Recently, I attended my local precinct committee to help propose a speed zone decrease around the town centre.
It is well understood that the town centre is quite busy and separated by wide roads.
It is also well understood that many elderly and those with walking frames often cross mid-block (mid-way between intersections surrounding the block).
However, when the topic was raised, false fears of worse congestion turned the discussion towards punitive strategies for controlling pedestrians, such as street fences and higher fines for jaywalking.
What is jaywalking?
But isn’t jaywalking bad?
Once upon a time, it wasn’t. Streets used to be public space.
In the 1920s the automobile became popular and the adjustment in the streets was difficult. Many pedestrians were killed, including many elderly and children, resulting in public outrage.
The auto-industry fought back, mounting a campaign to redefine the streets under law so that people walking had to cross at crosswalks, and at right angles.
The auto-industry also sponsored posters and campaigns, intended to shame citizens into obeying these new rules, introducing the term “jaywalking” as a slur.
And here we are today.
Media plays a role
WalkSydney recently provided comment on City of Sydney’s initiatives to improve footpath congestion:
“Meeting the needs of people walking in a City with a rapidly growing population is enormously challenging. The City of Sydney has improved footpath widths, reduced the time waiting at lights, pedestrianised parts of George street and reduced traffic speed to 40km/hr. More work needs to be done to make walking easier, by allocating more road space for walking and more walk time to pedestrians at traffic lights, especially outside the city centre. The Road Rules should be reviewed to better recognise priority for people walking. “
However, our comment was rejected and a more negative, sensational comment was selected.
When the media stories are shaped in a particular way, how can we expect our community to engage, learn, and consider the positives and possibilities of what our cities can become?
- The Globe and Mail – Slowing cars down is the quickest route to safer streets (article)
- Vox – The forgotten history of how automakers invented the crime of “jaywalking” (article)
- 99 percent invisible – EPISODE 76 – The Modern Moloch (podcast)
- Adam ruins everything: why jaywalking is a crime