Skip to content.

Bike Walk Life

News and commentary from the world of biking and walking.

Virginia is decriminalizing “jaywalking”

Regular Bike Walk Life readers know that I’m no fan of “jaywalking.” I even choose to write it in scare-quotes because the word itself carries derogatory connotations. Fortunately, though, one state is working to decriminalize it. Wyatt Gordon reports for Virginia Mercury that a police-reform bill includes a provision that decriminalizes pedestrians crossing the street.

His article includes some good commentary on why this is a big deal:

Most countries would consider the concept of jaywalking a scam that Americans have been conditioned to believe is normal. In the Netherlands, for example, traffic engineers and urban planners have actually worked to lower the country’s curbs so as to encourage people to cross wherever they like.

Before the advent of the automobile, pedestrians in America were widely recognized as having the right of way in all situations. The road to car culture’s dominance in the United States was literally paved with blood — drivers had already killed some 200,000 people by 1920. In response, auto industry groups launched a “jaywalking” campaign to place blame for collisions on pedestrians rather than drivers.

He discusses some of the other larger issues at play: the fact that enforcement is racially biased, whether or not this makes it “ok” to jaywalk, and how likely this is to make streets safer.

Regarding whether or not jaywalking should be “ok,” I’ve written before on why jaywalking is a natural behavior. Skeptics will correctly observe that our streets are dangerous and pedestrians walking in them can be fatal. I won’t argue that isn’t the case, because it clearly is. But we have two basic choices for how to deal with it: either we crack down on the people walking (who are getting killed) or we crack down on the driving (that is doing the killing).

Anti-jaywalking laws are solidly in the former category. It’s time now that we take a look at the other option.