Wednesday, April 7, 2010
Angelenos have probably already heard about last week's controversy over Glendale's Easter-themed crosswalk sting, in which an officer dressed in a rabbit suit repeatedly crossed an unmarked crosswalk to see if drivers would yield to the "pedestrian" as required by law. The police department justified the decision to use the costume by explaining that such an unusual outfit would be more noticeable (clearly they should have read my post explaining that even funny outfits don't catch the eye of distracted drivers).
The sting earned the Glendale PD a lot of publicity...not to mention the ire of at least one city councilmember, who blasted it for being "dangerous" and a waste of city resources. It got me thinking about these types of operations (e.g. crosswalk stings, pedestrian marches, etc) and whether or not they actually advance the pedestrian cause.
We know that spot enforcement can be effective at reducing bad driver behavior like speeding--for a while. But improvements tend to dwindle rapidly once the officers pack up and move to another location. What does linger on, in my opinion at least, is the resentment and bad feelings towards pedestrians that the enforcement generates. Do you think that any of the 24 Glendale motorists who were cited because they failed to yield to a bunny are going to feel enthusiastic about pedestrian rights in the future? I suspect not.
I don't mean to suggest that enforcement isn't important, but I do think there are other, more effective ways to incorporate pedestrians into the urban fabric that don't alienate drivers. Copenhagenize.com had an interesting post a while back that touched on a similar theme. It questioned the effectiveness of Critical Mass rides (that's when a group of bicyclists assert their right to the road by pedaling through the streets en masse) at promoting bicycling: "What if all those massers merely rode their bikes every day? In normal clothes, like normal people?"
The post suggests that the best way to encourage biking is to make it seem like a simple activity that anyone could do, and I think the same is true for walking. One of the best ways to promote walkability isn't through "stings" (see, even the enforcement term sounds painful) or funny costumes. It's through getting out there and walking places, through showing your friends and neighbors that walking to the store or park is feasible--and sometimes even pleasant (and if it isn't, here are the resources that can help you fix that problem).