10 February 2012

Jaywalking and the Motor Age

Kansas City Star - 30.04.1911 - First illustration of jaywalkers
First reference to "jaywalking" - Kansas City Star, 30 April 1911.

I've posted about the brilliant book "Fighting Traffic - The Dawn of the Motor Age in the American City" by Peter D. Norton before but I just can't get enough of it. Previous posts are The Anti-Automobile Age and what we can learn from it and Fighting Traffic.

The Canadian writer, Chris Turner, wrote today about how there are no jaywalkers on sustainable streets over at Mother Earth Network. Here's some back-up for that brilliant article.

The very term "Motor Age" was invented by the automobile industry as a promotional term aimed at turning public opinion away from the massive societal protest at the appearance of cars on city streets.

The term "...carried a built-in justification for overturning established custom. It combined rhetorical closure and problem redefinition, just as similar phrases have been used in more recent years to justify workplace smoking bans, cleaner fuels and tightened security at airports."

For 7000 years cities and their streets were places where citizens gathered, moved and played. The automobile industry were forced to use marketing techniques to win the battle for space for cars. They've never looked back.

The cartoon at the top is the very first reference to another marketing tactic adopted by the automobile industry - jaywalking. A 'jay' was a synonym for a "country bumpkin" and pedestrians who dared to challenge 7000 years of city life were labelled as such. Crosswalks were invented to funnel pedestrians into controlled zones that would allow cars dominance over the streets.

Traffic fatalities were a major problem when cars started to muscle onto the streets. Most traffic safety campaigns placed the responsibility firmly on the motorists and the protests against them were massive.

The automobile industry needed to change this perception, and quick. They were successful.

"By 1930 the American Automobile Association had overtaken safety councils for leadership in school safety".

Boy Scout Cards Kiwanis Club Hartford Anti JayWalking 07.02.1921 National Safety News
Boy Scouts were enlisted by motorist organisations and Kiwanis clubs and they distributed cards to "reckless pedestrians" like this one from Hartford, Conneticut in 1921.

Auto Club of Southern California Sponsored Signs December 1923
They would patrol the streets teaching the citizens the New Rules of the Motor Age. The signs, above, were sponsored by the Auto Club of Southern California in 1923.

New York Herald Tribune 29.07.1925
This attitude, lampooned in the New York Herald Tribune in 1925, sounds awfully familiar to this day.

Chicago Motor Club safety poster Textbook for Schools 1932 Massachusetts Safety Council July 1923
It wasn't just jaywalking. Seven centuries of children playing in the streets had to be abolished as well. Drawing at left is from the Chicago Motor Club, a safety poster for their Textbook for Schools in 1932. At right is a campaign from the Massachussets Safety Council in 1923.
Charles P Hughes 1924 song Beware Little Children
A 1924 song "Beware Little Children" hammered home the auto-centric message to kids and parents. Mostly the parents, of course.
AAA poster 1927
The message is clear in this 1927 poster from the American Automobile Association. Obey. The policeman? Oh, sure. The Automobile Association? Most definately.
Frank Young Los Angeles Times 06.07.1922 Automobile Club of Southern California
"Of course not! The streets are for cars!"

Seven thousand years - a little brainfart lasting 100 years. Hasn't worked out. Can we have our streets back please?

Fighting Traffic - The Dawn of the Automobile in the American City, by Peter D. Norton is published by MIT Press.


kfg said...

"Can we have our streets back please?"

Not to put too fine a point on it, but,sure, if you go back to Tokyo or Ferrara. Copenhanizing is all about bicycle sidewalks to keep the bicycles out of the way of the cars and blue paint to ask the motorists to please, if they don't mind, not to hit too many people where the sidewalks cannot be installed.

If what you really want is to take back the streets you're going to have to come to terms with the fact that there are other ways of doing things. Other than even those of the Dutch.

Erik Griswold said...

It is always fascinating for many reasons to watch this film taken from a cable car in 1905 moving down Market Street in San Francisco, California


Erik Griswold said...


Let's try that again!

kfg said...

Have a look at this one comparing Barcelona in 1908 with 2008:


Erik Griswold said...

Some great info on Jaywalking (with focus on Seattle) here

Kim said...

I find I get increasingly annoyed by this whole roads are for cars thing. As kfg said "Can we have our streets back please?" Roads are for people not just those with cars.

Luke said...

When I was more innocent, it never occurred to that in the land of the free, where citizens had a constitutional right to liberty and the pursuit of happiness, that they couldn't cross the road where they wanted. So when I heard about people being fined for jaywalking, I assumed it was an American phrase for street walking as in prostitution. Not sure what this proves

Erik Griswold said...

Jaywalking is an immediate personal form of direct action against the constant regulation of urban life and movement imposed by our road system. It’s like a one-person, 10-second protest march, slowing traffic and reclaiming streetspace. Every pesky aggressive jaywalker is a reminder to drivers downtown that they need to keep their eyes peeled and be prepared to stop. It’s a statement that our cities belong to people and not machines. And no amount of police enforcement or “public education” will ever stop it.

David Arditti said...

"If what you really want is to take back the streets you're going to have to come to terms with the fact that there are other ways of doing things. Other than even those of the Dutch."

One wonders what your amazing (and politically and economically practicable) solution, is then, kfg, if you think the Danes and the Dutch are doing it wrong.

kfg said...

One, I didn't say the Danes and Dutch were doing it wrong. I said there are other ways. Accommodating bicycles is not the same thing as taking back the streets, not the same thing at all.

Two, nothing is politically practicable; until it has been done. Galileo, Fredrick Douglas, Gandhi, Rosa Parks, the Stop the Child Murder mothers. All very impractical people. The only politically practical thing you can do is get used to the idea that roads are made for cars and ditch your bike for a Jag, because the idea that you might get Dutch style infrastructure is entirely politically impractical.

As for economically viable, here is a video from a city that most would deem to have done well economically; and one that Mikael professes to love greatly. It would probably have the highest bicycle modal share in the world, except that places bad for driving are good for just walking. Bicycle modal share is a horrible metric for livability. Please note that there are no bike lanes or paths. Note also that despite initial appearances this not a small town, but a major city whose population rivals that of the Netherlands in their entirety. There is a contrast at the end when we hit the part of town that has been rebuilt on the American model.


Here's a video from another city that Mikael has regarded favorably. Again, no bike paths. As in the previous video these are ordinary city streets. Cars drive on them.


While the Danes and Dutch have done great things in accommodating bicycles, where they have been most successful in taking back the streets is where they have come closest to emulating these two cities. Taking back the streets is not only not the same thing as accommodating bicycles, it is the inverse; not giving over the street to cars.

That's the very reason we have to talk about taking the streets back. Ya know, from the cars.

To take back the streets fill them full of people. Perhaps not politically easy, but it really is that simple.

Or you can live like the people in this city do, built on the post WWII American model (albeit conceived by a Swiss) of commercial “parks” and “developments” consisting of building blocks surrounded by parking lots divided by a motorway. Jesus, what a hell hole compared to the previous two cities. I can see how the people who live here might think that bike paths are answer:


But is it not worth considering that curing the illness might be a better solution than slapping a plaster on it? It's been interesting watching Mikael himself struggle toward that conclusion ever since he realized that the issue isn't providing a space for cyclists, but rather castrating the damned bull.

The space has been there all along. It's called “The Street.”

Tallycyclist said...

In general I agree with kfg's points that separate infrastructure is only one solution which doesn't in itself solve the bigger issue of our streets being dominated by cars. What the Danes and Dutch have done for bikes can only achieve so much, but I think it's fair to say that what they've done has achieved much more than what most other places have done for cyclists, without placing drastic restrictions on motor traffic,etc.

Is it possible to design our cities in a way that wouldn't require separated infrastructure to make pedestrians and cyclists feel safe? Probably. But something needs to be done about how fast cars can go. At walking speeds, they aren't so much of a threat to peds/cyclists, who are moving. But I still wouldn't want to get hit by a car even at 2mph speed. Courtesy of all road users goes a long way, but even if all drivers were courteous, how many people would feel confident being followed by a 5000 lb pick-up truck, or share the lane on roads with 50 mph speed limits? This is where the Danes/Dutch have taken back some of the street and made it subjectively safe enough for people to want to bike. I don't have any great suggestions in mind on how else to "take back the street" right this moment. Speed limits and traffic-calming measures can only do so much, and largely contingent on courtesy. Maybe half the streets in the city can be closed off to cars completely. But I have a feeling that that may be even harder to do than build separated infrastructure for bikes.

Walking is a great way to get around. Any focus on cycling should be just as inclusive for walking. But walking does have some limitations that biking may not, esp. for someone who doesn't own a car and lives in a city with sub-par public transit. If you wanted to go shop somewhere that was a few miles away, biking that distance is quicker and more efficient than walking would be; and with the right kind of accessories, the bike can do the hauling of goods for you. The conditions should be such that you can choose to do EITHER without feeling stressed and scared by other traffic users, etc.

Bicycle modal share is not necessarily a good measure of the livability of a city, and shouldn't be the only factor, but I have not yet encountered or read about a city with very high bike modal share but is terrible for transit, walking, etc. Melbourne is a very walkable city also with great mass transit, but not particularly awesome for cycling. For many people this is perfectly fine. For me, I prefer to get around without having to rely on transit most of the time. The Tokyo video shows that mixing can work, but only in those conditions: low car and pedestrian traffic.

kfg said...

"how many people would feel confident . . . on roads with 50 mph speed limits? This is where the Danes/Dutch have taken back some of the street"

If you look at my first listed video very carefully you will discover something very interesting: the difference between a street and a road.

"If you wanted to go shop somewhere that was a few miles away, biking that distance is quicker and more efficient than walking would be"

Indeed. In fact that describes my average grocery getting trip. However, sometimes, when I'm just not feeling up to it or don't have the time, I make do with the closest shopping outlet, rather than the preferred. In a decent city to live in it's there. Widely spaced necessary shopping is a result of motor dependent development.It is the symptom, not the cause.

Take away the motors and the shopping will move to the customers. That's where the money is. Or you can just install the motors in the form of decent public transport. Just because it ain't there now doesn't mean that it can't be ever. It might even be done because people start demanding it. Stranger things have happened.

Hell, the car dependent shopping development mode isn't even as old as I am. Change happens, and happens very, very quickly when the environment changes.

Too many people approach the problems is if the current structure is somehow immutable. If that is in fact the case, well, give up and shut up.

If it is not the case, be careful about what you wish for, you might get it.

Get it?

"The Tokyo video shows that mixing can work, but only in those conditions: low car and pedestrian traffic."

Which did not spring up by surprise like mushrooms on the lawn, just as the Dutch system did not. Decisions were made and actions taken. Everything in that video was built in only the past handful of decades. Everything. Think about that.

Too many cars are prevented by design. Too many pedestrians are as well, but hey, we're talking about Tokyo. all of the Netherlands in one city, so where it gets dense with people, get off the bike and walk. You acknowledge that bicycle modal share is a poor metric, yet go on to think like bicycling is the point.

It isn't. It's just one of many ways to do things. It happens to be one I like a good deal, but not to the extent that it blinds me to the needs of greater society. They don't belong riding around inside the shopping mall the day before Christmas.

I'm not promoting Tokyo. I dislike big cities and much prefer Ferrara. I'm just using it as an example of what has been done that works; in ways that many people wouldn't think possible.

So, they never think of it.

Tallycyclist said...

kfg: I see most of the points in your response, but just to clarify a few points of mine. I do see a difference between street and road in the video. There are different ways to make sure cars go slower on roads meant for slower speeds. There are streets in my city that should be like that, but there are still people who drive way too fast on certain stretches. Not surprising when they're use to being able to do 30, 35 or 40 mph on all other streets in the city. The only traffic calming measure I know of in my city is speed bumps, and ones so gentle they hardly do anything.

As far as shops moving to people, unless it's within 4-5 blocks, I would probably bike. I also mentioned that I prefer having my bike carrying the load for me so that's another added benefit. That's just me and not everyone else, so that's why I said conditions should be that either choice are decent.

I never said bicycle modal share is a poor metric. I said it doesn't necessary mean that a city is livable, because not everyone wants to be a cyclist or bike everywhere. Cities can be considered livable without catering to cyclist, but I also said that I've not yet encountered a city that has a high modal share of cycling that is also terrible for pedestrians, cyclists and has poor public transit, at least in the western world. I don't mind public transit, and do use it occasionally. But I find walking/cycling to be more flexible, even in cities like Prague, which has an excellent tram system downtown.

What the Tokyo video doesn't show the viewer is the quality of the commute. That's something you can only know by doing the commute yourself, in large part because everyone has their own standards for what defines quality. Obviously the speeds were low in the video, so it's probably safe to say that this was not a stressful commute.

I agree that cyclist don't belong everywhere. The main pedestrian walkway at my university can be quite unpleasant when full of pedestrians with half the cyclists and skate-boarders zooming through at >15 mph. But that's also the only way to get from east campus to west or vis versa without taking a huge detour either on smaller walkways or narrow roads with heavy car traffic.

kfg said...

"I see most of the points in your response"

Bear in mind that although I am responding to you, I am not, in the strict sense, addressing you. I am maintaining an awareness that this a forum, not a private conversation, so I am also addressing the peanut gallery.

"As far as shops moving to people, unless it's within 4-5 blocks"

Where I was born, in one of the world's great cities, it was not uncommon for people to live almost their entire lives within that radius. Cities used to be set up for that.

"I also mentioned that I prefer having my bike"

And I mentioned that I prefer that as well, but the issue I am addressing here is "The Street," not cycling. That's important to keep in mind. If you ask me what I want as a cyclist I would very likely be making other points entirely.

A city built to be a cycling city would look rather different than anything in Japan, Italy or the Netherlands. Talk to the good Dr. Behoving about that subject.

The Netherlands are quite palpably built to be a motoring country; in which they are now doing a good job of accommodating bicycles. Thus for those whose stance is not merely the accommodation of bicycles, but one of opposition to motoring, it is the wrong model.

"I also said that I've not yet encountered a city that has a high modal share of cycling that is also terrible for pedestrians"

This is simply an inversion of my point, that cities that are good for walking are not terrible for cycling. Tokyo has a high modal share of cycling, but is below that of the Dutch because more cycling is not needed. It is not primarily displacing driving, it is displacing walking and taking the train.

The cycle modal share only appears to be important in areas where driving has been dominant. It is the driving modal share that is the more important to look at.

People trying to replace car trips with cycle trips often overlook wonderfully livable places ( and what goes into achieving them) because they have a low cycle modal share compared to those with the highest. This is a serious error.

Raising the modal share of cycling is not the point. It doesn't even necessarily create very pleasant cycling.

"What the Tokyo video doesn't show the viewer is the quality of the commute."

Here I'll simply have to disagree. I think it shows it quite well, as do Mark's videos for the Netherlands. Perhaps I have just spent more hours watching them; and more decades cycling.

"Obviously the speeds were low . . ."

Ah, well, here we actually get into the issue of cycling. The Amero-Brit-Euro Effective Cyclists (tm) make a big deal about speed and as a cyclist I understand that, but compare the environment of the Tokyo to that of Rotterdam. Look how far apart everything is in motor centric Rotterdam. Look how close together everything is in walking centric Tokyo.

There's more stuff in the same area in Tokyo. You can get to "someplace" faster, slower.

By the way, did you see what I did there, comparing Tokyo with Rotterdam?

Tallycyclist said...

"Obviously the speeds were low . . ."
I meant speeds of cars specifically, not of cyclists as I myself do not cycle very fast (avg 9-12 mph) and prefer not to go faster than 15. Being good for walking may or may not be good for cycling and vis-versa, especially if there are a lot of both mixing in one space. In busy pedestrian walkways I feel that cyclist should have to dismount. I don't cycle for every single trip every time, but when I do, it's nice to not have to choose only between a busy pedestrian walkway, or streets with heavy and fast motor traffic. To avoid turning this into an ongoing private conversation, I will close and say that the whole concept of "street" does need to be re-evaluated, and that those who have done this are perhaps still giving way too much weight to the car.

kfg said...

"I meant speeds of cars specifically . . ."

Ah, well, that's different then. :)
In that case I note that that is a good deal of the point. It is intentional and achieved by design. The cars can't go fast there without hitting something in fairly short order.

"Being good for walking may or may not be good for cycling"

I used your own terminology, that it was not terrible for cycling. Again my point being that cycling is not the point. People moving around is.

The subject is taking back the streets for people. Not making a cyclists Shangri-La.

The streets don't belong to cyclists any more than they belong to cars.