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The Invention of Jaywalking

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We’ve all done it. You’re standing at an intersection waiting anxiously for the orange hand to change to a white person so you can cross the street. The stream of cars has thinned, so you look both ways, note that no vehicles are approaching, and simply walk across the street—and break a handful of laws in the process.

In the past four years, LA police have issued 17,000 jaywalking tickets (which carry a $197 fine) to pedestrians who violated the agreement that people may only exit the sidewalk and cross the roadway at designated points at designated times. However, in the not so distant past, it was the cars, not the people, who were fighting for their right to be in the street. 

In American cities before the 1920s, pedestrians always had the right-of-way [PDF]. The streets were filled with some street cars, fewer automobiles, and people crossing from one side to the other at their leisure. Mothers often sent their children to play in the street without fear that someone would come back injured.

But then the number of cars on the road began to increase. Henry Ford’s Model T was the first automobile that was affordable for the average American. And as the number of cars began to grow, so did the number of automobile-related accidents. In 1923, 17,000 to 18,000 people were killed in automobile accidents; three-quarters of those were pedestrians, and half of those killed in cities were children. When the public needed someone to blame for these deaths, they often turned to the cars themselves.

“Most—including many motorists—would have agreed that streets were not for fast driving, and that motorists who drove faster than pre-automotive vehicles were alone responsible for any harmful consequences,” writes Peter Norton, author of Fighting Traffic: The Dawn of the Motor Age in the American City [PDF].

Public opinion of automobiles took a turn for the worse. Cartoons depicting cars as child-eating monsters appeared in newspapers across the country. Mothers who lost children to automobile accidents were given white ribbons to wear to commemorate their sacrifice. City managers began to consider outlawing cars in cities all together. 

The auto industry—the manufacturers, dealers, and motor clubs who were making money off these children-killing monster machines—started to get nervous. It was feared that if cities passed laws restricting the use of cars, people would stop buying them. The automobile interest banded together, sometimes called “motordom,” and set to work on shifting the blame for automobile accidents to the recklessness of both the driver and the pedestrian—the people, not the machine.

Motordom started taking out editorials in newspapers to condemn the practice of “jaywalking.” The term referenced the derogatory term used at the time for a country bumpkin, a “jay.” A jaywalker, they argued, was someone who was so taken by the sights and sounds of the city that he or she becomes an obstruction to drivers and other pedestrians.

“The streets are made for vehicles to run upon,” Charles Hayes, president of the Chicago Motor Club, wrote in an editorial.

E.B. Lefferts, a member of the automobile club of southern California, was the brains behind the operation. According to Norton, Lefferts wanted to reach people through psychology. After an ordinance against jaywalking was passed in 1924, Lefferts urged police officers, instead of ticketing offenders, to publicly shame them by calling out their actions. “The ridicule of their fellow citizens is far more effective than any other means which might be adopted,” he wrote.

Whenever a police officer saw a pedestrian crossing against a light or in front of traffic, they would call out the individual. “Hey you! Don’t you know what you’re doing?” they would yell.  

And it worked. In 1925, strict regulations for pedestrians were written into the Los Angeles Traffic Code, and Lefferts used the city’s laws as an example of success for other locales. By the 1930s, cities across the country had effectively educated individuals and enacted laws against jaywalking. Urban planners developed cloverleaf intersections and built expressways to make it easier to drive in the city. The right to be in the street had effectively been turned over to vehicles, which has left pedestrians to be the ones waiting for the light.

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Dubai Plans to Outfit Police Force With Hoverbikes
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Dubai is home to plenty of flashy fashion and architecture, and it has over-the-top police gear to match. The department already is outfitted with some of the fastest cars on the streets, including a Ferrari and a Lamborghini. Now, Autoblog reports that police officers in the United Arab Emirates city are getting hoverbikes to access hard-to-reach places.

The bikes, which were developed by the Russian startup Hoversurf, debuted in early October at the Gulf Information Technology Exposition (GITEX) in Dubai. Like Hoversurf’s Scorpion-3 hoverbike, the police version is battery-powered and uses propellers at each corner to float like a drone. The newly-released model can reach maximum altitudes of 16 feet and move at speeds of up to 43 mph. Though the quadcopter can only carry one passenger at a time, it can withstand weights of up to 660 pounds. A fully charged battery is enough to fuel a 25-minute ride.

The futuristic addition to the force’s fleet of vehicles isn’t designed for chasing bad guys. Rather, the city hopes to use it to reach out-of-the-way spots during emergencies. If there’s a car wreck at the end of a traffic jam, for example, the Scorpion hoverbike could simply fly over the congestion and reach the scene faster than the department could with cars on the ground.

While cities around the world are still figuring out how low-flying drones and vehicles fit into pedestrian areas, Dubai has been quick to embrace the technology. In 2015, the city invested in jetpacks for first responders. While it's still unclear when the gadgets will be used in an official capacity, the CEO of Hoversurf has confirmed that mass production of the bikes is already underway.

[h/t Autoblog]

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Big Questions
What's the Difference Between a Street, a Road, and an Avenue?
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Depending on where you live, your address will end in a different designation. You might live on 10th Street, or Meadow Lane, or Red Fox Road. Maybe those throughways intersect a road with a name like Washington Avenue or Park Place. Why the difference? There’s actually a method to the road-naming madness that goes beyond just the whims of urban designers.

Just like there are defined factors that distinguish a highway from a regular city street, there are characteristics that make streets, roads, and avenues distinct from one another. The difference between names like C Street and Avenue B comes down to variables like the size of the path, what surrounds it, and how it intersects with other roads.

A plain old “road,” for instance, is a general term for any throughway that connects two points. Like a square is also a rectangle, streets and avenues are types of roads.

“Streets” are public roads that have buildings on both sides. They’re often perpendicular to “avenues,” which historically were grander and wider. These days, the difference tends to be directional.

In Denver, for instance, naming conventions dictate that Streets run north-south and avenues run east-west. In Manhattan, it’s the opposite, with “Avenues” running north-south and streets running east-west. This isn’t always the case, though: in Washington, D.C., avenues run diagonal to the street grid.

Oddly enough, avenues and streets can be combined, too. In a naming convention particular to Tucson, Arizona, some roads are “Stravenues,” which run diagonal to the normal north-south/east-west grid. (The U.S. Postal Service recognizes these by the abbreviation “Stra.”)

There are many other kinds of street names, of course. "Boulevards," designed to funnel high-speed traffic away from residential and commercial streets, are even grander than avenues, with trees on either side and a sizable median. Then there are the smaller roads, with names that might feel familiar to anyone who’s driven around a suburban housing tract. A “Way” is a smaller side street that splits off from a road. A “Place” has a dead end, as does a “court,” which usually ends in a cul-de-sac. A “Lane” is narrow, and is usually located in a more remote, rural place. A "Drive" tends to wind around a natural landmark, like a mountain or a lake.

To get a better sense of the visual differences, a video from Vox handily illustrates these principles:

Now, you can look at an address and know plenty about the street without even seeing it. 


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