Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Jay Driving deserves Revival as Term of Opprobrium!

Readers will remember that a favorite point here is the invention of jaywalking - that up until the early 1920s, people on foot were considered full citizens and deserved a full measure of the public space we call "a road."

In the 1920s a campaign first to define, to marginalize, and then to criminalize "jay walking" caught on. We still live with it.

Lawless anarchy? (a year ago)
A reader has pointed out a collection of citations that suggest two slight modifications to this thesis.

The first is a minor detail, that in some places in the country, "jay walk" first occurs in the 19-teens, perhaps a decade before it occurs here in Oregon. Kansas City may be the pioneer in this.

The more interesting detail that "jay drive" also appears, and it precedes "jay walk"!

from 1907 (full citation here)
The author finds the first instance pf the term in 1905, also in Kansas City, finds additional citations in Los Angeles, and suggests it was a southern regionalism.

Here, it does not seem as common. The first instance might be in La Grande from 1914, but most uses seem cluster around 1920. It does not seem to have been very common, however, and the phrase was supplanted by "jay walk" as hydraulic autoism first started to settle in place.

Here is an example of both usages from 1920.

Oregonian, June 3rd, 1920
From the Portland Oregonian in 1920:
Jay Walkers Not Entitled to All the Mention, Says Writer.
PORTLAND. June 2. (To the Editor.) While the Jay walker has been favored with many write-ups, true or otherwise, the jay drivers, and many of the beauties, too, have been neglected. Just why, deponent knoweth not. They do much more execution than the favored jays do.

Coming in on a W. S. car near the turn of a corner, with a clear open view, and when perhaps 50 feet from said corner, an automobile carrying two middle-aged men and two women, ran up so close around the corner that the motorman had to exert him self to his utmost to escape a collision. The jay driver gently backed away, and allowed the car to pass. In case of a smashup, would that have been an accident or an "unavoidable?"

The strip allowed for the pedestrian to walk on seems to be from 9 to 15 feet wide, and a good hustler Is supposed to go across the street in safety, but In many instances the auto stops across said strip and the foot man has the choice of being a jay and going around the auto and Into the. preserves, or wait, and in due time the machine moves on.

If the jay driver were summarily dealt with as people who continually jeopardize the lives of others, those having to do business on congested streets would be in less danger.

A small concise book, suited for the pocket and containing all the requirements of the different laws and ordinances, should be in possession of every person living in the city and operates a machine of any kind on the streets would help some. Many drivers are not familiar with all the rules and regulations. The jay driver is certainly a menace.

There should also be an ordinance forbidding the streets to women with dress skirts that will not permit a full step. A WALKER.
Last month BikePortland had a note with some discussion of "jay driving" and it seemed like it was a neologism confined to narrow advocacy circles.

But while it may have been regional slang, and lost currency after a decade or so, the term "jay driving" and its associated nouns and verbal forms are fairly well attested it turns out.

It's not a neologism, it usefully describes a form of careless or impolite driving, and most importantly it usefully reframes and inverts a pernicious set of images and legal environment around people on foot.

It also might help draw attention to the way that our prevailing approach to road safety, that of engineering "forgiveness" for driver error into our road design, is actually about an ever-increasing arc of accommodation for the jay driver.

It's worth a revival!

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