In a way I can understand mayor de Blasio’s shotgun approach to traffic enforcement: By blitzing everybody, pedestrian and motorist alike, as he had for various intersections in Manhattan and Brooklyn, he can make the case that he was merely being pragmatic. However, political pragmatism in this situation is itself a form of ideology, for it favors one mode of transportation. In effect, by aggressively ticketing pedestrians who jaywalk, de Blasio is treating them like miniature bipedal cars.
People are not cars.
This should, I’m certain, have gone without saying. One need only look out their window onto a New York street to understand that the two abide by a completely different rule structure and cultural context. A street without jaywalkers is a street without pedestrians, and nobody who’s directly across the street from their destination – their home, their work, a store they intend to patronize – on an 800-foot West Side block is going to walk to the end of the block, wait for the light, and walk back. Yet that’s the culture that commissioner Bratton and the mayor are enforcing.
The blocks that de Blasio has chosen for proactive enforcement against pedestrians – 96th Street and Broadway on the Upper West Side, Nassau Avenue and McGuinness Boulevard in Greenpoint – tend to be ones that favor greater vehicular traffic flow by having extended left-turn-only lights for motorists. If only pedestrians would wait the two minutes it takes to cross those streets, implies commissioner Bratton and the mayor, deaths would dry up. Never mind that this is demonstrably false; the important part is that it grossly misidentifies how traffic – pedestrian traffic – actually flows. Or, as intrepid activists have put it:
(A protest sign in the Upper West Side placed directly on top of pedestrian “education” posters from the NYPD)
There is a good, simple way to describe this fundamental disconnect in transit planning and traffic enforcement. Traffic engineers treat cars as a liquid: Give ‘em wide, long straightaways and the volume (along with the speed) increases. I’ve personally likened major thoroughfares like 10th Avenue, Flatbush Avenue and, yes, McGuinness Avenue as car levees for that’s how the traffic flows. Pedestrians, however, are not a liquid. They only really act that way in dense crowds - a la Times Square – but in most cases act like a gas. It would take a veritable wall of people (or in some cases, literal walls) to stop pedestrians from expanding to fill all space.
To treat pedestrians like they are miniature vehicles on a miniature street that’s signaled like their larger, more metallic brethren (except all the signals are timed for cars) is to kill the habit of walking. What it says is the city basically doesn’t understand how pedestrians function. If it was, everybody would have their Walker’s License by the age of 6. While this is more or less expected of Bostonian Bratton, whose Los Angeles antics are infamous, our mayor has no excuse: This is plain common sense.
(Boston, meanwhile, continues to demonstrate a lack of common sense)
The very residents of the Upper West Side where the first crackdown occurred said as much, when they proposed a solution that required changing the signaling interim, shortening the distance between curbs, and legalizing what pedestrians are already doing. They did not ask that “offending” pedestrians be made to stop doing what came naturally, as in their minds the streets were theirs: New York culture would concur. What they consistently and continually demanded, as do other protesters and politicians around the city, is that motorists be made to conform to that culture by slowing down and deferring to pedestrians.
It’s already gotten to the point where locals have taken it upon themselves to enforce just that, the NYPD be damned, and our mayor would do good to follow suit. These blitzes do nothing but anger the very people he is supposed to represent: I didn’t vote for somebody to punish us New Yorkers for being New Yorkers.