Jaywalkers and Aggressive Motorists: A Class Analysis

Atlanta and Washington, D.C. have two very different cultures. In Atlanta, most people drive to wherever they need to go, without worrying much about traffic or parking. DC, in contrast, is a walking town; people take the Metro and hoof it everywhere. Parking is expensive, if available at all, and traffic is congested at all hours of the day.

Given these observations, in the class war between pedestrians and drivers, we would expect drivers to have the upper hand in Atlanta and pedestrians to have the advantage in DC. But this is not the case. In Atlanta, pedestrians generally ignore traffic signs and walk whenever they please, disregarding the walk/do not walk signs. Atlantan drivers come to expect this and are fairly cautious when going through green lights, always on the lookout for some straggler breaking the massively-violated traffic law.

In DC, on the other hand, pedestrians are nice, law-abiding sheeple who wait patiently on the sidewalk even when no cars are in sight. DC drivers know this, and adjust their driving accordingly. When I broke the social norm and illegally crossed the street, the drivers just kept on driving, swerving right around me, shocked - shocked - at my brazen disregard for the social contract.

I understand how the social norm perpetuates itself; I feel very uncomfortable jaywalking in DC surrounded by all these do-goodniks who no doubt stare at me as the social deviant that I am. I'm also aware that the majority of drivers have internalized this social norm, do not expect to encounter jaywalkers, and therefore drive aggressively.

To make this look more impressive than it is, let's put it in the form of a prisoner's dillemma:

|||Drivers||
| ||||
||| Drive Passively  |Drive Aggressively|
| Pedestrians     |Wait Patiently|  0 / 0|  1 / 2|
|| Jaywalk  |  2 / 1|  -1 / -1|

Atlanta has the 2/1 payoff, with passive drivers and jaywalking pedestrians, while Washington has the 1/2 payoff, with aggressive drivers and patient, law-abiding pedestrians. The 0/0 payoff represents a nonexistent city where everyone waits for everyone else, abides by the law, is extra careful, and has no fun. The -1/-1 payoff represents a nonexistent city where there is complete chaos (most likely because those crazy anarcho-capitalists are in charge).

The drivers reason, "If the pedestrians wait patiently, we are better off driving aggressively. If the pedestrians jaywalk, we are better off being careful and driving passively." The pedestrians reason, "If the drivers are aggressive, we are betterr off waiting patiently. If the drivers are passive, we are better off jaywalking."

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