Peatónito, Pedestrian Superhero, Is Finishing Up Grad School

Mexico City’s pedestrian protector now walks in Los Angeles
Photo: Yuri Cortez / AFP via Getty Images

Over the past decade, Mexico City’s mysterious masked pedestrian defender Peatónito has been spotted leading walkers through intersections in a race against an increasingly short countdown, rushing over cars. parked illegally in a single bound, and tiring himself, even with his superhuman strength. , to repel finicky vehicles that have crept over the crosswalk bar (good-humored drivers usually put their cars in reverse slowly, which really keeps the gag going). With black and white leather fighter mask accented with a neon green walker icon and a flowing striped pedestrian crossing cape, Peatónito has become an urbanist legend, featured in international news segments, travel the world give keynotes, and inspiring more than a few imitators. But over the past two years, Peatónito’s superhero status has been complemented by scholarly pursuits – he, or rather his alter ego, moved to Los Angeles to earn his masters in urban and regional planning at UCLA, and he was struggling to figure out how to use his powers in a city notoriously hostile to walkers. “This is not a place for pedestrians,” he said dejectedly. “I feel terrible walking the streets of Los Angeles.”

Peatónito – “little pedestrian” in Spanish – started out as a joke, he says; after he and his friends attended a free wrestling game, they put on masks and take to the streets to shame drivers. His colorful character immediately resonated with people on both sides of the wheel, but the character also had a precedent he later discovered; in the 1990s, the mayor of Bogotá, Antanas Mockus, fired all traffic officers from the city and hired mimes to protect people more effectively at intersections. This type of culture change is essential for behavior change, says Peatónito, who has studied organization and movements while working in public policy. “Have a friendly or peaceful mime fighter asking people to respect pedestrians is much better than having armed police. “

“We don’t need Peatónitos on every corner,” he says. “We need infrastructure.”
Photo: Courtesy of Peatonito

When he first arrived in Los Angeles – where he never drove a car, only walked, biked, scooted, and used public transportation – Peatónito was eager to deploy his services to help people locals to get around on foot; instead, he found the streets terribly empty. “People don’t walk in Los Angeles because it’s not fun,” he says. “It’s not dynamic.” The visual monotony of blank walls and shopping malls can also contribute to increased vehicle speeds by drivers, he says, and when the pandemic struck, those empty streets became even more of a handicap. Like many other US cities, Los Angeles has a year that saw fewer cars on the road but a higher overall rate of road deaths, and 2021 is already promises to be as deadly as in 2020. This has put the lawyers in crisis and they are looking to Peatónito for where to go next. “We all know that walking in Los Angeles is a constant struggle for safety and dignity,” says John Yi, executive director of Los Angeles Walks. “El Peatónito reminds us that we have a city to save and that every time we take to the streets it is in itself a revolutionary act.”

For his dissertation at UCLA, where he was most successful in protecting his secret identity – “Some of his classmates didn’t even know his special powers to transform a city’s priorities in favor of human rights and safety. pedestrians, ”says Juan Matute, deputy director of UCLA’s Institute for Transportation Studies – Peatónito spent a year examining a 2.3-mile stretch of Temple Street just west of downtown, which he calls a microcosm of all the city’s transport failures. From 2008 to 2019, five people were killed and 39 people were seriously injured here in car crashes, including three students crossing the street on their way to their primary school. This prompted the city to come up with a two-mile street redesign with protected cycle lanes, intersections that prioritize walkers, and sidewalk extensions that would force drivers to take wider, slower turns. Early outreach looked promising, with a coalition of parents and students from local schools advocating for the changes, but as Peatónito retracted all the public comments provided at community meetings, he saw a disturbing narrative downplaying the deaths. had started to take hold. “There are people who say there is an ‘acceptable’ number of casualties on these streets,” he said, shaking his head in disbelief. In the end, the city is done drastically reduce plans.

During a video call, I walk in the hallway of the Temple with Peatónito – he is currently in Mexico; he’ll be back in LA this summer – and he points out any missed opportunities: bike lanes never entered, forcing cyclists onto the sidewalk; the new intersection designs with decorative rock elements somehow result in a less accessible space on foot; the promised sidewalk extensions that might have made cars turn slower are not curbs, just dotted lines on the sidewalk. “It’s a joke,” he said. “You only show me paint.” Up the block, we watch drivers navigate what he calls a “speed table,” an elongated, mesal-like speed bump designed to slow them down. It wasn’t exactly. “Watch the speed limit,” he says. “He’s supposed to be 25. But nobody respects that.” However, this piece of infrastructure, installed in the roadway, represents a “big step” for Los Angeles, he says. But what Peatónito would prefer to see are elevated sidewalk-level crosswalks, serving as speed tables, but also helping people avoid climbing up and down Los Angeles’ poorly sloped curb ramps at intersections. “It’s very sad for people with disabilities or parents with strollers,” he says. “They face a lot of obstacles on the streets and sidewalks and we make it difficult for them.” He’s also troubled to see the city chopping down tall trees to repair sidewalks, when trees are just as essential for pedestrian safety, he argues, and not just providing shade. “The trees help calm traffic,” he says. “When you don’t see what to expect, your mind is telling you to slow down.”

Peatónito wants to start a revolution in Los Angeles with pedestrian advocates in every neighborhood.

When experts in his profession talk about road safety strategies, says Peatónito, they are talking about the three E‘s: education, application and engineering. But in Peatónito, the only one E necessary is engineering. “The geometry of the street speaks to the driver, forcing him to slow down and make more room for pedestrians,” he says. It may seem counterintuitive for a Mexican wrestler standing in an intersection trying to get everyone to obey the traffic rules. But so-called pedestrian safety laws are typically used as an excuse for police to target black and brown Angelenos, and the city would be better off without them, he says. “The best town within walking distance is where it is legal to jaywalk.” Last week, Peatónito launched a “pedestrian revolution” campaign for Los Angeles Walks and the first area of ​​interest is the launch of a national conversation at decriminalize jaywalking, starting with repeal racist California laws. LA could take a cue from Mexico City, which issues no tickets for jaywalking and has even changed its rules of the road to encourage people to cross smaller streets wherever they feel comfortable. Of course, in Los Angeles that would require designing much narrower streets. Peatónito may be a device for calming human circulation, but the real goal is to disengage from existence, he says. “We don’t need Peatónitos on every corner – what we need is infrastructure.”

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