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Adventures in Seattle Jaywalking

15 December 2010 Seattle 16,041 views 3 CommentsPrint This Post Print This Post Email This Post Email This Post

When I was growing up, jaywalking was easy. You wanted to cross the street, there were no cars, you went. Just like that. And if there were cars, you watched and waited and picked your crossing time accordingly. Or you just walked up to the corner.

In my hometown, pedestrians did not have the right of way, but jaywalking was kind of a cultural thing. Everyone did it, and I think drivers halfway expected it; cars kept pretty much to a steady pace, so it was a simple matter of judging the distance and speed of any oncoming traffic and going, or not, depending on your level of comfortable risk-taking. It was just like playing “Frogger.”

Seattle is supposed to be a “pedestrian friendly” town, and pedestrians are often thought to have the right of way, but I have found that even at a crosswalk, in a light-controlled intersection, you take your life in your hands by stepping out into the street. Crossing the street now is more like playing “Centipede”; cars will see you and speed up or slow down — usually whichever is less convenient for you — as they see fit, with no regard for their own traffic patterns, let alone your safety. Traffic doesn’t seem to have the same regulated speed and patterns that it once did.

True story: I was standing at a busy intersection; my light was red and there were four lanes of very busy, fast-moving traffic in front of me. A car stopped at the green light and the driver started frantically waving me through. When I didn’t walk out into the intersection, she started honking and making the “go ahead” gesture. I pointed at her green light and that, coupled with the honking of the drivers behind her, had no effect — she just kept trying to wave me through. When the light finally changed and I had the right of way, I crossed. I could tell by her icy stare that she was angry with me.

I’m not advocating walking out into oncoming traffic all wily-nilly, oh no. Like I said earlier, successful jaywalking calls for observation, finesse, and knowing when not to hop the curb. And the knowledge that, in Seattle at least, if you get busted, you will get a ticket. Yup, sometimes it’s better to walk the extra 50 yards to an intersection.

Another true story: At least once a week, I get clipped by cars making the I’m-gonna-go-the-very-instant-the-light-turns-green right turn, no matter how obnoxiously clear I make my presence. I have not-so secret fantasies of carrying pockets full of heavy rocks and sharp pieces of metal that I can “accidentally” fling at their cars in “surprise” whenever this happens. The best I’ve done so far, though, is flung a full cup of coffee on a town car. The effect, while pleasing to me, was not the same.

I’m never quite sure if having more pedestrians in the streets would have a traffic-calming effect, or if it would just be another thing for drivers to get angry (and agro) about, but I do like the thought of considering pedestrians (and bicycles, too) as traffic rather than as impediments to traffic. We have places to go, too.

Lorien Gruchalla


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  1. Give me a City street, with rush hour going full tilt, over a WalMart parking lot any day!

  2. Hey Mitch – I’ve never met you, and i know little about you, but I’m bettin’ you haven’t visted London before. I say this because if dodging traffic, and learning how to judge the speed of oncoming cars was a game named “Frogger”, Londoners would be top of the score board. We’d have one of those fake scores like 999,999,999 that could never be topped. I can’t remember not crossing a road when I thought that:

    cardistance/speed > roadwidth/mywalkingpace

    Quick calculation. Sealttle-ites (while ‘orbitting’ the streets…hmm) cross up to an average of 10 roads a day. If the average waiting time at these crossings is 15 seconds that’s 150 seconds a day waiting. 330 days in a year worth of roads say.. 330 * 1.5 mins = 505 mins. Over the space of adulthood (18-60) that’s 21210 mins = 353.5 = 14.7 days.

    14.7 days of your lives are being used being overly risk adverse, and franly, idle. Ok, so if you didn’t wait then you might only live that long, but hey, he who dares wins, and a lot can happen in two weeks.

    Right, I’m off to start making the most of my extra time- or did I just use it writting this fairly long winded comment…?

  3. Lorien,
    This is accurate reportage of central Seattle. I say you could use almonds, pennies–whatever benign object’s in yr pocket==to toss at lawbreakin’/clueless/hostile drivers. On most days I wave my arms exaggeratedly at them, at the very least, as they’re about to mow me down where pedestrians have the right of way.
    And what’s this epidemic of drivers idling their cars for long periods wherever on side streets (i.e., outside my apt window) while they chat or text? Isn’t that a stinky waste of fuel?

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