Pedestrians as Second Class Citizens

Many people can’t afford a car, which makes them second class citizens in a world of outlet stores and cul-de-sacs. People like Raquel Nelson, whose child was killed by car terrorism while crossing the street from their bus stop to their apartment. But, her pain was only just beginning:

The driver admitted to having alcohol and painkillers in his system (and to being legally blind in one eye) and pleaded guilty to the charge of hit-and-run. He served six months in prison. For the crime of walking three tired, hungry children home in the most efficient way possible, Nelson faced more jail time than the man who had killed her son.

Her crime was jaywalking. Her crime was crossing the street to her apartment directly across from the bus stop rather than taking the minimum 15 minute detour to the nearest controlled intersection. Plus, as the article points out, “considering the state of the driver who killed her son and the fact that he had two previous hit-and-run convictions, it is in any case questionable whether Nelson’s children would have been safer on the crosswalk.”

Key to her conviction is the invention of jaywalking:

Jaywalking was once a semi-derogatory term referring to country bumpkins, or ‘jays’, who inefficiently meandered around American cities; by the 1920s, the term was being used to transfer blame for accidents from motorists to pedestrians. Making jaywalking illegal gave the supremacy of mobility to those sitting behind combustion engines. Once upon a time, the public roads belonged to everyone. But since the ingenious invention of jaywalking we’ve battered pedestrianism in one of those silent culture wars where the only losers are ourselves (emphasis mine).

The whole article has a lot more about the steady marginalization of the fundamental human activity of walking. I hate the suburbs.

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