Just when you thought it was safe to go for a walk . . . . Here comes a policeman, waving a traffic ticket pad. "Excuse me, sir. May I see some ID?" This is how I was approached when D.C. police first tried this crackdown on "jaywalkers" back in 1978. Although I didn't have an ID, I still got a $5 ticket, and I wonder to this day if "Joe Blow" ever paid it.
Jaywalking tickets! What will they come up with next, as if getting around this city wasn't already hard enough.
Although this may be somebody's idea of a safety measure, jaywalking tickets have their roots in a campaign of harassment designed to keep street dudes from hanging out on 14th Street -- or "commoding in public," as the law says.
If police really want to keep pedestrians on the sidewalk, they could give tickets to people who let their dogs commode in public. But dogs bite, and weary pedestrians, who have hopscotched their way to work, make easy pickings for police trying to meet their ticket quotas.
As both driver and pedestrian, I can testify that the safest place to cross the street in Washington is the middle of the block. Intersections are murder, and those flashing signs that tell pedestrians to "walk" are year-round April Fool's jokes. It's survival of the biggest bumpers out there, and kneecaps don't count.
It is ironic -- or is it conspiratorial? -- that after bullying people to give up their cars, the city government has come up with a new campaign to keep us from walking in the streets. They don't mess with bicyclists or those motorscooter dudes who bob and weave through traffic. Nor do they ticket double-parked delivery trucks, which reduce traffic to such a pace that a snail could cross in the middle of the street unharmed.
First we get these potholes that create such high repair bills no one can afford to pay the new jacked-up parking lot fees. Then the city uproots the parking meters and installs signs that prohibit parking anywhere between sunup and sundown. The parking meters that remain require a quarter (quarters only) for five minutes.
And instead of beefing up city services, we get a reinforced Denver-boot squad, which relentlessly roams the city armed with orange wheel locks.
So what do you do? You try to walk. You try to walk down the sidewalk, but people are begging for money on every corner. You try to walk down the sidewalk, but cranes are dangling buckets of cement overhead while men perch on construction benches harassing women. You want to walk down the sidewalk, but the fact of the matter is that the place that you are going is in the middle of the block across the street.
Suppose you're walking through an alley and come to an intersection. Is it jaywalking to cross the street where an alley comes out in the middle of a street? Police say yes; I say no. I say go for it.
Jaywalking: Just what kind of walk is it anyway? The law is as vague as the word. "Pedestrians who cross the street in a reckless manner," it says.
I'll tell you what's reckless.
Suppose you see someone on the other side of the street. Let's say it's a woman. Let's say you want to talk to her, so you start running down the street to the intersection, cross the street with the light, and then run back up the other side of the street to the middle of the block.
The woman would probably think you were a maniac and call the police anyway.
So what do you do? You step out into the middle of the block, carefully look both ways, then coolly, coolly stroll to the other side of the street.
And if you hear someone say, "Excuse me, sir," just start using sign language and disappear into the nearest building.