Jaywalkers Are Better for Our City Than Drivers

Four people were struck and killed by automobiles in New York City this weekend, bringing the number of pedestrian fatalities this month to nine. In response, the NYPD is cracking down... on jaywalking. This is like blaming the deer for getting in the way of the hunter's bullet.

Following three gruesome pedestrian fatalities on the Upper West Side, Fox NY reports that police "have started a crackdown on jaywalkers in an effort to stem the problem." Yesterday, that crackdown succeeded in getting an 84 year-old man bloodied by the police, who put him in the hospital after he didn't understand their instructions.

Of the four pedestrian deaths this weekend, only one resulted in charges being filed against the driver (and that was for driving with a suspended license). Earlier fatal incidents this year have also not resulted in charges against drivers. Despite the Bloomberg administration's real efforts to make Manhattan more pedestrian-friendly, the message that law enforcement leaders here (and elsewhere) are sending is clear: pedestrians are at fault in their own deaths. The way to prevent pedestrians from being killed by cars is to aggressively ticket pedestrians, for acting like pedestrians. The flow of automobile traffic is accepted as an immutable fact of life; those weird enough not to be sheathed in cars must adjust or face severe penalties.

There are two problems with this attempt to "crack down" on jaywalking in New York City:

1. The Moral Problem: Mega-urban spaces like New York City (and Manhattan in particular) should be doing everything in their power to move away from an auto-centric system of urban living and towards a pedestrian-friendly one. The fact that pedestrian deaths are a regular occurrence points to the fact that heavy automobile traffic does not mix with heavily populated urban environments. The takeaway from that should be to crack down on drivers, not pedestrians. For reasons of human safety, aesthetics, environmental preservation, health, economics, and smart urban planning, we should make it a point to prioritize the needs of pedestrians over the needs of drivers. Banning cars from Manhattan need not happen tomorrow (or ever), but it is a useful ideal to use when deciding how our city's policies—including law enforcement and public safety—should be designed.

2. The Practical Problem: Trying to enforce the law against jaywalking in New York City is both irrational and undesirable. Without jaywalking, the entire city would grind to a slow crawl. Can you IMAGINE the fucking backups that would occur on every fucking corner from 34th St. to 59 St. that would occur with no jaywalking to relieve the overcrowding? A War on Jaywalking is even less practical than the War on Drugs. It is one of those activities that that wise governments officially condemn, but turn a blind eye towards in practice. The flow of foot and auto traffic in the city is predicated on the unspoken assumption that a great deal of jaywalking will happen to keep everything moving briskly. Most individual humans in New York City (excluding tourists) are able to determine for themselves when it is safe to jaywalk—especially when driving is minimized and tightly controlled.

If the cops must hand out tickets to jaywalkers, they should at least have the decency to only target tourists.

[Photo: AP]