Jaywalking and Parking Tickets: The Livable Streets Litmus Test of 2014

Over our end-of-the-year break, there were two stories related to how the city thinks about its transportation needs which kept popping up in the news: the LAPD’s “Jaywalking Crackdown”** and the movement to restructure the city’s parking fees. The two stories were both treated as stories of regular people being harassed by a money hungry government.

http://brighamyen.com/2013/12/25/brigham-yen-featured-ny-times-car-culture-clash-los-angeles-police-vs-pedestrians/. Photo:##http://brighamyen.com/2013/12/25/brigham-yen-featured-ny-times-car-culture-clash-los-angeles-police-vs-pedestrians/##Brigham Yen/DTLA Rising##
http://brighamyen.com/2013/12/25/brigham-yen-featured-ny-times-car-culture-clash-los-angeles-police-vs-pedestrians/. Photo:##http://brighamyen.com/2013/12/25/brigham-yen-featured-ny-times-car-culture-clash-los-angeles-police-vs-pedestrians/##Brigham Yen/DTLA Rising##

While much of the mainstream narrative was the same, in truth the two couldn’t be more different. The stories are really about how Los Angeles residents see public space.

The parking reform movement in speared by a pair of advocates, one of whom happens to be the force behind getting the city to end its red light camera program, creating an advocacy machine to push against the city’s parking policies. They call the fees for illegal parking exorbitant, despite the fees being on par or lower than that in New York or Chicago and other major American cities.

The cheapest parking ticket in L.A. is a $58. In Chicago the cheapest fee is $50. In New York, it’s $65. The most common ticket in L.A. is $73 for “parking in a prohibitive zone.” In New York that costs scofflaw parkers $65. In Chicago it’s $75.

Some of their proposed reforms make sense, others are thinly veiled attempts to overthrow parking norms.

But the bedrock of this movement is a simple belief that making space for cars, and giving up a public resource to car owners at below market costs, is a primary function for cities in general and Los Angeles in particular.

Naturally, L.A. Weekly is very excited about all of this. As is the local television news.

The LAPD’s “Jaywalking Crackdown” in Downtown Los Angeles supports the notion that the public resource known as “city streets” are really just private space for automobiles. The LAPD cites safety for “cracking down” on people who step off a curb moments after a traffic signal goes from white to flashing red and make it across the street with time to spare. Even a precursory look at what’s causing crashes downtown shows that pedestrians crossing at crosswalks isn’t really a major safety issue, it’s cars turning either “right on red” or left after the signal has changed  without looking.

But what’s captured the media’s attention is the cost of the tickets. With tickets ranging from $197 to $258, the tickets for safely crossing the street are over three times the cost of the most common parking ticket. Remember, the “jaywalking sting” is not about catching people darting across the street mid-block, it’s been about ticketing people crossing at traffic signals.

To be fair, the New York Times’ Adam Nagourney took a look at how the “jaywalking crackdown” is really about the changing nature of streets and transportation in Los Angeles. The piece prominently featured Brigham Yen, the writer who’s DTLA Rising website has become a replacement for readers who desperately miss Blog Downtown. Earlier today, the Los Angeles Daily News blasted the stings and called for their end.

But this kind of crackdown has every possibility of nipping in the bud a pedestrian culture that is just beginning to flourish in a Southern California, where for too long the automobile has been the sole king of the urban jungle. Both the tourists and the locals who are flocking to the sidewalks of downtown could get a message that their kind are still not welcome here. If safety is truly the concern of the LAPD, begin an education program, not an entrapment one.

Both advocates for safe and attractive pedestrian experiences and advocates of below-market-rate private property storage plan on making a push at City Hall this year for changes to address their particular concerns. How City Hall reacts to these movements will be one of the first tests of whether or not this City Council and Mayor actually believe the rhetoric they promote about creating a safer city for people to utilize public space.

So far, the results have been mixed. On one hand they gave us the, “Spring Street Debacle” on the other the nascent “People St” program. But the elected leaders come down on the side of high-cost pedestrian crossings and low cost automobile parking, then we’ll know all we have to about the city’s true transportation priorities.

** – We use the term “jaywalking crackdown” in this article because it’s the term used by the LAPD about what it is they’re doing when they ticket pedestrians. We add the quotes because “jaywalking” is a term invented by the auto lobby last century to reframe how people think about street safety. This rebranding effort has been phenomenally successful.

  • traal

    Q1. The “walk” sign is analogous to a green traffic light. The flashing “don’t walk” sign is like a red traffic light, and so is the solid “don’t walk” sign. What’s the pedestrian equivalent of a yellow traffic light?

    Q2: An elderly pedestrian enters the crosswalk when the “walk” signal is showing, and walks across the street as fast as he can. But before he reaches the other side, the solid “don’t walk” signal appears and then the traffic light for cross traffic turns green. At this moment in time, who has the right of way, the pedestrian or the cross traffic?

    Q3. A tractor-trailer is hauling a heavy load uphill through an intersection. It enters the intersection when the light is green, but cannot make it all the way through the intersection by the time the light turns red. What can the driver be ticketed for?

  • calwatch

    I think there would be a lot less complaining if jaywalking or pedestrian violations in general were decriminalized like parking tickets and subject to administrative adjudication. Right now, you can waste an officer’s time by just using the tactics I’ve described here before to delay any moving violation – extension, night court arraignment, trial by declaration, trial de novo – to drag it out over a year and make it very likely the officer won’t show. Even if you just went straight to trial I would bet a lot of officers wouldn’t show for a jaywalking ticket. If everyone who could afford to take it to trial did so (noting that it is not a point on your record since it is a pedestrian violation, so there is nothing other than the financial penalty stopping you from doing so), the traffic courts would gum up and many more of these tickets would be dismissed.

  • Alex Brideau III

    A1: At present, there is no pedestrian “yellow light”, though there should be. If you’ll pardon the conceit, I’ve been complaining that something like this would happen ever since the ill-conceived flashing-hand countdown timers were activated. We peds care less about how many seconds we have until the hand becomes solid and more about how many seconds we have until it’s illegal to begin crossing. So if we can get LADOT to retask the countdown timers to instead count down the *walk phase* of the signal, that would serve as our “yellow light” (i.e. If I’m half a block away and the walk countdown is 2, then I’m not going to rush to the corner, because I know I won’t make it, but if it says 30, I can be confident I’ll make the signal).

    A2: I believe technically the pedestrian has the right of way at all times, even if they are crossing illegally. So in your example, a driver would be at fault for hitting someone still using the crosswalk even after the driver’s light has turned green. As for the the flashing hand, it indicates you should not begin crossing; and I think the solid hand indicates that you can now expect cross traffic to pass through the crosswalk.

    A3: I believe this would be a gridlocking ticket as a driver is not supposed to enter an intersection unless they can make it through completely. Apparently many drivers in LA don’t know or don’t care about this law, because I see this happen as often as (or more than) I see jaywalkers. (I’ve never quite figured out how this law jibes with the suggested practice of left hand turners entering the intersection assuming they will make the light. Maybe it’s time to dust off the old driver’s handbook.)

  • PC

    You see, folks, extortionate and opportunistic rent-seeking behavior by local government is BAD when applied to road users who happen to be walking, and GOOD when applied to road users who happen to be driving? Got it? Good.

  • traal

    @Alex Brideau III “a driver is not supposed to enter an intersection unless they can make it through completely.”

    You are referring to CVC 22526 which says a driver is not supposed to enter an intersection “unless there is sufficient space on the other side of the intersection or marked crosswalk to accommodate the vehicle driven without obstructing the through passage of vehicles from either side.” In my example, there is sufficient space, just not sufficient time to clear the intersection before the light turns red.

    So a motorist doesn’t have to clear the intersection by the time the light turns red, but pedestrians do.

  • DMalcolmCarson

    I think we should take a somewhat less black/white view about “below-market-rate private property storage”. Street parking, particularly in business districts, is IMHO a public service. First, it provides a barrier between the pedestrian realm and moving traffic, which makes walking and generally hanging out on the sidewalk a generally more pleasant and attractive experience. Second, businesses, particularly the kinds of independent, small businesses that don’t have their own off-street parking lots, do depend on available street parking. Third, the presence of parking on a street serves as a traffic calming device in that drivers have to avoid people pulling into and out of parking spaces.

    Over the break, I spent time in downtown Palo Alto, which has transformed in my lifetime from a sleepy, mostly dead downtown district to a very lively one full of pedestrians, successful businesses, etc. Despite an incredible demand for parking there, they still don’t charge for short-term parking anywhere, on-street or in the structured parking lots build on the side streets. But they do regulate parking by time fairly strictly, making sure to keep all-day parkers out of the most easily accessible spaces.

    They don’t do these things because they want to encourage driving over walking or biking; Palo Alto is very bike and pedestrian oriented community, having constructed bike boulevards as far back as the 70’s, bike lanes nearly everywhere, good sidewalks, etc. They do it because street parking done right helps contribute to an overall environment that is conducive to all modes off traffic and most importantly, to a vibrant and happening business district.

    The question we have to ask about parking policy is whether in trying to extract as much money as possible from parkers both legal and illegal, and/or eliminating street parking altogether, are in fact being “penny wise and pound foolish” by negative impacting the pedestrian realm and local businesses?

    The jaywalking ticketing is ridiculous.

  • Alex Brideau III

    Ah. I think I understand now. If I’m following you, another example might be if I’m driving through an intersection (maybe on a yellow) and the light turns red before I clear the intersection. If that’s the case, I don’t believe there is a violation.

    As pedestrians, when pedestrian signals are present, we are supposed to follow them, not the traffic light. Sometimes a walk signal is given on a red, etc., etc.

  • Kenny Easwaran

    The first and third purposes you mention are served by street parking as long as it exists – it doesn’t matter how cheap or expensive the parking is, as long as most of it is in use. No one advocates making parking so expensive that half the spaces are available at any given moment.

    The second purpose you mention may well depend on the parking being relatively cheap, depending on the sort of business you’re talking about. But as long as customers are spending several dozen dollars shopping, having them spend $5 on parking isn’t too bad, and can help cause turnover just as well as time limits on parking does.

    But I think you’re right that we ought to be considering all three of these purposes whenever people recommend eliminating street parking altogether. (I’m personally of mixed feelings about the idea – I have strong feelings in both directions.)

  • sam

    The city’s public transportation flaws and anti-walking rules stem from the fact that it’s a city built on driving. We’re not meant to start walking or else they’ll lose all the money for cars, smog checks, gas, parking tickets, traffic violations, DUIs, etc and the entire culture will change. So they make it virtually impossible to get anywhere unless you have a car, which I do not, and will not get.

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