Cross This Way

New York City’s Department of Transportation recently dropped a fun video meant to teach children about pedestrian safety in a clear and engaging way. But beneath the catchy music, good intentions and excellent structure, there’s a not so subtle message that we think kids shouldn’t be learning.

We’ll dissect the DOT’s video, and discuss whether it backs up the claim that “everybody on the street deserves respect” after the break.

Scenario 1 shows a young woman using a crosswalk while looking at her phone. Now, crossing the street while distracted is clearly a bad idea. But pedestrians using a crosswalk have the right of way in an intersection. While the pedestrians is chastised for not looking out for her own safety, the illegal behavior of the driver, who charges into and occupied crosswalk and is clearly in the wrong, is not addressed.

Scenario 2 is pretty cut and dry. If you’re crossing a street mid-block, you should be watching for and yielding to vehicles, bicycles, etc. using the road. This is good advice, and a subject that is often missed during discussions about pedestrian safety. Kudos to the DOT for including it.

In Scenario 3, two children are crossing at a crosswalk when a car blows through the Stoli>sign. Again the blame is assigned to the pedestrians. Pedestrians have the right of way when using a crosswalk, and that stoli>sign the kids are supposed to respect? Its clearly meant for the driver, who ignores it but gives the kids a permissive wave of the hand to cross once they’ve shown her due respect.

Again, the video is engaging and its advice – be attentive, careful and respectful to other road users – is sound. But some of its portrayals of common traffic scenarios reinforce negative and unsafe understandings of the relationship between cars and people. If we want children to form positive associations with, active and sustainable modes of transportation, teaching them that pedestrians are second class citizens in a car’s world sends the wrong message.