Jaywalking as a Marker of Livable Streets

Today on the Streetsblog Network, a couple of very thought-provoking posts.

First, Living Car-Free in BigD calls jaywalking an indicator of livability, connected to the idea of the woonerf, or shared street space. Car-Free’s author notes how in his city — where jaywalking is not the norm — a good traffic day for pedestrians is one where the signals aren’t working at all. That’s when drivers are forced to negotiate each intersection as human beings rather than as machines:

2252504963_68e81d2cdd.jpgTaking to the streets in Midtown Manhattan. (Photo: nydiscovery via Flickr)

Have you ever noticed how much safer and more polite Dallas drivers are
when traffic lights are out, operating as blinking reds and the drivers
are left to their own devices, responsible for their own safety.
Interesting how they begin to cooperate with other drivers, no? Well, I have noticed.

four-way stops are drastically much safer than any other form of
regulated intersection. One reason is because of reduced speed in areas
where stop signs are utilized rather than signals. The other primary
contributive factor, is that (although not necessary due to literally
written protocol for who goes first at 4-way stops) there is a
necessary communication to some extent between the drivers: eye
contact, a slow roll to indicate that "I’m moving. Hold back buddy," maybe even a honk or two…or this.

Over at The Urbanophile, Aaron Renn takes on the always difficult topic of race in a post called "The White City." Renn writes about how Midwestern Rust Belt cities need to engage their African-American citizens in any move toward more progressive transportation policy, and that successful policy change must arise from the local community, no matter what color it is:

What’s needed in places like the Rust Belt are a mixture of indigenous
solutions and imported ideas that are tailored to the local community.
It can’t just be trying to buy urban widgets from elsewhere like some
sort of "public transit in a box" solution. The Midwest would do well
to consider developing an indigenous urban R&D program to mitigate

Race aside, Renn has a point. What we see every day across the Streetsblog Network is the incredible variation in regional experience. What’s right for Portland won’t necessarily be right for Atlanta. What’s exciting is that people around the country and the world are learning from each other as never before.

  • I disagree about the belief in a wide degree of variability between regions. All center cities have pretty much similar characteristics — density, grid street network, small blocks. And were designed during the walking and transit city eras, which meant that the cities were designed to optimize trips by walking, transit (and bicycling). And center city competitive advantage centers upon nonautomobile centric mobility.

    The real mistake is cities believing that they are different.

    What I find “interesting” across the network is not that there is regional variability, but that the degree to which a region and its elected and appointed officials understand, appreciate and support transit, walking and bicycling varies considerably.

    What is interesting to me then is why some regions vary so significantly on this metric. And that regions that exhibit a high degree of transportational progressivism tend to be high income, high education.

    That being said, high income high education areas can also be retrograde as well.

    Getting back to the issue of spatial patterns really mattering the most — places like Portland and Arlington County get all the props for their great transportation planning. DC doesn’t do great transportation planning (although we do some things well, and lucked out that a subway network was costructed) but it crushes both Portland and Arlington in terms of mode share for walking, bicycling, and transit for work trips. Sure Portland kicks DC’s butt on bicycling, but even so, DC has more than 100% > # of people using bike, walking, and transit to get to work. And DC is 50% better than Arlington.

    It’s all about the spatial pattern of the city, overlaid with transit, and walking communities.

  • Oh, and just think if DC really did do transportation demand management planning. We’d probably hit mode split numbers of 65%…

  • Sounds like the teachings of Hans Monderman…

    “Shared Space:
    Monderman’s designs emphasized human interaction over mechanical traffic devices. By taking away conventional regulatory traffic controls, he proved that human interaction and caution would naturally yield a safer, more pleasant environment for motorists, pedestrians and cyclists.”


  • Tedd

     I recall reading somewhere that, in areas where dogs still roam freely, they typically cross roads mid-block, and rarely at intersections.  That’s sensible, since the traffic situation mid-block is much simpler than at an intersection.  I jaywalk a lot, and I generally find it much easier and safer than crossing at an intersection, unless there are a lot of lanes and a lot of traffic.

    I’m disappointed to see you promoting a slow roll at a four-way stop as a signal that one intends to take the right of way, though.  As a some-time bicyclist and motorcyclist I find that an annoying misconception.  On a bicycle or motorcycle, there are significant advantages to not coming to a complete stop.  I consider the advantages in car significant, too.  But when people interpret a slow roll as a sign that you’re going to take the right of way from them it makes this sensible practice unusable.


Reverse Engineering Pedestrian Safety in Boerum Hill

They are putting up a traffic light on my corner this week. It’s one of the last intersections in Boerum Hill with four-way stop signs, at Bond and Wyckoff Streets, and I can’t imagine who thought this was a good idea. It would seem obvious that stop signs are much preferable to a traffic light in this type of […]

78th Precinct Targets Drivers Who Fail to Yield to Pedestrians

Last week, Police Commissioner Bratton said the 78th Precinct and its commanding officer, Deputy Inspector Michael Ameri, made him “proud of PD” by clearing snow from the Bergen Street bike lane. Here’s something even better: The 78th has amped up enforcement against drivers committing one of the city’s deadliest traffic violations — failing to yield to pedestrians […]

Study: “Shared Space” Slows Drivers While Letting Traffic Move Efficiently

The idea behind “shared space” street design is that less can be more. By ditching signage, traffic lights, and the grade separation between sidewalk and roadbed, the shared space approach calms traffic and heightens communication between drivers, pedestrians, and cyclists. Instead of following traffic signals on auto-pilot or speeding up to beat the light, motorists have to pay attention […]