“If one lives in the Canadian Pacific port and has not heard the term “jaywalker” then he or she can claim a particular merit as a law abiding citizen” the 1918 Vancouver Sun proclaimed.
The word Jaywalker appears to have originated in Kansas around 1907 where a newspaper article talked about jay walkers and jay drivers, with the word jay meaning a “greenhorn or a rube’, someone who was unsophisticated, poor, or a simpleton”.
A jaywalker described someone who was “stupid by crossing the street in an unsafe place or way, or some country person visiting the city who wasn’t used to the rules of the road”. You can take a look a this work by Peter Norton that outlines the history behind making vehicle drivers more important than pedestrians in the United States.
In Canada the term “jaywalker” first appears in the 1913 Ottawa Citizen and is described as being “invented for the pedestrian who steps out carelessly to cross the street without looking for approaching vehicles. It is jay-walker and is a fit companion for “joy-rider”.
It is a disparaging definition, assigning guilt and lawlessness to the most vulnerable road user, the person without a vehicle.
In Canada it appears that Vancouver is the place where jaywalking is first identified and scorned. The Montreal Gazette in August 1918 had an article entitled “The Jaywalker”, and identified that a “peculiar expression that had arisen in Vancouver”. The article then describes a jaywalker as someone who crosses the street but not at the intersection and that rules to make persons cross at intersections had fallen into “innocuous desuetude”. The article then points out that in the United States not crossing the street correctly proclaims “himself to be a foreigner”.
As most of these historic newspaper articles are behind a paywall, I have posted them on my twitter feed if you want to read them as they were written.
In doing a deep dive into jaywalking, there are over 40 references to jaywalking in Vancouver papers before 1920. When you think of that time, vehicles could be driven on streets without insurance and a licence, and were seen as an example of a new age of industrious progress.
Early Vancouver newspapers describe crashes with pedestrians as “collided” incidents, and then usually listed all of the fractures resulting for the victim. Vehicles had long blind spots in front of them, could not brake well, and there was no conformity of all to travel, signal, or behave on the road.
It was truly the wild west, and thousands of people, many who were children were dying on city streets. In 1928 28 pedestrians died in Vancouver, 72 were injured, and there were 10,500 crashes.
In 1930 40 people died on Vancouver roads.
Car manufacturers needed to sell vehicles and conformity was needed to ensure that vehicles could be operated on the street without pedestrian interruption.Read more »