By Carter B. Horsley
The business, and glory, of New York is people,
One of the greatest pleasures in life and birthright
of New Yorkers is the pedestrian prerogative, universally recognized
by everyone except suburbanites!
The proverbial man in the street rules.
Jaywalking, of course, is dangerous and should
only be undertaken by true New Yorkers, constantly alert to all
threats and agile. Not fully acclimated tourists should proceed
New York thrives on its concentration of people,
its inter- and hyperactive commotion, its astounding congregation,
its complex jostling, its curious cacophony, its courageous chaos
and its curbside criticism, if not civility.
Therefore, it is shocking, indeed outrageous,
that the Guiliani Administration should attempt to abrogate this
inalienable right by blocking off major street intersections in
midtown from pedestrian traffic for the convenience of vehicular
The Mayor and his colleagues have it backwards.
Ban the vehicular traffic, except for the disabled, taxis, the
Fire, Police and Sanitation departments, and the mayor's, President's
and heads-of-state limousines!
The notion of no-walking zones instituted by
the mayor's minions during Christmas week, 1997, is a modern-day
version of Marie Antoinette's "Let them eat cake!" and
should be similarly treated.
This plan could lead to civil strife and it
is the administration that is putting up the barricades, literally.
Ten such barricades were placed along 50th
and 49th Streets between the Avenue of the Americas and Lexington
Avenue - the center of the world!
The administration has argued that the "pilot"
plan, which officials indicated may be extended to other parts
of the city, was designed to ease the city's gridlock.
Hey, stupid, get rid of the cars, not the people!
Fancy folk who ride in limousines should know
An excellent front-page article by David W.
Chen in the Christmas Day edition of The New York Times on the
fiasco contained a good quote critical of the plan from Charles
Komanoff, a transportation consultant: "Why don't they just
eliminate the sidewalks and run the West Side Highway down Fifth
"In a city where most people don't own
cars and disdain those who do, the issue is about the unfettered
ability to walk anywhere, anytime, anyhow, as if walking were
one's birthright, as if walking were an activity that made New
York New York and the rest of the world, well, not," Chen
succinctly and accurately, wrote.
The city, Chen noted, claims that vehicular
traffic on midtown streets is crawling at an average of 6.2 miles
an hour this year, the slowest it has even been. So what, it is
also crawling with more tourists than ever.
The plan was concocted by Captain Allan Hoehl
of the Police Department's Midtown South Precinct who felt that
barricades diverting walkers to the side of street intersections
away from turning traffic would improve the flow of vehicular
A follow-up article the next day in The Times
by David Firestone reported that Mayor Rudolph W. Guiliani lashed
out at critics of the plan as "anti-car" and "hysterical,"
"Although drivers like the new restrictions,
pedestrians have assailed them as a surrender to the dark forces
of petroleum. Advocates of mass transit and foot power have been
particularly upset about the move, laced as it is with symbolic
implications about who is winning a primal New York contest."
Firestone's story said that the Mayor felt
that people should get used to the idea that cars are here to
stay and that the "new spirit of New York" is to try
something innovative and see if it works: "If it doesn't
work, we quietly slip away from it, and try something else."
Openness to experimentation and innovation
is, indeed, laudable, as is humility and the courage to admit
mistakes. This is a mistake. A big mistake.
Try something else, like banning private cars!
Incredibly, the mayor added more fuel to
this fire by declaring war on what Robert Hardt Jr. described
in an January 13, 1998 article in The New York Post as "the
most widely fluted law in the city: jaywalking."
The mayor indicated that he wanted to raise
the jaywalking fine of $2, which was instituted in 1958, and said
that the New York tradition of not paying attention to traffic
signals was "just wrong," adding that while jaywalking
"may be cute...sometimes being cute is being irresponsible."
Norimitsu Onishi noted in a January 13,
1998 article in The New York Times that the mayor might order
police officers to give summonses for jaywalking and wrote that
"the mayor described the efforts to reshape into a city similar
to to other cities, where pedestrians actually stop at red lights
and 'don't walk' sign, and tangos with cars are not considered
part of street theater."
New York ain't similar to other cities.
It don't want to be. It shouldn't be. It wont
On January 12, Sage Realty, one of the city's
leading and most innovative real estate developers, filed a lawsuit
in State Supreme Court against the city, charged that the city
had improperly blocked the crosswalk near one of its buildings,
437 Madison Avenue, by installing the pedestrian barricades without
holding a public hearing.
Let'em drive cars? Is that what the
mayor is saying. Perhaps he might be more at home in New
Jersey. Doesn't he know his French history.
To the barricades, indeed! (1/13/98)
In his January 14, 1998, "About New York"
column in The New York Times, David Gonzalez wrote that "...in
a city where cabbies honk and hurtle down streets oblivious to
people or impatiently nudge into crosswalks while turning, jaywalking
is a chance to share in the defiant joy of Ratso Rizzo's cri de
coeur from 'Midnight Cowboy': I'm walking here!"
Gonzalez also quoted Fred Kent, president of
the Project for Public Spaces, as saying that "People shop,
Another Times article the same day by Glenn
Collins noted that Philadelphia has reduced pedestrian fatalities
with a crackdown on jaywalking and that in San Francisco pedestrians
stand "patiently, waiting for the red lights to change."
On April 10, the city installed midblock
traffic lights and new pedestrian crosswalks at two locations
along with permanent wrought-iron barricades at the controversial
corners. A New York Times article April 11, 1998, said that
"one anti-car transportation expert, Charles Komanoff, came
up with a model showing that even if the city was right in asserting
that traffic was moving 30 percent faster with the barricades
installed, pedestrians, as a whole, were still losing eight times
as much time as motorists were saving."
The new wrought-iron barricades, reportedly
copied after some in Vienna, are a major improvement over the
the city's regular wooden ones, but the city and the Guiliani
Administration are still wrong-headed on this issue. People
and pedestrians are more important than cars and it is the cars
that should be banned, not the people.
It is interesting to note that the same
week New Jersey announced it would crack down on motorists who
drive while using cell phones. New York should adopt the
same policy and perhaps, given the Giuliani Administration's anti-pedestrian
philosophy, New York should ban the use of cell phones by pedestrians
in motion as well. If the city is going to permit these
pompous, self-indulgent, myopic mimics of moguls to persist, then
it has no choice but to ban cars to protect the true, non-cellular
New York pedestrian, who is alert to everything. (4/11/98)