Before cars arrived there was no such thing as jay walking

11 August 2022

Streets and roadways used to be the purview of people on foot, not motor vehicles, writes Clive Thompson. Jaywalking — whereby a pedestrian can be penalised for not crossing a street at the correct location — he tells us, is a misdemeanour created by the car industry.

If you travelled in time back to a big American city in, say, 1905 — just before the boom in car ownership — you’d see roadways utterly teeming with people. Vendors would stand in the street, selling food or goods. Couples would stroll along, and everywhere would be groups of children racing around, playing games. If a pedestrian were heading to a destination across town, they’d cross a street wherever and whenever they felt like it.

Maybe the solution, and to return roads to people on foot, is to lay down light rail or tram tracks on the streets. I was in the centre of Sydney recently where a number of once busy traffic thoroughfares are now light rail routes through the city.

Aside from trams trundling along the way every few minutes, pedestrians largely have free rein. The light rail lines have quite transformed parts of Sydney’s CBD in the last few years.

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