The forgotten history of how automakers invented the crime of "jaywalking"
Date Written: 04/11/2015
Year Published: 2015
Resource Type: Article
Cx Number: CX20481
Stromberg provides a historical overview of how jaywalking was pushed to become a crime by automotive companies in order to normalize the reign of automobiles over pedestrians in the streets.
In response, automakers, dealers, and enthusiast groups worked to legally redefine the street -- so that pedestrians, rather than cars, would be restricted.
The idea that pedestrians shouldn't be permitted to walk wherever they liked had been present as far back as 1912, when Kansas City passed the first ordinance requiring them to cross streets at crosswalks. But in the mid-20s, auto groups took up the campaign with vigor, passing laws all over the country.
Most notably, auto industry groups took control of a series of meetings convened by Herbert Hoover (then secretary of commerce) to create a model traffic law that could be used by cities across the country. Due to their influence, the product of those meetings -- the 1928 Model Municipal Traffic Ordinance -- was largely based off traffic law in Los Angeles, which had enacted strict pedestrian controls in 1925.
"The crucial thing it said was that pedestrians would cross only at crosswalks, and only at right angles," Norton says. "Essentially, this is the traffic law that we're still living with today."