In defence of Rob Ford: A guide to the perplexed about jaywalking

Rob Ford
via Instagram/ Rob Ford parties on Friday night before walking across the street

Toronto's famous mayor Rob Ford got a ticket for jaywalking on Friday night in Coquitlam (a suburb of Vancouver) BC.

“I am in shock,” the mayor told reporter Joe Warmington moments after it happened. “I was just walking across the street about 200 feet from my hotel when I was approached by an officer and told I was jaywalking. I couldn’t believe it. I said to them ‘Am I under arrest?’”

He said the RCMP told him he violated the rules as a pedestrian. “I was speechless,” he said. “I am perplexed.”

Now this website is no fan of Rob Ford, (check out the left rail) and agrees with Richard Florida who has called him " the worst mayor in the modern history of cities, an avatar for all that is small-bore and destructive of the urban fabric, and the most anti-urban mayor ever to preside over a big city." But if I was crossing that road, I would be perplexed too.

© Google Maps

I have spent some time noodling around google street view and this is one of the most pedestrian-unfriendly intersections I have ever seen. Even Google is confused, and would have poor Rob turning acute angles and walking down the middle of the road to get from the bar to the chinese food joint. If there isn't a lot of traffic nobody in their right mind is going to walk down to the corner and walk back at a 45 degree angle. At a pedestrian-friendly intersection of two streets at an odd angle, the cars stop perpendicular to the road and the pedestrians cross at 90 degrees. Look at this intersection in what Rob calls the "St. Clair Disaster": cars are held way back from the intersection so that pedestrians can cross at right angles.

© Google Maps/ The St. Clair Disaster

So Rob "violated the rules as a pedestrian" by jaywalking and the police pounced. But what, really, is jaywalking? Tom Vanderbilt wrote about it in the Sunday New York Times yesterday, knowing nothing of Rob Ford's travails:

Nowadays, the word connotes an amorphous urban nuisance. In fact, the term once referred to country bumpkins (“jays”), who came to the city and perambulated in a way that amused and exasperated savvy urban bipeds. As the historian Peter Norton has documented, the word was then overhauled in the early part of the 20th century. A coalition of pro-automobile interests Mr. Norton calls “motordom” succeeded in shifting the focus of street safety from curbing the actions of rogue drivers to curbing rogue walkers. The pedestrian pushback was shortlived: An attempt to popularize the term “jay driver” was left behind in a cloud of exhaust.

Matt Novak/ Paleofuture/Public Domain

So the police attitude about the way to protect pedestrians is to ticket them. But people, even Rob Ford, aren't stupid. As Vanderbilt notes, "Pedestrians, who lack air bags and side-impact crash protection, are largely rational creatures."

If you give them ridiculous options for crossing a road that involve walking twice as far, and there are no cars in the road, they area going to do the rational thing and cross the street. If engineers design for pedestrians in mind and give them the shortest distance between two points, even if it seems to ever so slightly inconvenience the people in cars, then they will cross at the designated spot.

I am sorry, but Rob Ford is right to be perplexed.

Tags: Toronto | Urban Life | Urban Planning

Best of TreeHugger 2014

WHAT'S HOT ON FACEBOOK