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Is It O.K. to Kill Cyclists?

This topic contains 113 replies, has 25 voices, and was last updated by  jonawebb 2 mos.

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jonawebb

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Nov 13 2013 at 9:20pm #

Here’s an alternate scenario for the future of robocars. They get introduced and are touted as safer, more energy efficient, and, most of all, making it possible to use time spent driving to do something else. They are very popular, especially among wealthy professionals whose time is very valuable. And everybody thinks they are great. But after a while, it turns out they aren’t really that much safer, probably because the companies making them really don’t want to sacrifice safety for speed. The issue is unclear for a while, because no studies are done, and the industry isn’t that forthcoming. Meanwhile, cyclists and pedestrians are learning to look out for them. After a while, it’s obvious they are really a lot less safe than regular cars, and cyclists and pedestrians are protesting. But nobody really cares what they think, because the cars are so incredibly convenient. Everybody wants one. So, eventually, the roads become even more reserved for cars, and everybody else better watch out.
Does this seem at all familiar?


HiddenVariable

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Nov 13 2013 at 11:48pm #

@jonawebb: it’s a sad and familiar narrative, no doubt, but i don’t think it could possibly be applicable to non-human driven vehicles in the current united states. we could go a year after the initial roll-out of automated vehicles and finally see the first casualty of the “robocar”, and even if it is demonstrably, in almost any imaginable situation, safer than a human driver, that will be the national headline for that day. automated vehicles will, without a doubt, be held to a much stricter safety standard than human drivers. there is no question. sadly, that might be a result of the absurdly low standard to which humans are held, but that’s the reality, and there won’t be automated vehicles if they can’t automatically avoid hitting people.

mr edmonds’s concern, however, i had not thought of, and it is a very legitimate concern. kids are, almost universally (myself included when i was a kid) giant assholes who will do almost anything they can get away with (as a side note, this kind of makes sense in an evolutionary sense), and will certainly get the automated vehicles to automatically stop on a dime, spilling coffee and possibly inhabitants all over their interiors. sadly, curbing assholishness among adolescents is, unlike detecting humans via computer vision, an unsolved problem.


Steven

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Nov 14 2013 at 1:49am #

This video of Volvo’s tech in action mentions that the car only stops before hitting the obstruction when it’s driving below a certain speed. Otherwise it just has time to slow down. Depending on the numbers, that might indicate they don’t brake as hard as possible. (In the video, it seems to brake fairly gently, but the car’s not going that fast to begin with.)

So perhaps no coffee spill is likely, and the evil adolescent jumping out toward a robocar won’t automatically cause it to get rear-ended by the slower-reacting human driver just behind it.

It would be interesting to see a video of the Volvo tech put through its paces by somebody who isn’t trying to sell Volvos, to judge its current limitations. But I haven’t seen one yet.


jonawebb

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Nov 14 2013 at 7:07am #

My point is there’s a tradeoff between speed and safety. Companies will want to make the cars as fast as possible. They will only make them as safe as possible if they have to. Public pressure might do that automatically, but I suspect we’ll have to advocate for our safety the same way we do with human drivers. Just having a technology that can solve a problem doesn’t mean it’s used to do that.


edmonds59

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Nov 14 2013 at 7:21am #

HV, if you need someone to come up with the most juvenile response to any given circumstance without actually being a juvenile, I might be your guy. ;)
I would also suppose that, at least the earliest versions of auto-cars, would have over-ride capabilities of the automated functions, and if their cars are constantly driving at appropriate speeds, stopping for pedestrians and what-not, the worst drivers will immediately over-ride the auto feature and drive like idiots anyway.
Just to be clear where I am coming from, I despise almost every automated feature of my wife’s newish Mercedes, they drive me nuts (except for possibly timing, fuel mixture, that sort of stuff, it would be a pain to constantly have to adjust those manually). All these “niceties” are nothing but excuses to allow people to avoid learning to be better drivers.


edmonds59

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Nov 14 2013 at 8:10am #

Come to think of it, I would be willing to bet that the vehicle that the two Sharon high school students were recently killed in was a newer SUV equipped with all wheel drive, ABS anti-skid, air bags, etc, and the driver was still able crash it, and kill himself and two other people. These “safety features” are nothing more than red herrings, panaceae, sales points for frightened, lazy drivers. They are the “helmets” of the automobile world. if people are expecting some automated Robo cars to make the roads safer for everyone, they are just chasing better air bags. (pulls pin, runs).


edmonds59

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Nov 14 2013 at 8:25am #

The Dutch have already figured this out, and it doesn’t involve the pursuit of technology. They put the onus of responsibility on the driver, set the requirements for obtaining a license high, and making the penalties for screwing up adequately severe.
The big difference is that there are no car manufacturers in the Netherlands, and a huge segment of their economy does not depend on it, so there is no one pushing sales over safety.


byogman

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Nov 14 2013 at 8:43am #

There’s such a thing as compensatory negligence, no doubt. And it partially, though generally does not entirely, eat some of the gains you would’ve otherwise made on safety. Witness declining vehicle death rates as these features have made their way into the fleet. Yes, including airbags.

Moreover, the power of compensatory negligence is zero in the fully automated case and near zero in the case where automatic is the default and drivers have to step in to do the wrong thing.

This is a ways off, but more foreseeable to me than drivers really getting appreciably better. But perhaps, again, once driving “manually” (turn off the robo-pilot) is seen as a choice, maybe we can get more dutch like in terms of licensing and penalties.

Cars are already well on their way to being living rooms. We may as well embrace the fact that that’s what most people want, remove the last barrier to that experience, remove the steering wheel and pedals to make room for bigger, ad serving, glowing rectangular screens.


gg

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Nov 14 2013 at 8:56am #

edmonds59 wrote:I would be willing to bet that the vehicle that the two Sharon high school students were recently killed in was a newer SUV equipped with all wheel drive, ABS anti-skid, air bags, etc, and the driver was still able crash it, and kill himself and two other people.

Looked like a newer Mazda SUV of some sort. I feel advertisers of these SUV’s, Pickups and to be honest all cars are stupidly showing people driving fast and being able to do anything they please since the vehicle they are advertising are so sure footed. They really shouldn’t be allowed to do that, especially the SUV ones that show them handling like a race car. It is what it is I guess. If I was an attorney, I think I would go after the auto industry with these countless wrecks and shift some blame on these ads. Showing bloody teens and then the ads for the SUVs would be a pretty easy win.


cburch

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Nov 14 2013 at 9:25am #

self-driving cars won’t be a sudden overnight thing. its a slow feature creep. we already have cars that park themselves, sense obstructions and stop when backing up, issue a warning and course correct if you start to drift, sense sudden stops several cars ahead and decelerate accordingly and so on. these features all start out on high end luxury models, but have been steadily making their way down the tiers all the way to econo boxes. you’re going to see a lot of companies experimenting with self-driving concepts, but in the marketplace its going to go feature by feature because they know its the only way people will accept the loss of control.


edmonds59

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Nov 14 2013 at 9:28am #

The problems society faces are human in origin and nature, and we cannot give up and stop attempting to resolve the causes, and continue to resort to curing symptoms with technological means. This is how we have arrived at our current and rather dismal set of conditions.


byogman

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Nov 14 2013 at 10:36am #

I think there’s no need to view addressing symptoms vs. addressing the disease as an either/or. You can try to do both and I’m in full support of that. But I would say, given the difficulty of this disease (we’re a bunch of meat heads, literally), it’s probably wisest not to expect a cure.

Our current dismal circumstances are, by most measures of well being and measured against history, pretty damn good. I think that’s in spite of, not because of the current crop of humans.


reddan

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Nov 14 2013 at 10:57am #

I think there’s no need to view addressing symptoms vs. addressing the disease as an either/or. You can try to do both and I’m in full support of that. But I would say, given the difficulty of this disease (we’re a bunch of meat heads, literally), it’s probably wisest not to expect a cure.

Agreed, doing both is likely to be more effective. When treating symptoms, however, you have to be careful not to inadvertently encourage the spread of the disease; for example, demonstrably life-saving innovations such as seat belts and air bags allow society to accept more dangerous driving due to lessened consequences for motorists.

[ETA:] I’m not forecasting anything specifically related to autonomous cars, BTW; merely pointing out that we should consider unintended consequences when trying to treat symptoms OR diseases.


HiddenVariable

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Nov 14 2013 at 3:15pm #

you guys should check out this article by tom vanderbilt about automated vehicles. it’s a pretty good basis for this discussion.


WillB

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Nov 14 2013 at 4:08pm #

I’m honestly kind of surprised that more people on this board aren’t super excited for self-driving cars. Over and over again the thing that causes cyclist and pedestrian deaths is careless/inattentive/drunk driving. Computers don’t get careless or inattentive or drunk, so once the tech is available for the car to adequately sense its surroundings, it can be a near-perfect driver. We may not be at the point yet, but it looks as if we’re extremely close, and it’s hard to imagine any other intervention (short of eliminating car travel, which simply isn’t going to happen) that would do as much to eliminate auto-related fatalities.


jonawebb

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Nov 14 2013 at 4:17pm #

@WillB, car companies don’t have a great record when it comes to safety. It was like pulling teeth to get them to install safety belts, let alone airbags. And this was for something that would save their own customer’s lives. Expecting them to implement features that might significantly slow down their newly introduced vehicles, in order to protect people who don’t even buy their product, is optimistic, at best.


StuInMcCandless

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Nov 14 2013 at 5:38pm #

See the movie “Tucker” sometime, if you get a chance. This business of car companies not giving a f*ck is not new.


edmonds59

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Nov 14 2013 at 5:51pm #

A lot of thoughts arise from the Wired article, not the least of which is that it’s in Wired, where the solution to everything is apparently More! New! Stuff! But the most serious issue is this: “The average American commutes 52 minutes a day, with the purpose of getting from point A to point B, not with the purpose of winding through the mountains and enjoying The Sound of Music.”“The fact that you’re still driving is a bug,” Levandowski says, “not a feature.” The speaker (not Vanderbilt) accepts that a 52 minute commute is inevitable, so you might as well spend it isolated in a sealed metal box. I would rather not encourage technologies that increase human isolation, and put more effort into livable, walkable, bikeable, happy cities. Like I said, Dutch.


Ahlir

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Nov 14 2013 at 6:09pm #

The average American commutes 52 minutes a day

Oh good! I try hard to put more time into my commuting. It’s a fun and relaxing way to get from A to B. What’s not to like?
What? Oh… nevermind.


WillB

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Nov 15 2013 at 9:20am #

jonawebb wrote:Expecting them to implement features that might significantly slow down their newly introduced vehicles, in order to protect people who don’t even buy their product, is optimistic, at best.

I don’t think there’s anything about self-driving cars that means they will have to be slower. If anything, once all cars become self-driving, traffic jams and congestion caused by sub-optimal human driving will be reduced.

Also, it’s not just other people that safe self-driving cars will protect, it’s the auto companies themselves, because they will, in effect, be the drivers, and be liable for bad things that happen. And there’s a huge potential market for this product that will make it worthwhile for car companies to negotiate the hurdles, including the insanely strict safety regulations that will inevitably be required to allow these on the road at a large scale.


jonawebb

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Nov 15 2013 at 9:26am #

WillB wrote:I don’t think there’s anything about self-driving cars that means they will have to be slower.

No, what I meant was that safety features on self-driving cars will make them slower than they would be without the safety features. There’s sort of a slider bar with 100% safety on one end (slow down whenever you are near a pedestrian, wait until you can give cyclists 8 feet) and 100% speed on the other (assume pedestrians are going to behave predictably, give cyclists 8 inches). Self-driving cars can be programmed either way, and car manufacturers will be highly motivated to push that slider bar towards speed. Public pressure will be needed to balance that and push it back towards the safety end.
As far as “insanely strict” regulations — you mean the insanely strict regulations that keep companies from pumping unknown chemicals into the ground to extract natural gas, or the ones that keep companies from polluting our rivers and air? Or perhaps the ones that keep our food so safe and free of pathogens and contaminants? I could go on.


Marko82

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Nov 15 2013 at 9:52am #

One thing I have not heard about robot cars is how do the car companies make money now that X% of cars are no longer smashed into themselves and destroyed each year. If these cars work as advertised, people will be holding onto their cars for longer periods of time because they wont be all dented up, so car companies sell less cars. Do they make money on software updates? Updates that might allow the car to move on Jon’s safety-speed continuum perhaps?

And what happens to auto-body shops? And mechanics? Because a robo driven car will avoid all those activities that are hard on the mechanicals too – or maybe I just found the solution to cars lasting too long. Brew-ha-ha-ha!


jonawebb

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Nov 15 2013 at 10:04am #

@marko, there will be third parties who will provide program updates to make your car better at getting past those annoying cyclists (there already are people who will reprogram your car’s computer to give it more power, etc.) And we’ll replace cars every couple of years, the way we do with computers and cellphones., because of new features. You still running Android Upside-down cake?


byogman

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Nov 15 2013 at 10:26am #

I agree in principle that there’s a sliding scale, speed vs. safety, but I disagree that there’s an incentive to push the envelope toward speed, at least not in any way the compares with what human drivers do right now.

The trade-offs are VERY non linear. Depending on circumstance, you get somewhere between 95-98% of the speed of an aggressive driver driving quite responsibly. The main reason that 2-5% matters to people right now is not the actual time consumed, but the perception of it, which is vastly magnified by the fact that drivers are doing something they hate (driving in traffic). I remember when I was commuting by car on the parkway. I could hear my life ticking away every second of the stop and go on greentree hill.

Of course, their life ticks away regardless, but having glowing rectangles to look at eases the pain… hell, a lot of folks behave in such a way as to suggest looking at glowing rectangles is the main purpose OF their life. Conversely, if something happened and they felt they couldn’t trust their car to chauffer them around safey while they were engrossed by glowing rectangles, there’d be hell to pay.


Benzo

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Nov 15 2013 at 1:15pm #

It’s not OK to kill cyclists in the Netherlands

http://www.treehugger.com/bikes/its-not-ok-kill-cyclists-netherlands.html


Vannevar

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Nov 17 2013 at 11:18am #

Vulnerabilities and Alliances

I really enjoyed this letter by David Berman in the NYT (in response to the original IsItOkay piece),
http://www.nytimes.com/2013/11/14/opinion/caution-danger-in-the-traffic-lanes.html ,

The problem is not a cultural predisposition against bicyclists; it is that nobody obeys traffic laws anymore, and that’s at least partly because nobody is enforcing them.

which leaves me with the notion that there’s a natural coalition and overlap between the cycling community, the pedestrian community, the walking-to-the-bus community, and the non-carred community (including senior citizens, Stu, Marcel, and Fauna). Which, all of a sudden, is an awful lot of voters.

And so, kudos to Scott for pitching the East Liberty Target demonstration on Friday, and perhaps I should start seeing these all as bicycle advocacy opportunities (and start attending with my bike)


Marko82

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Nov 17 2013 at 4:11pm #

@V, just don’t get carried away or you’ll need new rides


salty

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Nov 17 2013 at 10:30pm #

Everyone should go protest the conditions in East Liberty, for pedestrians and cyclists alike. The whole area is being touted as a huge success and it’s set to spread around the city, but obviously the reality of the situation is a hell of a lot different for anyone not in a car.

Maybe this should be another thread, but I went to the rally, as did Dan Y from bike-pgh. There was a decent turnout but it’s always good to see more people. There was a lot of (deliberate) jaywalking, but also a lot of drivers threatening (with their vehicles, and verbally) or failing to yield to people who were crossing the street legally. There was also an incident in the “ground zero” crosswalk (crossing Penn Ave. on the east side of the intersection, directly across from Target). I didn’t see the whole thing so I apologize if I get the details wrong, but I turned around to the sound of a female demonstrator exchanging words with a male driver, who stopped his Mozart Apartments truck on the street and got out to confront her. Mr. “tough guy” only got back in his truck after one of the (bike) cops on the scene came over screamed at him multiple times to do so.


edmonds59

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Nov 18 2013 at 9:29am #

That’s pretty infuriating. Thank goodness the police were there. Any idea if anyone thought to call Mozart and inform them of the performance of this “gentleman” driver?


gg

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Nov 18 2013 at 10:12am #

salty wrote:Everyone should go protest the conditions in East Liberty, for pedestrians and cyclists alike. The whole area is being touted as a huge success and it’s set to spread around the city, but obviously the reality of the situation is a hell of a lot different for anyone not in a car.

There was also an incident in the “ground zero” crosswalk (crossing Penn Ave. on the east side of the intersection, directly across from Target). I didn’t see the whole thing so I apologize if I get the details wrong, but I turned around to the sound of a female demonstrator exchanging words with a male driver, who stopped his Mozart Apartments truck on the street and got out to confront her.

I never really thought about it, but you are right. East Liberty is really not bike or pedestrian friendly at all. It is sort of like a suburban shopping mall inside the city. Really a horrible place for everyone not in a car.

If you are talking about that crosswalk in front of Target coming from the Busway area to the front doors, that is a really bad crosswalk because moron pedestrians will go across there without looking at the sign that tells them when to go. The automobiles are sitting there waiting to take a left on Penn and have about 5 seconds of green arrow to do so, but there will be some idiot pedestrian that will walk across there so only one car gets to make it. The guy in the truck might have been correct, but I am not sure if that is what happened, but I do know it happens ALL the time.


salty

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Nov 18 2013 at 10:31am #

You “never really thought about it”, but you’re sure “moron pedestrians” are the problem? I’m sure there is jaywalking that happens there, but that is far down the list of problems at that intersection. Here’s #1 – cars making a right from Penn Circle South onto Penn have a green light at the same time the walk signal for Penn is on, and the cars either incorrectly assume they have the right of way or just don’t care. The fact the corner is rounded off to a ridiculous degree means the cars don’t even have to slow down as they approach the crosswalk. It is an absolutely horrid design.

Go stand by the intersection for 15 minutes to educate yourself before you call someone else a moron.


Vannevar

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Nov 18 2013 at 11:12am #

from above:
“because moron pedestrians will go across there without looking at the sign that tells them when to go. The automobiles are sitting there waiting to take a left on Penn and have about 5 seconds of green arrow to do so, but there will be some idiot pedestrian that will walk across there so only one car gets to make it. The guy in the truck might have been correct, but I am not sure if that is what happened, but I do know it happens ALL the time.”

from Wikipedia:

In Internet slang, a troll is a person who sows discord on the Internet by starting arguments or upsetting people, by posting inflammatory, extraneous, mean-spirited, or off-topic messages in an online community (such as a forum, chat room, or blog), either accidentally or with the deliberate intent of provoking readers into an emotional response or of otherwise disrupting normal on-topic discussion.


jonawebb

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Nov 18 2013 at 11:32am #

OTOH, V., I have seen people walking across that intersection without paying attention to the Walk sign, as @gg said. Do they literally do it all the time? Certainly not! But it’s a pretty crappy intersection for pedestrians to navigate, and gg’s comment could have been read as condemning the intersection design as much as complaining about stupid pedestrians (which actually do exist).
Discord is as discord does, I say.


andyc

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Nov 18 2013 at 12:27pm #

It’s nasty and confusing driving around that area as well.


jonawebb

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Nov 18 2013 at 12:41pm #

That area has a tragic history. It was transformed from a retail area for East Liberty, with normal on-street parking (but lots of congested traffic etc.), into a pedestrian mall, with traffic routed around the outside, with Urban Renewal funds, back in the 1960s. They put a huge fountain right in the middle. That redesign killed retail in the area and, I think, is considered a classic example of what not to do in urban planning. Then, several years ago, they opened it up again to traffic, moved the fountain behind the church, and opened the Home Depot. Since then, retail has been coming back, pushed along by Whole Foods and now Target. It’s been improving pretty steadily so far as economic development goes, but nobody has every sat down and figured out how to get bike traffic through there.


Mikhail

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Nov 18 2013 at 12:47pm #

salty wrote:Go stand by the intersection for 15 minutes to educate yourself before you call someone else a moron.

Not to support gg but if anyone spend there 30 minutes then (s)he could see that quite a few people walking like this will jump in into parked cars and drive away.

PS I’ve spent once around 40 minutes talking to police officer on a bicycle when I was late for some meeting and did not want to interrupt it.


StuInMcCandless

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Nov 18 2013 at 1:51pm #

The simplest thing they could do here is give pedestrians a full 15 seconds to get across all directions, stopping traffic in every direction. It wouldn’t involve an ounce of concrete, could be done in a day with the right people, would cost next to nothing, would be accepted without question by most drivers, and would have an immediate benefit.


Pierce

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Nov 18 2013 at 4:30pm #

@salty

What do you want to call people who jaywalk on crosswalks? Just last Friday I was coming south on Penn Circle E from the ELBL and I had to ring my bell because people were obliviously wading in the intersection when I had a green

The intersection has problems, jaywalkers could be one of them


Vannevar

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Nov 18 2013 at 5:04pm #

Pierce wrote:What do you.. call people who jaywalk on crosswalks?

Pierce, before I stray afield, I wonder if the direct answer to your question isn’t “scofflaw” (assuming there is a legal way to cross).

Please forgive a sidebar, but I was so glad you raised this. I was wondering last week, why “JAYwalking” – for instance, who was Jay? Is this about John Jay of NY? I forgot to look it up, and now you reminded me (sincerely)

Wikipedia:

According to recent research, the earliest use of the word jaywalker in print was in the Chicago Tribune in 1909. The term’s dissemination was due in part to a deliberate effort by promoters of automobiles, such as local auto clubs and dealers, to redefine streets as places where pedestrians do not belong.

In towns in the American Midwest in the early 20th century, “jay” was a synonym for “rube,” a pejorative term for a rural resident, assumed by many urbanites to be stupid, slightly unintelligent, or perhaps simply naïve. Such a person did not know to keep out of the way of other pedestrians and speeding automobiles.

As for myself, I may never use that word again.

Let me reframe the original question in a fit of hyperbole, just an exercise in rhetoric:
What do you call a human being who crosses the public street without regard for a mechanized system that prioritizes the speed and time of automobiles over the safety of the non-carred? Why, you call them a human being, of course.


Pierce

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Nov 18 2013 at 5:37pm #

What do you call somebody who rides a bike? A human! What do you call somebody who kills someone else because they’re driving at a high rate of speed and crashes? A human! With those pesky labels out the way, no we can solve the problem with ease!

In my own example, I’m not entirely convinced the time of one is prioritized over the other. If I yield to people jaywalking, I’m likely to get stuck at the intersection, which would include the time when the ped would have a walk signal.

Jaywalking is actually too broad a term for my specific case, which is people jaywalking over signaled crosswalks. What do you call somebody who runs a red light with oncoming perpendicular traffic?

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