This weekend I'm revisiting a few New York bylines over the years. If this seems odd—a fairly ordinary news story from New York City—I believe the explanation is I was in town anyway, for the Toy Fair, and wanted to deliver to my bosses the maximum bang for their buck.
"I don't want you to get hit by a truck," said Guarriello, explaining that Vasquez would have to go north across 49th, then cross Fifth at the crosswalk that was open.
New York is battling jaywalking—specifically, Mayor Rudolph Giuliani is battling jaywalking, as part of his quality-of-life approach to solving urban woes; if crime went down after clamping down on the squeegee men, the logic goes, maybe Manhattan's notoriously snarled auto traffic can improve if pedestrians are kept from pouring into the streets and blocking vehicles.
Jaywalking is a problem few think about in Chicago; there are 10 million fewer people in greater Chicago than in the New York metropolitan area, and Chicago has about half the population density of New York. Chicago police say there are no plans to put barricades across pedestrian crosswalks. And Chicagoans just don't seem to be in the same kind of hurry that New Yorkers are in.
"I'm sorry, I'm really late," said a New Yorker who was asked about the barricades as she dashed across the street. "It's a pain," she said over her shoulder.
The fine for jaywalking in New York has just been increased from $2 to $50, and Giuliani wants the city council to increase it to $100. (Chicago has no established fine for jaywalking, which means, according to the municipal code, that the fine would be between $50 and $200, depending on the discretion of a judge, not that many jaywalking tickets are given here.)
The crackdown on jaywalking is big news in New York, covered almost daily in the newspapers, and some people are outraged.
"It's ridiculous—this is a walking city," said Vince D'Addona, 40, a financial services executive. "This adds about 50 percent to the walking distance of my day."
New Yorkers have staged protests—one in which a group dressed in cow outfits to object to being herded like cattle. There were several arrests, and much ill will toward the mayor.
"It's a publicity stunt on the part of the mayor," said a man in a green trench coat, gesturing to the officers at the barricades. "Three cops doing nothing."
Three officers are assigned to each of the 20 or so intersections that have one of two ; crosswalks closed from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. The barricades run from the corners to about 40 feet into the blocks.
The majority of pedestrians are deterred, and those who slip past, or jaywalk diagonally through the intersection, are ignored by the police.
"Most cops aren't really into it," said Officer Aaron Jackson, an 11-year veteran of the force.
And most pedestrians really aren't into it.
Charles Brown, 25, is a clerk at Saks Fifth Avenue, located on the southeast corner of Fifth Avenue and 50th. To get to work, he has to cross the streets three times—north across 50th, east across Fifth, then south back across 50th. Previously he had to cross only once.
"It's a big, huge pain in the butt," he said.
For now, police are putting a good face on the policy, which began in December.
"In theory it does make sense," said Guarriello, a 13-year-veteran of the force. "Cars can make a left and don't have to worry about piling up down the street. It just takes time to get used to it. In the end, I think this is going to make it, because it's important for pedestrian safety and good for traffic in New York."
—Originally published in the Sun-Times, Feb. 15, 1998