On jaywalking

Before the American city could be physically reconstructed to accommodate automobiles, its streets had to be socially reconstructed as places where cars belong.

Peter D. Norton, Fighting Traffic

It's hard to imagine just how much safer and more pleasant city streets could be for people walking if you take it for granted that most of the space in a street has to be for cars alone.

For me, reading the article – “A Defense of Jaywalking” – in which the above quotation appeared – catalyzed a shift in perspective: I learned not only that, before the 1920s or so, streets were public spaces where people could frolic as they pleased (and how could it have been otherwise?),—but also that the social change which allowed streets to become segregated into automobile and pedestrian rights-of-way was brought about – initially against widespread public opposition – mainly by the persistent lobbying and campaigning of automobile companies. It is to their advertising campaigns that we owe the word ‘jaywalk’: the car manufacturers successfully persuaded people that walking across the street, of all things, was dangerous and foolhardy.