It was 6:15 Tuesday evening and Wilfried Taubert, on a visit to Washington from Chicago, was walking rapidly up Connecticut Avenue.
Arriving at L Street he paused for a moment, saw the green traffic signal and the "Don't Walk" sign blinking red, and crossed the street.
Waiting at the corner was D.C. Police Officer L.D. Greene. He waved Taubert over and quietly informed him that he had just guilty of jaywalking. Officer Greene asked for Taubert's identification and wrote a $5 ticket.
Taubert said nothing until he was handed the ticket. Then he exploded. "I know you're not the one to talk to but if this is the way you operate in Washington it's Neandethal, positively Neanderthal."
Not so, say D.C. police. Since Jan. 17 from 3:30 to 7:30 p.m. each weekday five officers have been atrolling busy areas of the city and strictly enforcing jaywalking, double-parking, and no-standing violations - minor violations that often go unnoticed by police.
"We started the program because of the high number of pedestrian accidents we've had in Washington," traffic division Sgt. Joseph Jacobs said. "The men are out there for the specific purpose of strictly enforcing pedestrian-related violations."
The officers come from all the city's police districts and from traffic division. They work the shift only on overtime or on their days off for overtime pay. The funding for the program comes from a Department of Transportation grant.
"The grant is set up so the funds will last at least a year," Jacobs said. "At the end of 1978 we'll sit down and look at the statistics. If we've done well, it's conceivable we will receive another grant."
In the meantime pedestrians in the midtown area will have to be extremely aware of crossing rules, which is just what the police department wants.
Part of the problem comes from the "Don't Walk" signs. At most corners the green "Walk" sign remains on for a shorter period than the flashing "Don't Walk" sign.
The lights are timed this way to allow cars to make turns during the green light. The first portion of the green light belongs to the pedestrian, and the latter portion - the longer one - to the automobile.
This has created some confusion for pedestrians trained to cross on a green light. "I've always learned that as long as the light is green it's legal to cross the street," Jane Vessels, an employe at National Geographic said after being ticketed at 17th and K streets. "It's really upsetting because I walk all the time. I cross at the cross-walks and now I get ticketed. They ought to ticket some of those drivers who block intersections."
Sgt. Jacobs says the police are trying to do just that. "We'll stop cars in an intersection and pull them if they're in violation", he said. "We're trying to work on little things."
Greene, who says he has averaged about 20 tickets an evening when working, says that while many people explode when ticketed - "mainly because they're so surprised" - many others tell they think the program is a good concept because pedestrian jaywalking contributes as heavily to rush hour traffic problems.
"They tell me they're glad to see us doing something because things are so out of hand in the downtown area," he said.