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Hands up if you have ever been guilty of ‘jaywalking’ in the Sydney CBD, venting your frustration at slow changing pedestrian lights by sneaking across on the flashing red. Most of us would probably plead guilty, even though we would hardly regard it as a crime. Nevertheless thousands have been fined in recent years, slugged with a $75 on the spot ticket during a series of concerted police crackdowns.   

Last week I witnessed just such a sting at the corner of Quay and George Streets in the Haymarket. The pedestrian crossing is a particularly dangerous one as the traffic swoops from the other side of Railway Square. Despite the three or four officers there making no great attempt to hide their presence, many pedestrians were falling into the trap – especially when their focus was more directed to a smart phone than any surveillance lurking nearby.

Most of those falling foul of the law were young folk and the majority looked like students for whom a $75 fine would be a real kick in the guts. The police would argue they have public safety at heart but perhaps a warning would be more appropriate for the younger offenders. Meanwhile in the rest of the city hundreds if not thousands of pedestrians were wilfully jumping the lights, stepping off on the flashing red or crossing within 20 metres of a set of pedestrian lights – all no-nos when it comes to NSW law.

Part of the problem, as most pedestrians will know, is not only the sometimes interminable wait for the lights to change but the often short period of time whilst they remain on green. In peak hour traffic this is often compounded by vehicles queuing across the intersection, often completely blocking the pedestrian crossing. Government buses are the worst offenders and often force pedestrians to walk around the crossing, simply to cross the road.

It seems there is little the police can or will do about this situation even though the law states:

“You must share the road with pedestrians. Special markings on the road show where pedestrians have special rights. You must give way to pedestrians crossing the road into which you are turning. You must also give way to pedestrians – even if there is no marked pedestrian crossing – if there is any danger of colliding with them.”

The last ruling is perhaps the most contentious one with many motorists treating pedestrians who cross on the red or outside of a crossing with utter contempt – failing to show caution and slow and often blasting the horn as they maintain speed – “Get the hell out of the way!”

Yes, it’s a jungle out there if you are a humble pedestrian in Sydney, a city not renowned for its accessibility for those who prefer to travel on foot. If you walk regularly throughout the city you soon realise that as a footslogger you are very much a second class citizen, with the almighty motor vehicle reigning supreme.

Whilst I would never advocate jaywalking here’s a personal anecdote that I throw up for discussion. Some years ago I had just stepped onto a pedestrian crossing in Newtown, religiously observing the green light sign, when I was struck by a mini bus (ironically full of disabled people) that went through the red. I ended up in hospital with a broken shoulder and many months of recovery. Had I disregarded the ‘safety first’ crossing and chose to take my chances by jaywalking I may well have reached the other side of the road totally unscathed!