Climate Change: On Jaywalking

In response to 9 pedestrian deaths crossing NYC’s streets this month the city decided to launch a crackdown on jaywalkers. Here’s just one example of such efforts by NYC’s finest. While each of the victim’s families suffered a tragic loss, I find almost every city’s efforts to regulate street crossing excessively oppressive.

One of the first things I recall learning growing up in Springfield, NJ was how to safely cross a street. It probably took me a couple weeks to get the whole “look both ways to see if cars are coming, and if they’re not, cross the street” phrase my parents—and Sesame Street—kept repeating. I’d crossed streets holding my parents’ hands for years, and was, by no means yet a street-crossing expert at just 5 years old, but my parents trusted me to play outside nonetheless. If my ball fell into the street, I wouldn’t run after it before checking to see if cars were coming.

Now, at 28, I feel confident enough to call myself a street-crossing ‘expert.’ I know how to safely cross at red lights, not at  demarcated crosswalks, and also to cross just halfway until the next lane’s cars move by. I’ve never been hit by a car—I thank God,—and never even made a car stop short to let me cross ahead of them. I learn the street I’m crossing and look to see if I can cross safely.

Too many pedestrians have been killed crossing Israel’s streets, even when crossing legally. But its not worth getting all excited about in my opinion because the street doesn’t kill them, it’s the automobiles driving on it that do. Regardless of the light’s color (or ticking sound speed) if a car is approaching the intersection at speed, I’ll hold off on crossing until the driver slows down. Which brings me to Israeli street-crossing culture.

Often, I cross against the pedestrian walk sign (or mid-street)  someone pipes up with, “but you’re so young!”,  “Cross safely,” or “can’t you see the light’s red?!?” Or “what’s your rush?” This last line really gets on my nerves.

First, who the heck do you think you are – fellow citizen at corner – to tell me what to do? True, this is a somewhat standard response for nearly every stranger’s criticism, but in this case falls on particularly deserving shoulders. While you may have nowhere better to be than standing on a street corner, I do. Second, the phrase “lo kara klum” (nothing happened) comes to mind. If I made it across safely, while technically illegally, what’s the big deal?

Furthermore, it’s seems as though Israelis have deified the crosswalk light. I’ve termed this deity Ramzo (pronounced ‘Rahm-zoh’).

When He’s red He’s angry; when green, happy. Sometimes He’s silhouetted in yellow, as if turning a blind eye. No matter how mighty Ramzo is, however, he’s got nothing on the thousand-kilogram hunk of metal bearing down on you—even if He said its safe to cross.

Again, the only—verified—way to safely cross a street is to do so when there aren’t cars coming. In fact, I’m willing to bet my rental (I’ve got a killer panoramic view of the city, btw) that when approaching a street you already look first to see if cars are coming before checking with Rahmzo.

My own street crossing method is as follows:
Check for traffic
Check for policemen
If no traffic, and Rahmzo is green (or is red but with no cops around to watch me) I’ll cross the street.
I’m prepared to suffer friar’s hollers (not friar as in Tuck, but the Hebrew for ‘chump’) as I’ll have more time to do whatever it is that I am walking towards.

A note to bicyclists: I was taught that when crossing a street to get off the seat and walk the bicycle across. Please, please, do this. Also, wear a helmet. Seriously. If you don’t, I’d better not hear you criticizing those who aren’t wearing seat belts while riding in a car.

In summary, cross the street when you can do so safely irrespective of the crosswalk light. And send a letter to your congressman demanding an end to pointless jaywalking citations.


About the Author
Nisan Hirsh is from Skokie, IL. He lives in Talpiyot. He's been fighting to Change the Climate by emitting dangerously high levels of CO2 into the blogosphere.