenience of the spots outweigh the fear? Being ten paces away from your destination would seem to be enough to get people to put up with a few honks from drivers behind them.

  10. #10
    Cyburbian jmello's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Yorke790
    Being ten paces away from your destination would seem to be enough to get people to put up with a few honks from drivers behind them.
    A few honks? This is NC. Try a few rear-end collisions and massive 10 car pile-ups. People drive 55-60 through downtown, and NCDOT designs the roads with that in mind. People would rather park around the corner on a quiet side street or in a parking lot than leave their car in front of a shop with traffic moving at 45-50 MPH. I am not talking about all streets, just the arteries.

  11. #11
    that's unfortunate. what about corner bulb-outs that would create a dedicated parking lane that people couldn't drive in?

  12. #12
    Cyburbian dobopoq's avatar
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    In a world of ubiquitous right angles and constant movement, jaywalking asserts the need of the pedestrian to be free to observe, interact with, and create street life from multiple angles at varying rates of movement.
    "The current American way of life is founded not just on motor transportation but on the religion of the motorcar, and the sacrifices that people are prepared to make for this religion stand outside the realm of rational criticism." -Lewis Mumford

  13. #13
    Cyburbian JNL's avatar
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    I'm a regular jaywalker and enjoyed your article. Our city is also known as a city of walkers, and our pedestrians are notorious for jaywalking. We have a lot of one-way streets in the central city which are better for jaywalking (only have to check for traffic from one direction)

    We have ongoing struggles between our urban designers and traffic engineers - however, the urban design team have succeeded in getting many footpaths widened and corner bulb-outs added.

  14. #14
         
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    i too am a proponent for jay walking, and just happen to be in Montreal. Sometimes it is just way too cold to be standing at an intersection waiting for the light to turn green when there are absolutely no cars coming. I would like to point out that I have had no problems crossing under these conditions (at an intersection with lights, against the light), because I would like to be particularly sure that there are no cars and/or i have enough time to cross.
    However, there have been a few occaisions when crossing streets legally (I assume with the right of way) that I have nearly been hit. Those being 1- when crossing with the light, and a car is turning, and 2- crossing a small street parallel to normal traffic flow on a larger street (ie crossing a side street) where there is no light at all and cars either turn or try to speed across the busier street to go down the little one (particularly in Montreal at St-Dominique and Ontario).
    I think it is utterly ridiculous for the Montreal Police to waste their time ticketing jay walkers. I think it would be interesting to know what percentage of those pedestrian accidents were actually jay walkers, or involved cars turning, etc Perhaps like everyone is suggesting, instead of this increased policing of the streets for jay walkers we should instead invest in making streets more pedestrian friendly!

    PS- enjoyed the article very much!

  15. #15
    Cyburbian abrowne's avatar
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    I jaywalk whenever possible and safe. Hurrah!

  16. #16
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    I jay walk all the time. Theres a mid block traffic light that crosses a street that runs through my university campus. Most people cross whenever they have the cance since it takes so long to change. Clearly those in charge if light timing have the motorists interest more in mind than the pedestrians. Personally I think jay walking is great and it serves a an indicatior of a vibrant walkable urban space.

    In Cambridge Ontario, not far from where I live they have actually reduce the main street to one lane each way and have constructed "bump out" curbs which makes it easier to cross the street mid block. These protect the parallel parked cars, slow traffic and the added space infront of shops have become popular cafe sitting areas.

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