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On the history of “jaywalking”

June 2021


I am an avid reader of history and have been involved in some history projects myself, particularly those concerning transportation. Recently, a former staff of mine who now works in the archives section of the university library discovered a treasure trove of magazines with articles about road safety written back in the 1950s. Then as now, road safety has been an issue and concern for society.

Here is a good read about “jaywalking”, which basically refers to the illegal crossing of streets by pedestrians:

Stromberg, J. (November 4, 2015) The forgotten history of how automakers invented the crime of “jaywalking”, Vox, [Last accessed: 5/27/2021]

The article is very relevant today as we grapple with the specter of road crashes and its outcomes including fatalities and injuries that have long term effects on those involved and affected. We generally regard those crossing anywhere along the streets as jaywalkers; even branding them as “pasaway” (naughty or pesky) as what we learn early on is that there are designated places to cross streets (e.g., crosswalk, pedestrian overpasses and underpasses). And we see all those signs vs. jaywalking including the “Bawal ang tumawid dito” signs by local government units. Were these appropriate in the first place and are we prioritizing vehicles over pedestrians in most cases where “jaywalking” is considered illegal?

While this article maybe factual in as far as history is concerned, we still need to contextualize jaywalking in the current world. There still should be rules albeit these need to be revised, too. Along what roads can we have pedestrians first and cars last? What re-designs do we need to do to make roads safe? While I’m sure engineers and planners are prepared to design and implement these, the buck stops with the decision-makers, who are often politicians with their own agendas. How do we convince them and other authorities about making “jaywalking” legal?

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