Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Quote of the Day

In Manhattan, creative jaywalking is an environmental positive, because it makes traveling on foot easier: it enables pedestrians to maintain their forward progress when traffic lights are against them, and to gain small navigational advantages by weaving between cars on clogged side streets - and it also keeps drivers on their guard, forcing them to slow down. -David Owen (via Living Car-Free in Big D)
I definitely agree with this statement, and not because I like pedestrians more than drivers and somehow feel that rules shouldn't apply to everyone. Legally, of course, traffic laws do apply to everyone. But there is a difference in justice of those traffic laws, a difference that reflects the natural hierarchy of vulnerability among road users.

Motorists sacrifice the safety of other road users in exchange for speed; bicyclists do too, to a lesser extent; pedestrians do not endanger anyone else by their choice of transportation. When breaking a traffic law further exaggerates these differences it's far worse, IMHO, than when breaking a traffic law results in a more even - and safer - playing field.

When a driver blows through a red light, he's sacrificing the safety of others for his own speed even more than the already high baseline of driving. That's worse than when a bicyclist blows through a stop sign (assuming no pedestrians are around) not because bicyclists are morally superior, but because the bicyclist's behavior makes everyone slow down, which makes everyone safer.

And when pedestrians jaywalk (assuming they are not oblivious to their surroundings) they make both bikes and cars slow down. And that's a great thing.


Anonymous said...

And why is it great when cars and bikes slow down? Your position seems to be that cars and bikes are evil and, therefore, no consideration should be given to them. On the other hand, pedestrians are inherently important so all consideration should be given to them.
I walk all the time, but I am not so self-centered that I think everyone should come to a screeching halt so that I can do what I want. Too bad you aren't willing acknowledge that there are other people in the world beside yourself and their concerns matter.

Pedestrianist said...

"I am not so self-centered that I think everyone should come to a screeching halt so that I can do what I want."

What is it that you think happens to cross-traffic when you have a green light?

It's important to consider the special place pedestrians occupy in the natural hierarchy of road users that I laid out above.

Additionally, every one of us is a pedestrian, but only some of us apply extra costs of a fast mode choice onto others.

Speed may have its place on deserted country roads, but in a dense urban environment it necessarily put your neighbors at risk. As such, slowing down is necessarily a good thing.

Thanks for reading, Anonymous!

Spots Unknown said...

i'm trying to learn a zen lesson from Pedestrianist and resist my urge to scream, "evil!" at cars and bikes.

but i really don't think jay walking laws should exist, and i really don't care if vehicles have to slow down to avoid hitting walkers.

that said, i do appreciate that pedestrians in SF enjoy some of the most ped-aware drivers in the world. i more often have close encounters with cyclists.

Pedestrianist said...

Word, Spots.

And I want to add that this post is not intended to be an excuse for being an inattentive pedestrian.

Far from it.

But it's not said often enough: when you choose to go fast to put everyone in danger, when you are forced to go slow everyone around you is more safe for it.

Anonymous said...

A college prof once explained to our class why he thought jaywalking was safer than crossing at an intersection with lights. First, at an intersection, you have to deal with cars coming from 4 directions. If you cross in the middle of the street, you only have to worry about 2. And if you jaywalk, you should have no expectation that cars will stop. You wait until the road is clear. With the blatant disregard of traffic rules exhibited on the roads today, you should not assume that you ever have the right of way.