David Whitl... sorry, David Whitley’s ‘friend of a friend’ discusses how to get anywhere on foot in American cities

Some American cities are about as pedestrian-friendly as minefields that have added bear traps thrown in for good measure. Despite reputations to the contrary, not every US city is like this, but generally the further south you go, the worse it gets. Dallas is a predictably appalling example of America’s slavish, senseless devotion to the car. The city is such a mammoth sprawl that it is often known as the Dallas Fort-Worth Area, a conurbation that is probably larger than most countries. 

But it’s not about distances. It’s about ease of getting between places. From a map, some areas look easy enough to walk between – perhaps a mile or two apart. But the time it takes to get from A to B is a different matter altogether. In Dallas, it’s rare to find a road that’s a normal two lane street. Most are four, six, eight or ten lane monsters. If you can imagine the joy of trying to get across a dual carriageway on one block, then a motorway on the next, you’re starting to get the picture.

Some of these snarling beasty roads have pedestrian crossings, but you’ll often have to walk 500m or so in the wrong direction to find one, and then wait about five minutes for the green man. When he does arrive, it’ll be for two seconds max. In fact, if anyone has a photo of a green man in Dallas, I’d love to see what they look like.
Essentially, you spend five to ten minutes trying to cross every single road, and this is why you’ve pretty much got no option but to repeatedly jaywalk.

Jaywalking – crossing a road in violation of traffic controls – is something of an art. It is illegal in the US, so *adopts arse-covering tone* my advice is not to do it. Ever. However, a friend of a friend once told me something like this...

1. Apply the green cross code
This is common sense. If you’re going to cross, make sure you do somewhere than you can see traffic coming both ways. Look both ways, and wait for the gap in traffic.

2. Speed counts
Of course, if there isn’t a gap in traffic, you’re going to have to make a break for it. If traffic is virtually at a standstill anyway, you can weave through it without too much danger other than angry shouts and bipping of horns.

3. Cross at the lights
Better still, cross at the traffic lights. If traffic is stopped there, it can’t go again until the lights change. As long as you’re in the road before those lights change, they’re hardly likely to accelerate into you. No-one wants those costly insurance claims.

4. Split into halves
The problem with this approach is that there’s often something coming the other way. If you can get to the traffic island, you’re fine – just wait for the gap in the other direction. If there is no traffic island, prepare to annoy everyone and stand right in the middle on the white line until that gap emerges.

5. Learn the light changes
Often traffic lights change way before the pedestrian lights change. By watching who else is stopping at the junction, you can generally work out which way the lights will go next and leg it across way before the green man invites you to.

6. Look like you mean it
Timid gets you nowhere in this game. If you’re going to go, go. Stride purposefully with no shame or run. Scared baby steps off the pavement and dithering will lead to the window of opportunity closing. Remember that anyone who can see you does not want to hit you. The danger is people who can’t see you. If you work on the principle that you never step out in front of a car that would have to slow down for you to pass, you’re getting it about right.

7. Don’t do it in front of policemen or children
The former is fairly obvious. I’ve never been stopped for jaywalking, but if I was I’d try the “perhaps you could describe the vehicles I caused to slow down or deviate from their path” defence. As for children, it’s about setting an example. Young kids don’t need the “running into traffic” idea implanted in their heads...