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Jaywalking Plan Gets the Bronx Cheer

New York: In this city where pedestrians seem to go colorblind at traffic lights, the mayor is mulling a major move against foot traffic. The reaction? What do you think?

January 16, 1998|JOSH GETLIN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

NEW YORK — Mayor Rudolph Giuliani wants to ban jaywalking. He's serious. He means business. And the sound you hear, from the congested sidewalks of midtown Manhattan to the byways of Greenwich Village, is laughter.

It all began Monday, when aides to the mayor revealed that he is considering a major move against jaywalkers, just as he has cracked down on squeegee men and other irritants. As the laughs began building, Giuliani characteristically stuck to his guns, rolling out statistics to show the dangers of jaywalking.

No one doubts that people take their lives in their hands when they cross busy streets in New York City--whether they obey traffic lights or not. Crossing against the signal is a problem, and Giuliani's predecessor complained about it four years ago.

Yet actually trying to do something about jaywalking--a practice that millions here view as an inalienable right--is another thing entirely. You're messing with tradition.

What's next--$200 fines for New Yorkers who speak rudely? Do we ask cabbies to hold the doors for passengers? Maybe truck drivers won't blow their obnoxious horns if we make nice.

"Giuliani is nuts," says Art Cortez, a garment district worker, dashing across Park Avenue against a red light. "Jaywalking is a part of life here. Everybody does it."

That includes some of the mayor's appointees and other city officials, who were surprised by local TV news cameras this week as they jaywalked nonchalantly near City Hall.

Indeed, "Outta my way!" could be New York's official motto. Still, Giuliani's is only the latest attempt by City Hall to regulate pedestrians.

Several weeks ago, New York erected sidewalk barricades in midtown, hoping to avoid the gridlock that results when mobs of jaywalking pedestrians meet armies of cabs, trucks and private autos. The result: Several intersections were off-limits to people on foot, and protests ensued.

Now, with jaywalking under fire, the media has had enough. There have been angry news articles, editorials, cartoons and letters to the editor protesting Giuliani's plan. By week's end, the mayor seemed to downplay the idea, although aides said he is still exploring the possibility of pushing for an increase in the $2 ticket New York hands out for jaywalking.

"In this town?" cracked a Daily News editorial. "Surely Mayor Giuliani will come to his senses. . . . If he goes ahead with the plan, he might as well deliver his State of the City speech in a jester's costume, with belled cap and elf shoes."

Not to be outdone, the New York Post ran a cartoon Thursday in which a police officer ignores robbers, panhandlers and exhibitionists as he writes out a ticket for jaywalking. "Sorry, mac," he says. "Just doing my job."

In an editorial on the pedestrian barricades, the New York Times noted that "Mr. Giuliani spent his formative years on Long Island, and perhaps his perception of traffic matters still bears a suburban perspective."

Back on Park Avenue, Cortez pauses for breath after sprinting against the light.

"How much will that cost me?" he asks sarcastically. "Are they gonna build a jail for 7 million people?"

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