Big cities like New York, Chicago and San Francisco have large numbers of people who live in extremely close proximity to one another. Urbanites interact with others on a human, mano-a-mano level everyday in a way that is wholly different than the way things work in suburban or rural environments.
Peaceful coexistence in these big city environments requires an adherence to a certain set of social interaction rules and respect of the fellow human inhabitants of the concrete jungle. It is important to learn the rules of engagement.
Peaceful coexistence is essential to the easy flow of traffic in the big city. Cars, trucks, scooters, motorcycles, bicycles, skateboarders and pedestrians all must share the asphalt streets together. It is a delicate balance. Size doesn’t matter—just because a truck is bigger than a bicycle doesn’t mean they have the right of way. Just because you’re a pedestrian and more exposed to the elements, doesn’t give you any more rights than a car. There are laws about these things, you know.
Unfortunately, not everyone follows traffic laws. Every day I see cars “rolling” through intersections, rather than stopping at stop signs. I see illegal u-turns in the middle of intersections in attempts to grab an empty parking place on the opposite side of the street. And I see pedestrians crossing busy streets mid-block rather than at the designated crosswalk.
The other day I saw a bicyclist try to “beat” a speeding ambulance across an intersection. The ambulance had to slam on his brakes—the bicyclist appeared undaunted.
And, just this morning, as I was heading across town before dawn, I came across three “jaywalkers” at three different locations during my 2-mile trip. All three were no doubt in a hurry to get to work, and were oblivious to the fact that at night, it is very difficult for drivers to see pedestrians popping up in the middle of on-coming traffic. In each case, these pedestrians—these “jaywalkers” appeared to have little respect for a 4,500 pound car barreling directly at them at a high rate of speed. At one encounter I flashed my lights to let the pedestrian know they were endanger—the jaywalker didn’t even look-up at me, much less speed her step to get out of the way.
I define “jaywalkers” as pedestrians who have little or no respect for traffic laws, or their fellow urban dwellers—those in their cars, trucks, motorcycles, scooters and skateboards. Expecting others to notice them, and give them the right of way—there is an arrogance and defiance in a jaywalker that separates them from other pedestrians.
San Francisco has paid a lot of attention to the rights of pedestrians, and cracking down on vehicles who hurt them, and in creating safe walking zones throughout the city.
In 2010 San Francisco’s then-Mayor Gavin Newsom issued an executive order setting goals for reducing deaths and serious injuries and creating the Pedestrian Safety Task Force. Unfortunately, since 2010 the city has seen more than 800 pedestrian collisions a year, and averages 17 pedestrian deaths per year.
As an interesting side-story, the last time I saw Mayor Newsom (now California’s Lieutenant Governor) he was running across Chestnut Street in San Francisco with a young child on his shoulders. I slammed on the brakes of my 4,500 pound 4-wheeled projectile to avoid hitting the Lt. Governor and child. Yes, even the man who issues the executive order on pedestrian safety is a “jaywalker.”
Being a jaywalker isn’t just incredibly dangerous, and life-threatening. It also breaks the delicate peaceful coexistence between urbanites in the big city.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not letting cars, trucks, motorcycles, skateboards and scooters off the hook. They should follow traffic laws as well. Its just pedestrian don’t have the armor or speed that these other modes of transportation have for getting out of the way of danger.
So the next time you leave your house, remember these simple rules of engagement—in order to better coexist in the big city:
1). Obey traffic laws
2). Act defensively. Don’t expect others will follow the law.
3). Be polite and respectful. A smile, a wave or other acknowledgement of other city dwellers will almost always win friends and influence reciprocal positive response.
We’ll all be happier interacting in the concrete jungle.