Interview with Luke Klipp of Jaydancing

Come Jaydance in DTLA this Saturday. Image via Luke Klipp
Come Jaydance in DTLA this Saturday. Image via Luke Klipp

For as long as I can remember, Streetsblog Los Angeles has been lamenting the L.A. Police Department’s targeted ticketing of pedestrians. LAPD “jaywalking” enforcement occurs mostly in downtown Los Angeles, but also outside various central Los Angeles Metro rail stations. I am excited that Los Angeles City Councilmembers Mike Bonin and Jose Huizar recently introduced a motion to begin to examine these stings, but it looks like the archaic walking law will probably need to changed at the state level.

If the LAPD’s misguided pedestrian enforcement bugs you, too, then you’ll probably like Luke Klipp. I met Klipp at a meeting where he testified in favor of full sidewalks on the Glendale-Hyperion Bridge. This Saturday, he is organizing “Jaydancing L.A.” a fun demonstration using artistic flair to protest the LAPD’s jaywalking stings. I interviewed Klipp over email late last week.

Tell us a little about yourself. What’s your background? What led you to get involved in livability issues?
I grew up in Detroit, which probably doesn’t explain why I care so much about livability, except perhaps that Detroit was the antithesis of that, because it was both the Murder Capital and the Motor City. After college, I moved to California and to L.A. a few years later for love. And a few years ago, when my husband and I bought a home in Los Feliz, we found a place that was walkable, close to lots of amenities, neighborly, and still plugged in to the city.

I’ve always cared not only about livability but sustainability. When I see how we’re building our transportation network and developing our city, I think about the implications for me as I age, for our generation’s kids as they start to create their own families, and for our city’s ability to be a good steward of the environment that makes Los Angeles so livable to begin with. I was raised with the core value of leaving the world a better place, even if only in some small measure, for my having been a part of it. That’s at the heart of my passion around livability and livable cities.

What is Jaydancing? What can people expect to see? What do you hope to accomplish?
#jaydancingLA is an art protest in response to the LAPD’s ongoing targeting of people walking in Los Angeles. When the Mayor recently attempted to increase parking tickets as a revenue-generating measure, Angelenos were up in arms. And that’s for $70 tickets. In marked contrast, for at least the past four years, LAPD has been issuing jaywalking tickets at a rate of 12 per day, every single day, in downtown alone. That’s not a public safety measure, that’s a public gouging. I see an LAPD officer on average once a week posted right outside the Metro station at 7th St and Figueroa, waiting on the corner for unsuspecting pedestrians who make the mistake of stepping out into the crosswalk after the ticker has started its countdown. That’ll be $200.

So, on Saturday, June 20, from 2-3 p.m., people are invited to dance their way across, over, and through the crosswalks (legally, mind you) at some intersections in downtown LA along 7th Street. We’ll have music, signs, and a gathering afterward to celebrate. People are encouraged to post to social media using the #jaydancingLA hashtag with messages that continue to draw attention to the LAPD’s tactics.

Why dancing? This is downtown transportation – shouldn’t we be taking this very seriously?
Seeing stories of people who can barely afford the rent getting slapped with $200 tickets is maddening. I’ve wanted to scream at the folks at City Hall for their slow take-up of this issue. But it doesn’t matter how loud you are; it matters how effective you are.

We’ll be dancing BECAUSE it’s fun. Because it’s unusual. Because people will take notice. It’s not another protest with people marching and holding signs and chanting slogans; it’s tapping into Angelenos’ creative energies and having fun because you can only get so mad at the way things are. At some point you just have to channel that frustration and that anger into something beautiful, that makes people smile, and that gives people hope about what could be.

How can people get involved?
Go sign up on the Facebook event page and also on Eventbrite. Invite your friends, and show up on June 20 at 2 p.m. 

What’s wrong with the LAPD ticketing pedestrians in downtown L.A.? Isn’t it about keeping people from doing things that could get themselves injured or killed?
There’s nothing technically wrong with the LAPD enforcing the law. But in five years of driving in L.A., I’ve only ever seen one driver pulled over (outside of a DUI check zone). Meanwhile, in just the past five months in downtown I’ve seen at least two dozen people getting jaywalking tickets, and that’s just what I’ve personally witnessed. These jaywalking stings have gotten so routine that the DTLA Facebook page regularly gets posts about where the LAPD is issuing jaywalking tickets today. The $200 fine is inordinately high compared to the infraction, and there’s absolutely no warning — the ticket and fine are automatic the moment you’re caught stepping into the crosswalk when the ticker is counting down. The law that is being enforced is outdated, preceding the countdown tickers that most people assume are there to give them an idea of how long they would have to cross if they started now, not telling them that entering the crosswalk is now verboten.

On the question of safety, I would agree that this is an effective tactic to improve safety if the LAPD’s enforcement was a both-sides-of-the-coin equation. For as many times as I’ve seen a person getting ticketed for jaywalking, I’ve seen numerous more times that a car illegally enters the crosswalk when there are people crossing it, even to the danger of the people walking. I’ve been that pedestrian almost hit on a couple occasions (and I’ve been yelled at and flipped off by the driver). I’ve seen LAPD officers observe these very actions by drivers and ignore them. And, frankly, if the issue is truly safety, then readers of this blog already know that vehicle speed is a much bigger determinant of safety than whether someone enters a crosswalk with 20 seconds or 15 seconds or even only 5 seconds to go.

Finally, I don’t support jaywalking, per se. My issue is that the punishment and the rationale are completely out of proportion to the offense. In NYC, jaywalking gets you a $50 ticket. And guess what? The NYPD rarely enforces the law on this offense. But I suppose when the LAPD has made over $3.5 million in jaywalking tickets in downtown L.A. alone the past four years, we shouldn’t be surprised that they find this to be an absolute imperative to continue enforcing. They’ve even admitted publicly that it is easier to issue a ticket to someone on foot than to issue a ticket to someone in a car. But that ease of ticketing should not be a reason for failing to enforce the law equally across modes of transportation.

If you had a magic wand and you could automatically change one thing about Los Angeles’ streets, what would it be?
I’d knock down the speed limits to 30 mph max. on all major thoroughfares, and 20 mph max. on all side streets. There’s no reason for the 35 mph speed limit, which is typically taken at 40+ mph outside of rush hour. Even 30 is high for some of these streets that are just not designed for the speeds that we take them. I have heard from friends that slower speed limits would mess up their commutes, to which I call malarkey, since the deciding factor in someone’s commute isn’t the top speed at which they can drive a street, it’s the traffic signals they hit along the way and the amount of traffic on the road. Rather than zipping at 35-40 mph between red lights, a 30 mph speed limit (that’s actually enforced, *ahem* LAPD) could make our streets suddenly more livable and safe for all users, including (and especially?) for people driving.

We’re in a city where nearly all of these major streets are lined with narrow sidewalks abutting numerous destinations. Treating our streets as though their only purpose is to channel vehicles through as quickly as possible is dragging down the success of our local small businesses, turning businesses and homes away from our major thoroughfares, and dragging down our overall economic output as a result. We can do better.

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