Monday, July 26, 2010

Pedestrians in Canada Take Back The Streets

My toes turned green with envy when I came across this article in the Vancouver Sun about Victoria, BC's move to decriminalize jaywalking in its central business district. Midblock crossings are currently prohibited downtown, but after years of efforts to pedestrianize the area's streets, lawmakers see no reason to keep pedestrians from crossing wherever they see fit ("provided they make reasonable choices," of course).

Granted, Canadian walkers already have a leg up (so to speak) when it comes to crossing the street. Unlike here in California, where midblock crossings are only allowed when at least one of the nearest intersections is unsignalized,* Canada's Motor Vehicle Act allows peds to cross anywhere between intersections as long as they yield to vehicles.
Still, some years back (i.e. before Todd Litman moved to Victoria) city leaders decided to eliminate midblock crossing downtown to help solve congestion problems...because we all know how discouraging people from walking makes them drive less. Happily, Victorians came to their senses, and may soon provide us with one of the first examples of highway law being changed to favor those of us who travel on foot.

It hasn't always gone that way with pedestrians and the law. As Jennifer Wells explains in this excellent piece on the history of "jaywalking," during the first three decades of the last century "the public realm was socially reconstructed, redefining a behaviour [crossing midblock] that was cultural and social to one that was, at least in some jurisdictions, illegal." Where crossing in the middle of the street was once seen as the safest place to cross the street, by the early 1900s it was considered naive and bumbling--behavior associated with a rural "jay" (hick, hillbilly) who didn't understand the norms of the city. 

 It may have taken eighty years, but finally us rubes are reclaiming our rights to the street--at least in Canada. Anyone feel like taking on the California Vehicle Code?

*Note that the CVC only prohibits midblock crossings between two signals. According to CVC Sec. 21955, everything else is fair game

1 comment:

  1. Funny how now "jaywalking" is the sign of an urbanite. You could say its the rural "jays" who wait patiently at a crosswalk for 5 minutes for the signal to change even when their is no oncoming traffic.