For many New Yorkers, crossing the street in the middle of the block or against the light is a way of life, part of an attitude that tells everybody, "I'm walkin' here!"
"Of course I jaywalk!" said 70-year-old Peter Standish, a retired corporate attorney and lifelong New Yorker, adding that he occasionally texts, reads and even does crossword puzzles while crossing. "I do look up often," he noted.
But with 12 pedestrian deaths this year, new Mayor Bill de Blasio is taking aim at that defiant attitude with steps that include increased awareness of the dangers and, in some places, a crackdown on an offense that has been long ignored. Police are actually handing out tickets to jaywalkers.
"We need to be sensitive to the fact that we do have a way of life, and many of us who've been here know that," de Blasio said. "But we have to educate people to the dangers. There's a lot more vehicles in this town than there used to be."
Last year, 172 pedestrians were killed in traffic in New York City, according to preliminary figures. While such deaths have declined by more than a quarter since 2001, de Blasio says there are persistently too many, and he wants to attack them in the same way the city reduced murders to a record low of 333 last year.
Some neighborhood activists have complained that the focus on jaywalking is too abrupt, especially since police issued only 630 jaywalking tickets last year — not even two a day in a city of 8 million people and more than 6,000 miles of streets. "To go from no enforcement to this aggressive action is overkill," said Mark Levine, an Upper West Side member of the City Council.
The mayor also wants police to take a harder line against speeding and failing to yield to pedestrians. He also wants speed cameras installed at the most dangerous spots — an action that requires state approval. And traffic lights could change more quickly in places where pedestrians get impatient and just walk.