For many New Yorkers, crossing the street in the middle of the block or against the light is a way of life, part of an attitude that tells everybody, "I'm walkin' here!"
"Of course I jaywalk!" says 70-year-old Peter Standish, a retired corporate attorney and lifelong New Yorker, adding that he occasionally texts, reads and even does crossword puzzles while crossing. "I do look up often," he noted.
But with 12 pedestrian deaths so far this year, new Mayor Bill de Blasio is taking aim at that defiant attitude with steps that include increased awareness of the dangers and, in some places, a crackdown on an offense that has been long ignored. Police are actually handing out tickets to jaywalkers.
"We need to be sensitive to the fact that we do have a way of life, and many of us who've been here know that," Mr. de Blasio said. "But we have to educate people to the dangers. There's a lot more vehicles in this town than there used to be."
A total of 172 pedestrians were killed in traffic last year in New York City, according to preliminary figures. While such deaths have declined by more than a quarter since 2001, Mr. de Blasio says there are persistently too many, and he wants to attack them in the same way the city reduced murders to a record low of 333 last year.
The recent dozen deaths (police say it is too early to say how many involved jaywalking) have included a 9-year-old boy hit by a taxi as he walked across a street with his father, a young doctor clipped by an ambulance when she crossed in front of her apartment building, and a 73-year-old man hit by a tour bus.
At the Upper West Side intersection of Broadway and 96th Street, near where three of the deaths occurred, a newly installed electronic sign warns pedestrians to "USE CROSSWALK" while police with a bullhorn make the same announcement. On a recent weekday morning, one officer directed traffic while others wrote tickets to drivers and pedestrians -- from $40 to $100 -- depending on the violation.
The effort took a public relations hit last month when an 84-year-old man ended up bloodied after police tried to ticket him for jaywalking along Broadway.
Some neighborhood activists have complained that the focus on jaywalking is too abrupt, especially considering that police issued only 630 jaywalking tickets last year -- not even two a day in a city of 8 million people and more than 6,000 miles of streets.