Crossing the Road

While browsing the headlines on the BBC today, I came across a fascinating article on jaywalking around the world. The article was brought about by the experiences of historian Felipe Fernandez-Armesto, visiting Atlanta, Georgia, for a conference. Being unaccustomed to our wacky American cross walk using ways, the man simply popped out into traffic and was promptly arrested. If accounts of his arrest are true, I think that excessive force was involved: five policemen for one bespectacled nerd is a bit much.

But it was interesting to read a British article about American traffic conventions, a sort of view from the outside.

The only time I have seen people arrested for jaywalking has been at protests, when cops are struggling to get protesters off the street. Jaywalking arrests in plenty usually occur then, because it’s a charge that is usually true. Apparently taking advantage of the first amendment is not yet a crime…but don’t worry, it will be soon! The way the BBC paints it, it sounds as though there are herds of rabid police men waiting to assault jaywalkers.

Having jaywalked extensively in several major cities all over the United States, I have not found this to be true. But perhaps I’m just frequenting the wrong cities. I mean, I would hope that cops have something better to do than lurk on long blocks waiting for jaywalkers too impatient to use the cross walk.

And really, British readers, please tell me what the problem with using a cross walk is?

Among other things, a cross walk is designed for the safety of motorists and pedestrians. Using a cross walk usually means that a driver will be automatically at fault if he or she hits you, because drivers really ought to expect pedestrians in cross walks. Furthermore, the stop lights and signs which usually surround a cross walk will control traffic for you, allowing to cross the street in much greater safety, with a reduced risk of being hit by an inattentive driver.

Pedestrians who are entering the roadway become part of traffic patterns. If allowed to rampage about willy nilly, they can cause a severe disruption of traffic. Especially in major cities, traffic snarls as a result of pedestrians can get quite obnoxious: that’s why we have cross walks indicating when it is safe to cross and when it is not. Surely we can all share the road peaceably, with respect for the fact that by working together, we can make traffic more smooth.

Furthermore, the BBC didn’t mention that several US states have a pedestrian right of way law similar to that found in Germany and the Netherlands. California, for example.

Perhaps making jaywalking illegal is a bit excessive—after all, we should all be able to take responsibility for our own actions, including where and when we cross the street. It’s interesting to me that in America, where people are eager to sue each other for utterly asinine things, we feel the need to legislate jaywalking. Perhaps Britain has a cooler head when it comes to frivolous lawsuits, and therefore feels secure in allowing people to cross the street wherever, whenever?

Also, I think that taking the poor man’s peppermints was a bit much.