The concept of jaywalking

STREETLIFE - Nigel Paul Villarete (The Freeman) - July 17, 2018 - 12:00am

Pe•des•tri•an (/p?'destre?n/) Part 2

Our industrious representative of the north district of Cebu City remarked on the article we wrote two weeks ago and told me: “But these pedestrian overpasses are built for the safety of our people.” Absolutely true, and we should be thankful for these and for Representative Del Mar for ensuring that these got built. The safety of pedestrian is as important as their inherent rights for inclusive mobility. We are forced to need them because of the policy we inherited from the Americans.

Note that crossing the street became only an issue when cars appeared, in the first part of the 1900s. In the US a hundred years ago, if you were a pedestrian, it was simple to cross the street --you walked across it. And it’s still the same in many countries across the world. Try the Netherlands and most countries in Europe. Even in the UK, you can cross the street anywhere you deem safe. Only in the US, and all countries who copied their system, is crossing streets prohibited except at designated crosswalks.

The rising popularity of cars in US cities in the 1920s resulted in high numbers of car accidents and fatalities, which prompted people to protest. When city folks came up with proposed ordinances requiring cars to be fitted with mechanical devices called governors, which limits speeds only up to 25 miles per hour, automobile dealers mobilized to strike these down. Thus, was born the concept of “jaywalking.”

Because laws were enacted against jaywalking, with hefty penalties, crossing streets are thus constrained only at pedestrian crossing lanes at intersections and only at right angles. People who can’t afford cars are walled in and forbidden to trod on huge swathes of land reserved exclusively for cars and vehicles. What’s interesting to note here is that this is primarily an American invention and followed mostly by countries who took after American systems. In other countries, this is true only in motorways, highways, and other high-speed thoroughfares. In local roads and urban streets, pedestrian crossing is allowed. In England, pedestrians have priority over turning vehicles.

Development adapted to this policy, of course. We created pedestrian overpasses. In more developed cities, many have underpasses, some even nicely painted and airconditioned. More affluent ones have escalators, walkalators, and even elevators --all aimed at easing the way for pedestrians. But it doesn’t change the fact that this whole scenario came out of a questionable policy of upholding the importance of cars over people; for the convenience of car owners at the expense of people who can’t afford cars. People have to climb the stairs and go underground, they can’t go straight…simply because we must let the car to go through.

Luckily, the wind of change is happening all over the world. More and more cities are now aiming to pedestrianize their habitat. Some are breaking down expressways and changing them to walkable corridors. In due time, we’ll be like them. (To be continued)

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