“Seattle is the only city I’ve been to where you see people standing idly on all four corners of an intersection with not a car in sight, waiting for the signal before they cross the street.”
This was spoken to me with a laugh by one of my company’s executives on a visit to Seattle as we made our way six blocks to a restaurant for lunch. This is how we do it here: we wait for the green crossing light before venturing to cross the street. It’s a civilized practice that defines Seattle despite the chuckle it caused from my East Coast colleague.
The practice – now ingrained habit for me – does not work in New York where I have spent the last week. Stopping on the corner can be treacherous: one can be trampled if one interrupts the pedestrian flow. It took me a few days to get into the swing of crossing streets in Manhattan, but I was still beset with a tinge of guilt each time I jaywalked or crossed against the light. It felt wrong. Out of place. Unnatural. But as the hoards crossed the busy New York streets against the light, I crossed with them, mingling conspiratorially on my way block by block toward my destination.
By the end of the week I found myself oblivious to the crossing signals, darting artfully across intersections, dodging cabs and jaywalking like there was no tomorrow. It was liberating in a way, and a got to where I was going without delay or interruption.
Years ago in Seattle’s Capital Hill neighborhood my wife and I stepped off the curb to cross against the light, thought better of it, and back-stepped onto the sidewalk. A bicycle cop, who just happened to be idling behind us laughed and said, “I’m glad you did that, otherwise I’d have to write you a ticket.”
I am back in Seattle now, and crossing with the light. And I feel better about it.