Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Arsenal of Inclusion: Bike Lanes and Jaywalking

Bike Lanes & Jaywalking: Two complementary methods of opening the city, specifically city streets.

One of the most oppressing features of a contemporary city are streets. These “veins” of the city offer the influx and outflux of industrial materials, commercial processes and individual persons. Streets are both the path and the place of city life. However, the monopolization of city streets by personal vehicles (cars) causes them to be incredibly exclusive to anyone not in a car… perhaps even to those experiencing the street in a car, as they navigate the city in isolated compartments on wheels. However, in the fight to open our city streets, bike lanes fit perfectly into our arsenal of inclusion. Bike lanes urge drivers to acknowledge the right of cyclists on the street. While riding bikes in the street provides the same disruption of driving-as-usual, bike lanes cause drivers to be aware of the space for cyclists, even when cyclists are absent from the road, changing the dynamic of city streets.

Drivers in an American city must obey traffic laws. The concern of the driver is to reach a point B through navigating an obstacle course of symbols which signify the rules/laws of the road. (ex: stop signs, traffic lights, etc) These laws are dictated by an array of symbols and markings painted on the street he drives upon, posted before the roads he may cross. A driver must heed these symbols, and subject his choices to them. Bike lanes are another form of legal symbol, and drivers will more readily heed the dictation of a sign than the existence of a cyclist on the road.

Also, Jaywalking is a method of opening the city. Jaywalking is a term originating in the early 20th century. It derives from the slang term ‘jay,’ which was commonly used in the Midwest to describe someone from a rural area who is somewhat stupid and unaware, especially in the context of a city. (Wikipedia) So, jaywalking is a derogatory term aimed to those who stand in the right of way of motor vehicles. Jaywalking, as legally defined, is an illegal act consisting of crossing the street either a) not at a cross-walk, or b) not when the walking signal is on at a cross-walk. Defining the legality of crossing the street seems to me an excessive form of control, but it has worked well to condition pedestrian life, more so in a suburb like Towson than a city like Baltimore. However, unless you are engaging in some other illegal act, it is highly unlikely that you will be arrested for jaywalking.

There seems to be a general disregard for crosswalks in Baltimore. Growing up here, I recall driving with my mother, and her aghast face at people who had half crossed the street, standing on the yellow lines waiting for the next wave of traffic to pass. But these disregards cause drivers to be more aware of their vehicles. Streets, especially during rush hours, can serve as moving walls to the pedestrian, making a more efficient route unattainable. This is why a responsible disregard for the prohibitions of jaywalking serves to “open” the city, making the streets once again accessible by foot and not just by car, opening new routes of navigation to the city-dweller.

When one jaywalks, not just along a crosswalk, but in the middle of a street, one reclaims the space delineated by a street as open space. One breaks the law of a sidewalk, the dictatorial direction imposed on the pedestrian. One begins to reclaim the power of one’s own two feet, inscribing a path upon any surface of the city and effectively subverting the dominion of crosswalks and cars. TAKE BACK THE STREETS - ON A BIKE OR ON YOUR FEET!

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