The city of Los Angeles is cracking down on pedestrians who sneak across streets when the traffic signal says “don’t walk.” But when you put a price on bad behavior, like being in a public street illegally, you see clearly what a city values.
The cheapest parking ticket in Los Angeles (pdf) is $58, and the one most commonly issued for parking in a prohibited zone is $73. Jaywalking—the term of art for a pedestrian crossing against the light—will cost you $197.
Automotive interests banded together under the name Motordom. One of Motordom’s public relations gurus was a man named E. B. Lefferts, who put forth a radical idea: don’t blame cars, blame human recklessness. Lefferts and Motordom sought to exonerate the machine by placing the blame with individuals.
And it wasn’t just drivers who could be reckless—pedestrians could be reckless, too. Children could be reckless.
This subtle shift allowed for streets to be re-imagined as a place where cars belonged, and where people didn’t. Part of this re-imagining had to do with changing the way people thought of their relationship to the street. Motordom didn’t want people just strolling in.
So they coined a new term: “Jay Walking.”
In the early 20th Century, “jay” was a derogatory term for someone from the countryside. Therefore, a “jaywalker” is someone who walks around the city like a jay, gawking at all the big buildings, and who is oblivious to traffic around him. The term was originally used to disparage those who got in the way of other pedestrians, but Motordom rebranded it as a legal term to mean someone who crossed the street at the wrong place or time.