Go Ahead, Walk in the Street, Or, Jaywalking was Invented by the Car Industry

In some cities, especially really old ones, people on foot use the streets at will. They cut across the streets they want, walk down the middle of lanes, and generally act like they own the road. And they do.

That’s because historically speaking, “jaywalking” didn’t exist. The Atlantic Cities recently reported that the “crime” of jaywalking was more or less invented well after the advent of the car. Indeed, for many years after cars started entering American cities, they were viewed as interlopers and menaces.

That all changed, the article notes, through a rigorous campaign to reeducate people. Basically, car companies turned thousands of years of history on end and convinced people that streets were primarily for motor vehicles.

In a separate article, the Atlantic Cities also notes that some places today have managed to resist relinquishing their streets to cars. Notably, in Copenhagen and Amsterdam, bikers and pedestrians dominate the roads, and streets in those cities look very different from streets in the U.S.

Streets in Amsterdam are filled with people on foot, bikes and in cars. However, the bikers and pedestrians dominate the streets.

What does all this mean? I think the most obvious lesson is that American streets, including those in Provo, could still return to a state of greater “completeness.” Sometimes saying that streets aren’t primarily for cars can feel like saying that fish don’t live in water. But as both our own history and the present in some old cities demonstrates, streets ought to be safe for walking and and biking.

People walk down the middle of a large street in Amsterdam.

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4 Comments

Filed under driving, travel

4 responses to “Go Ahead, Walk in the Street, Or, Jaywalking was Invented by the Car Industry

  1. Pingback: Playing in the Streets | (pro(vo)cation)

  2. Pingback: The Utah County War On Biking | (pro(vo)cation)

  3. Pingback: Jaywalkers and the Farmer’s Market | (pro(vo)cation)

  4. Pingback: Pedestrian Killed in South Salt Lake | (pro(vo)cation)

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