In case you missed it, a British professor found himself wrestled to the ground after jaywalking in Atlanta last week. It brought a giant smile to my face to read this, not because of the thought of this man being accosted in this way. Rather, it’s because I know from personal experience that Brits don’t like the entire concept of jaywalking at all. In fact, a jaywalking ticket issued to my British wife led directly to me writing this post here in England at the moment rather than Southern California.
Let’s deal with the professor first. He jaywalked. A plain-clothed officer stopped him. There were demands for ID from both sides. The professor ended up on the street, pinned down by multiple officers and eventually spent eight hours in jail. There are claims of exaggeration by both sides.
My story — or that of my wife’s — is different. I’ve been granted permission to communicate her tale. Back when we lived in Southern California, we often shopped at Triangle Square in Costa Mesa (a square that’s a triangle? Yes, it’s a triangular shaped mall. Deal with it). It’s either dead or dying now. But in its heyday, there were tons of shops, including a Gap.
Parking at Triangle Square sucked. No one likes going into the parking structure. Instead, it was common to park across the street in a big shopping center’s lot. Then people would run across the street to the stores.
Costa Mesa disliked this. They stuck of barriers trying to prevent you from doing it. Instead, they wanted people to walk a fairly long distance (for Southern California, like 100 to 200 feet or so) to a signal controlled crossing at either end of the block.
My wife, like many others, didn’t do this on the day in question. She ran across the street and found a swimming suit (excuse me, swimming costume) on sale at an excellent price. Thrilled with the money she’d saved, she jaywalked again in a state of shopping bliss. That abruptly ended with a Costa Mesa police officer issued her a jaywalking ticket.
Gone was the savings on the suit. I think the ticket cost her like $60. But more important, she declared the entire concept of jaywalking insane and the US crazy for having it. Perhaps I slightly exaggerate. But we’d talked about heading back to the UK to live for some time. This was a defining moment when she said that she wanted to go back now.
See, Brits just aren’t rational about it. That’s my theory. Think I’m off the mark. Check it out: What every Brit should know about jaywalking. That’s just out from no less than the BBC, trying to help the Brits understand the crazy ways:
Just because you can do something in the UK doesn’t mean it’s OK in another country. Jaywalking is an offence in most urban areas in the United States – although enforcement varies between states – and Canada, and in places such as Singapore, Spain, Poland, Slovenia and Australia….
But there is no such offence in the UK, where it is considered a personal responsibility to cross the road safely (although London mayor Ken Livingstone last summer proposed making jaywalking illegal). The Highway Code recommends that all pedestrians abide by the Green Cross Code: “Where there is a crossing nearby, use it. Otherwise choose a place where you can see clearly in all directions.”
Mind you, try to cross some of the actual intersections in Ken Livingstone’s London and you’ll go insane. Giant metal fence route you away from natural crossing points, because these aren’t deemed safe. And heaven help the pedestrian who fails to realize that you have no right-of-way in Britain. Ironically in car-crazy California, pedestrians have the right-of-way even if they were stupid enough to end out in the middle of the street. In the UK, cars just pull out on sidewalks in front of you without hesitation.
It drives me crazy. But not as crazy as jaywalking to the Brits, it seems.