Friday, March 30, 2012

Salt Lake City Moves to Criminalize Walking

Salt Lake City, commonly used as a successful example of light rail transit (more here, critical thoughts here and here), has decided that the best way to ensure future success is to make distracted walking illegal. From the Salt Lake Tribune:
The new ordinance says examples of walking while distracted include — but are not limited to — talking on cellphones, listening to music with headphones, texting, "attending to personal hygiene" or reading newspapers or magazines while crossing tracks.
But board member Troy Walker, a defense attorney, questioned the wisdom of it. "I struggle with criminalizing everyday conduct," he said. "We’re going to make it a crime to have your headphones in walking along crossing the tracks. Does it really make us safer?
I've only been to Salt Lake City once since their light rail was built, but one thing that was really weird about downtown  was a complete lack of traffic. No rush hour, no congestion, no honking. Just wide, empty streets. The streets seemed emptier than they actually were because they are so wide (the roads are required to be 132 feet across in order to turn around a wagon team without "resorting to profanity"). A potential consequence of the lack of activity, be it auto, transit, bike or pedestrian, is that there really isn't much reason to pay attention to where you  are going. You are not likely to run into anything, except the occasional train, which is obviously catastrophic. The solution to the problem of distracted walking is not to criminalize walking, but rather to increase the number of pedestrians and activity on the street. That will encourage people to pay attention.
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