73. Jaywalking

In our cities of right corners and straight lines, we’ve been trained to fear the jaywalker. We’ve been taught that crossing a street outside of the dotted lines is a sin against order. Jaywalking is chaos. Jaywalking is the tiny crack that splits the boulder of society apart, and so we are trained to obey the RED HAND and we do not cross until told.

The strange thing is that we’re also taught to “look both ways before crossing the street.” I’m unclear why we’d be given such irresponsible advice when it’s the MAN and the HAND who decide when we cross. Why would we bother to look in either direction if these symbols are looking for us? If we look and we see that the road is clear, that doesn’t mean we can cross. We must wait for permission, lest we’re aiming to destroy the systems of men.

About 70,000 pedestrians are injured or killed in collisions with a motor-vehicle every year.

Sure not all of those people are jaywalkers, but plenty of them are, and if they’d only stuck to the rule, these grisly statistics would shrink. Roads are made for cars. Sidewalks are made for people. That place where roads and sidewalks meet, that’s where people are supposed to cross.

It’s simple.

For those who stray from the guidelines, expect to be struck dead, permanently wounded, or heavily fined. In some countries, such as Singapore, jaywalking is punishable by jail time, but usually you’ll find yourself paying a hefty fee for putting yourself (and others) at risk. And for what? To look cool in front of your friends? To rebel against the right angle? To stray from the rigidity of society?

Did you know that jaywalking was made illegal by efforts from the automobile industry? Makes sense. Once cars filled the roads, people were slow to acclimate, and pedestrian-caused accidents were rising quickly. The automobile folks wanted to make sure that people and cars remained segregated. So long as cars weren’t driving on sidewalks, people weren’t supposed to be walking on roads.

Then came the jaywalkers.

People who said, “I’ll cross wherever and whenever I want.”

I get it. I do. I understand.

You’re not one to blindly follow directions. You see jaywalking as an invasion of your rights. In some ways, perhaps it is. If your destination is across the street and you’ve looked both ways, then why not? I mean, why listen to any rules at all, so long as the coast is clear? I bet you run red lights if no one’s coming, too. I bet you don’t wash your hands if there’s no one else in the bathroom to judge you.

Jaywalking is a gateway crime. If you cross one street illegally, what other streets will you be willing to cross?

The truth is, I’m a jaywalker. It’s true. While I was living abroad, I jaywalked all the time (heck, in Istanbul, the stray dogs are professional jaywalkers, so you come to trust their judgement). There is something silly about being restricted to crosswalks and countdown timers, especially when there’s absolutely no car coming. Coming back to the States, I found that my jaywalking habits had worsened. I’m downright reckless.

The point is, if we’re going to fight the structures of society, we need to look both ways. See both sides of the structure before stepping foot in a direction we may not wish to go. Jaywalking might seem like a dumb law (and honestly it’s hardly enforced), but it has some undeniable footing in logic. Next time you feel like breaking the rules, consider the rules, consider where they came from, and if the coast is still clear, then by all means, cross away.

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5 thoughts on “73. Jaywalking

  1. We look both ways because the red hand and lines are only symbols of authority and we have been socialized by society to perform that behaviour. We know that cars run red lights and stops signs all the time. Many people don’t look both ways before defying authority because the only time laws against such things are effective is when repercussions happen with every incident and there are severe penalties. Thus why so many people speed despite the risk of being ticketed. Our decision is based upon how many times we get caught… So with speeding, not very often or we would be less inclined to do it.

    What people really need to consider is standing up to authority when the authority is present. That actually takes balls and does something for human rights. I bet you most people on this planet have broken more than a few laws when no one was looking, but the people history remembers are the ones who had the nerve to stare authority in the eye and not give a single f**k.

    Interesting read… but not sure if I agree with your underlying insight about human behaviour…

    1. Awesome comment. Thank you. I am thinking now of the occasional moment when I’ve jaywalked in sight of a police car, and how good that felt. Obviously that’s a small rebellion against authority and one they honestly don’t care much about, but it certainly changes the act when it’s in the presence of authority. My overall insight meant to illuminate the idea that it never hurts to look at a law or a rule, especially if you disagree with it, and figure out where it came from.

  2. There are miles and miles of streets and roads which don’t even have a corner much less a traffic signal “red hand”, you city-slicker. :) Where I live, one looks each way before crossing a traffic path because we are expected to have sense enough to take care of ourselves. It has nothing to do with rebellion or anti-social behavior.

    1. Yes, I totally agree. As someone who does a lot of driving in San Francisco it really bothers me the way so many people will walk blindly into the street wherever is convenient for them, putting trust worth their lives in some random stranger in a car. And not only that, but they get angry at me if after stopping to not injure them I have the nerve to honk my horn. The way these people put their selfish, childish behavior above their own safety and mine really bothers me.

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