The Downtown LAPD is at it again.
Downtown has long been known as one of the least pedestrian-friendly precincts. LAPD officers on the downtown beat have routinely ticketed pedestrians for such “infractions” as crossing an intersection against a flashing red hand signal while motorists breeze through red lights mere feet away; now the Division is proudly touting a new effort to crackdown on Downtown “jaywalkers” to reduce pedestrian crashes.
Unlike the commenters on the Times’ article announcing the “crackdown,” who assume this effort is a ploy to fill the city’s coffers to the tune of $191 per infraction, let’s take the LAPD at their word. Let’s assume that this crackdown is about making the Downtown safer for pedestrians. Then, let’s ask them to please spend more time enforcing the law against automobile drivers who are far more likely to cause a fatal crash than a pedestrian.
An astute reader might note that the Times’ article, available on the paper’s L.A. Now page, quotes a Lieutenant Vernon who claims that in 2009 there were “three accidents involving a vehicle and a pedestrian in the downtown area between Nov. 25 and Dec. 31. Two of those incidents were blamed on the person on foot and resulted in serious injury to the pedestrian, Vernon said. The third incident, which resulted in a pedestrian’s death, was due to a speeding driver.”
Wow, that means, based on this uselessly small sample size, that pedestrians are twice as likely to cause a crash than a driver. It also makes you wonder which of these crashes were the fault of the pedestrian: the December 14th crash where a car jumped a curb and killed a photographer on the sidewalk or a November 26th crash where a woman was dragged over a half mile before the police stopped the driver after noticing the body.
Even if the LAPD had their facts straight, there’s still the question as to whether or not a “jaywalking crackdown” is the best way, or even a good way, to make streets safer. Traffic expert Tom Vanderbilt, author of the book Traffic, argues otherwise.
So what can be done? The answer is not jaywalking crackdowns. These tend to be hard to enforce, lower the public opinion of the police, reinforce the idea of car dominance on city streets, and, most importantly, do not provide an effective bang for the buck. Indeed, the Netherlands, which has essentially legalized jaywalking, has an enviable pedestrian safety record.
Vanderbilt closes the above article by noting that media reports on crashes are often selective and slanted, and they discourage readers from digging beyond the assertions thrown out by reporters and the police. Nowhere is that more true than in Los Angeles.