A ‘Jaywalking Referee’ Is Giving Out Red Cards to Reckless Walkers on the Streets of NYC

Pedestrian fatalities are a big problem in Gotham, so two New Yorkers came up with a fun, creative solution.
Jul 31, 2014·
Culture and education editor Liz Dwyer has written about race, parenting, and social justice for several national publications. She was previously education editor at Good.

From reducing the number of smog-spewing cars on the road to helping folks get more exercise, there are plenty of benefits to making cities more walkable. But in New York City, one of the most populous, walker-heavy places in the world, there are far too many pedestrian fatalities. Now there’s a new hero on the streets of Gotham, and he’s out to make sure that pedestrians are crossing streets safely: the Jaywalking Referee.

Jaehyuk Choi and Mario Garza, two 26-year-old New Yorkers who work in advertising, have come up with a creative way to remind people to use crosswalks and abide by Walk/Don’t Walk signals.

“We wanted to do something funny that people would like, but at the same time we wanted to create awareness about this issue,” says Garza. The Jaywalking Referee is a guy who, just like a soccer ref, wears a uniform and hands out red cards to folks who are engaging in unsafe behavior. Garza says they even held a casting call and hired 29-year-old actor Roberto Sanabria to play the ref.

Jaywalking is illegal in NYC, but it’s all too common to see pedestrians recklessly crossing the street whenever and wherever they feel like it. In 2013, 286 walkers were struck and killed on the streets of New York. The problem is so severe that Mayor Bill de Blasio has pledged to slash pedestrian deaths. By the end of February the NYPD had issued 452 jaywalking tickets; the previous year it only issued 50 tickets during the same time period.

Last week the Jaywalking Referee went into action. Sanabria and crew headed down to SoHo, and the results are pretty incredible. You can watch the ref in the above video as he praises folks who are following the rules. To those who aren’t, the Jaywalking Referee gives a red card and some advice: “Jaywalking is very dangerous, and I’m out here to make sure that you stay safe.”

Because not paying attention to traffic signals is such a part of pedestrian life in New York City, it’s pretty funny to watch people’s reactions. Garza says most people loved the impromptu walking patroller. “Everyone was laughing, and everyone thought it was a real job,” he says.

Still, the Jaywalking Referee team doesn’t think its impromptu awareness campaign is the ultimate solution to the reckless-walking problem. New York City needs “more cops on the streets to actually do something about it,” says Garza.