The absurdity of the “school crossing guard”

“Women in essential services. Mrs. E.K. Sabel and Mrs. J.R. Harris, members of the Women’s Safety Traffic Reserve in Oakland, California, are among the many mothers who are keeping the city’s accident rate low by guarding school crossings during school hours” – photo by Ann Rosner, 1943, courtesy Library of Congress

The absurdity of the “school crossing guard” is a striking admission. We’ve built transportation systems that are unsafe for routine non-motorized use. But we’ve decided that one particular group of non-motorized users – our children – are worthy of special protection from this hazard we routinely accept, during a few narrow windows of time in a few special places.

Scot’s painful work on pedestrian fatalities in Albuquerque has repeatedly pointed us to examples in which deaths are blamed on “pedestrian error”. Pedestrians should use marked crosswalks, we are told.

There is one such crosswalk a couple of blocks from my house, a mid-block crossing of Carlisle Boulevard halfway between two major intersection traffic lights. During morning and evening walk-to-and-from school times, there’s a crossing guard with a high-viz vest and sign and whistle to protect the students. Any other time? Pedestrians are on their own. And we would be crazy to assume cars are going to obey the law, respect the crosswalk, and stop for us. Crossing in that crosswalk is no different in terms of my actual safety as a pedestrian than jaywalking.

The existence of the school crossing guard is an explicit societal admission of that reality.

Photo from the Library of Congress War Information Office collection.

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