Walk the line

Jaywalking: why an illegal activity became an indicator of urban lifestyle

David Gordon
Image by: Justin Tang
David Gordon

Monday through Friday, thousands of students swarm the streets as they make their way from class to class. While many busy intersections on campus legally accommodate pedestrian traffic, jaywalking seems to have become unconsciously incorporated as a standard mode of travel from class to class.

“Whenever I see there’s space to cross, I do. As long as I don’t think I’m going to get hit,” said Jeff Costen, ArtSci ’13.

While Costen has never been hit crossing illegally, he said he knows of others who have had close calls.

“I don’t think most people think there’s a real risk associated with it,” he said, adding that Union St. and University Ave. are most popular for jaywalking on campus.

“It would save time instead of walking all the way to an intersection,” he said.

Julie Lotfallah, ArtSci ’12, said she commutes to campus by car around three times a week.

She said she’s seen her fair share of reckless pedestrians.

“They walk when they want to walk,” she said. “They don’t really give us a right of way.”

However, she said, as a student she understands the jaywalking mindset.

“They all have places to go. It’s their domain,” she said, adding that it’s important to be cautious when driving around student areas.

“Always expect that someone is just going to pop [out] on the road … Especially at the intersections.”

An interesting response to crosswalk design issues has been put forward by Korean designer Jae Min Lim. His idea of “ergonomic crosswalks” was shortlisted in a design competition for designboom.com, a website dedicated to industrial design, architecture and art.

The design attempts to quell jaywalking in urban centers by mimicking the pattern that many pedestrians take at crosswalks.

The crosswalks are cut out in a half-moon shape, which accommodates the common tendency for pedestrians to cut corners after crossing.

The wider crosswalks cause vehicles to stop further back from the intersection, but otherwise affect traffic flow very little.

David Parker, a professor in the department of history, told the Journal via email that he buses or bikes down Union St. to campus about 75 per cent of the year. He said there isn’t necessarily a need to enforce laws against jaywalking on campus.

“Out of all the priorities out there, I don’t think it is the highest. Crossing roads away from the corner is less of a problem than crossing at corners,” Parker said, adding that intersections are the most problematic, especially during busy moments in between classes.

“Hundreds of pedestrians make it impossible for cars to turn right or left, and cars have to aggressively carve out a space for themselves, playing chicken with pedestrians, in order to proceed,” he said. “Yet in these cases, both the cars and the pedestrians are acting within the law, so it’s not really jaywalking.” Parker said traffic and pedestrian problems are mainly caused by design and engineering issues.

The Campus Planning and Development Committee is made up of board of trustees and senate appointees who discuss urban design flaws on campus and attempt to generate solutions for these issues.

David Gordon, director of the School of Urban and Regional Planning, sat on the Committee during his undergraduate years at Queen’s and still does today.

“My view of jaywalking as an urban planner is that it is the sign of a healthy city,” he said. “For example, in downtown Kingston, people cross every which way on Princess St. Cars know that you can’t drive 60 km an hour down that street during a busy Saturday afternoon.”

Queen’s is viewed as an urban campus, he said.

“There are some universities, designed in the 60s and 70s, like York and Laval where there’s a ring road with a pedestrian area inside of it. I suppose it’s safer for the pedestrians in the inside of the area, but that doesn’t work in an established city.”

Gordon said he thinks there are also issues with sidewalk and road width, which add to campus traffic violations.

“Union St. is way too wide; it’s a two lane street that is so wide you don’t realize you’re hitting it going 60 km an hour,” he said. “There needs to be street trees, parked cars, sidewalk cafes and other life that causes people to realize the sort of area it is.”

These suggestions are traffic calming measures, which are used to make certain spaces distinctly urban and remind drivers of necessary precautions.

“What you want is all the signals being sent to the drivers that this is an area where you go slow,” he said, adding that he thinks an ideal example of traffic calming is the area near Market Square at King St. and Brock St.

“We’ve been trying to design Union St. and University Ave. to make it safer for people to cross, notwithstanding the laws of Ontario,” he said. “It’s sad that at 2:30 in the afternoon, when there are 5,000 people on the streets of campus, 50 vehicles have the right of way.”

The committee is trying to make high-volume pedestrian crossing a safer venture, he said, by creating wider sidewalks, narrower streets and encouraging parked cars, which help to slow down traffic and accommodate pedestrian movement.

However, he said, their plans to execute these ideas are still in the discussion phase.

“It’s not a short-term thing,” he said, adding that implementing these plans can be difficult because of restrictions put in place by the city of Kingston.

“The problem here is that the streets are owned by the city of Kingston, so the campus cannot do anything,” he said, adding that to rebuild University Ave. a few years ago, Queen’s had to raise money from alumni.

“We need the city of Kingston to change its attitude about pedestrians and traffic on campus,” he said. “The city has the authority, responsibility and veto but the University is required to spend the money.”

According to a census performed in the summer, Gordon said Kingston has the second highest proportion of walking and bicycling to work in Canada, beat out only by Victoria, British Columbia.

“In the core of the city where most of the students live, that’s a majority lifestyle,” he said, and streets like Union St. are difficult for pedestrian lifestyles because of large amounts of asphalt and skinny sidewalks.

While jaywalking poses a safety concern, he said he thinks it’s still an implicit aspect of urban communities.

“I think a city with no jaywalking is an indication that it’s pretty dead.”

With files from Kelly Loeper

All final editorial decisions are made by the Editor(s)-in-Chief and/or the Managing Editor. Authors should not be contacted, targeted, or harassed under any circumstances. If you have any grievances with this article, please direct your comments to journal_editors@ams.queensu.ca.

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