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The Invention of Jaywalking

Laws against jaywalking are there to protect people from automobiles, but that’s a relatively new concept in the long history of roads. A hundred years ago, pedestrians had the same right to use the streets as cars (or horses, for that matter). When a person on foot was killed by the newfangled automobiles, it was always assumed to be the driver’s fault.

“If you ask people today what a street is for, they will say cars,” says Norton. “That’s practically the opposite of what they would have said 100 years ago.”

Streets back then were vibrant places with a multitude of users and uses. When the automobile first showed up, Norton says, it was seen as an intruder and a menace. Editorial cartoons regularly depicted the Grim Reaper behind the wheel. That image persisted well into the 1920s.

Today, livable streets advocates such as New York’s Transportation Alternatives spend a lot of time and energy trying to get people to take pedestrian fatalities seriously. But at the beginning of the 20th century, traffic deaths – particularly the deaths of children – drew enormous attention.

“If a child is struck and killed by a car in 2012, it is treated as a private loss, to be grieved privately by the family,” Norton says. “Before, this stuff was treated as a public loss – much like the death of soldiers.” Mayors dedicated monuments to the victims of traffic crimes, accompanied by marching bands and children dressed in white, carrying flowers.

So what happened that relegated pedestrians to the sidewalks and cross walks? The turning point was a public relations battle over a referendum in Cincinnati. Read what happened at The Atlantic Cities. Link -via Boing Boing

(Image credit: Flickr user Jay Wilson)

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April 29th, 2012

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Stranger to the World

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