- Amy is a librarian and a writer. She tweets about pedestrian issues, libraries, feminism and pop culture @shalihavmydwarf.
I am a pedestrian, and I am an idiot.
I am a seven-year-old child, racing across the street to catch the school bus.
I am drunk, stumbling home after a party. I am wise enough to leave my car keys, but too forgetful to save money for cab fare.
I am getting older; I've always been responsible, but my memory and reaction time are not what they used to be.
I am not myself today—my head is foggy with medication. It's hard to concentrate, but I can't afford to take a sick day.
I am distracted. I just had a huge fight with my boyfriend, my grades are in the toilet and I don't know if I'll make rent next month.
Perhaps you expected me to be different, something closer to your delinquent pedestrian stereotype: say, a teenager, constantly texting, music blasting through headphones. Sometimes I am. Would you rather me be driving?
None of us have ever given a thought to jaywalking fines. That won't change whether the penalty is $50 or $1,000. More importantly, we won't change. For some of us, the most responsible choice we made today was the choice not to drive. We don't have the choice to stay off the streets, nor do we want to be sequestered in our homes. Most of us are trying our best, and that won't always be good enough.
I am a pedestrian, and I am not an idiot.
I strain to keep hold of my stroller in winter, as I scale the snow hill to push the signal button. Others, more mobility-impaired than I, don't have that luxury. I carry my kid across Robie and Quinpool—kicking and screaming because she wants to walk, but her tiny legs won't make it across before the countdown reaches zero. I wait through extra light changes in Clayton Park, because even though traffic has stopped, I was a second too late to push the button and the signal didn't change. I wait for my light (most of the time) at South and South Park, even though it's midnight, and South Street is deserted.
I stand on corners, watching angrily as car after car refuses to stop, because many of you still don't know that every intersection is a crosswalk. Maybe you know but just don't care. I used to take down license numbers of all the cars that don't stop—or worse, try to run me down—but I stopped bothering after being told point blank that nothing would ever be done. Eventually, when there's a break in traffic, I'll step off the corner, staring you down. So often, you'll play chicken with me, not stopping until the last second, or at all, hoping I'll back down. And I do. Perversely, you think we're equals in this twisted game. If you hit me, I might cost you a paint job; if you hit my kid, she'd barely make a dent.
This week, Nova Scotia passed a bill raising the fine for pedestrians who cross against the light or fail to push a signaling button to $697—equal to the fine for "failure to yield to a pedestrian," the polite term for drivers who run through crosswalks. Texting while driving, in comparison, incurs a fine of only $237.50. In addition to discouraging walking and targeting the vulnerable (if you can't afford a car, it's unlikely you can afford a hefty fine), these fine levels perpetuate the disturbing attitude that pedestrians hold equal responsibility for their injuries and deaths. Reading comments on any article about driver-pedestrian collisions reveals a slew of victim-blaming rants, even as the majority of accidents continue to take place in marked crosswalks.
From the time we can walk, we are pedestrians. It is neither right nor feasible to chase us from the streets. Some of us walk because we have no choice—we lack the funds, the ability, the clearheadedness or the maturity to drive. Still others consciously abdicate the responsibility of driving for private reasons of their own. Nominal jaywalking penalties may or may not be useful as a motivation for responsible behaviour, but it should be noted that the United Kingdom, for example, has no jaywalking laws and about half the pedestrian casualties as the United States.
Foisting undue responsibility onto pedestrians who are unwilling or unable to support that weight is not only unfair but counterproductive. Most dangerously, it downplays the responsibility and privilege of driving. We need to realize that there will always be imperfect pedestrians, who sporadically risk no life but their own. What we cannot support are irresponsible drivers, who risk the lives of everyone on the road. While driving may be an everyday activity, it is licensed, regulated and tested for a reason. Driving means accepting power, embracing responsibility, and drivers unwilling to acknowledge the gravitas of their actions should not be on the road.
If you would like aid in efforts to repeal the bill, send your thoughts to NS transportation minister Geoff MacLellan or contact your local MLA. There is also a Facebook group dedicated to repealing the bill.