Concerns about Safety? Muggings? LAPD Announces “Zero Tolerance” on Downtown Jaywalkers

There's being a danger to yourself...Photo:## Seattle Daily Photo.##
There's being a danger to yourself...Photo:## Seattle Daily Photo.##

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.

...and being a danger to everyone.  LAPD should learn the difference.  Photo:## Angeles Times##
...and being a danger to everyone. LAPD should learn the difference. Photo:## Angeles Times##

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.

  • Eric B

    This is why it’s hard to take LAPD seriously on the subject:

    “This is about more than reducing accidents during the holidays,” said LAPD Lt. Paul Vernon. “This is about preventing thefts and robberies. Jaywalking is often done by thieves, purse snatchers and robbery suspects to target their victims.”

    Vernon said such criminals often suddenly see a potential target and run across the road mid-block. To be better able to spot such suspects, the department wants to deter law-abiding citizens from such behavior, he said.

    I hear getaway cars often speed. Let’s focus on eliminating speeders from city streets because that might actually make us safer.

  • Chris L

    Lt. Vernon was joking, right? Jaywalking laws will make it easier to spot purse snatchers?

    When BSing, is it to much to ask to at least make the BS semi-believable?

  • Erik G.

    Meanwhile the fine for driving a two-ton vehicle while holding a cellphone to one’s ear is still a mere $20, no?

  • Erik G.

    Now will we be sure that the LAPD will have the entire California Vehicle Code(CVC) on “Jay*-walking” committed to memory and can Lt. Vernon assure us that all police vehicles will be carrying a copy of the full CVC in published form (available from Thomson/Reuters!) and not just laminated summary-cards?

    (That’s a trick question, as the terms “Jaywalking”, “Jaywalk” or “Jay” do not appear in the CVC.)

    In regards to any mid-block crossing of streets in the City of Los Angeles, I am Not a Lawyer, but the California Vehicle Code (C.V.C.) reads thusly:

    21955. Between adjacent intersections controlled by traffic control
    signal devices or by police officers, pedestrians shall not cross
    the roadway at any place except in a crosswalk.

    It appears to have been decided in the California courts that “Stop” signs are not “traffic control signal devices” and therefore, although pedestrians crossing a road are legally obligated to make themselves a hazard, it is not illegal to cross without a crosswalk except for the situation described in C.V.C. 21955. Granted, most intersections in “Downtown L.A” are controlled by an Electric Traffic Signal, but not all!

    I cannot find any reference to pedestrian crossing outside of a marked or unmarked-but-still-defined-as-such-by-the-CVC crosswalk in the Los Angeles Municipal Code.

    *The term “Jay” is as Vanderbilt notes, “Originally an insult against bumptious ‘jays’ from the country who ineptly gamboled on city sidewalks…”. It is an insulting term for rural denizens. Does the LAPD still have “Paddy”-wagons in its fleet?

  • Rich

    As I posted on Curbed, and Downtown News:

    Even more of an issue to me is the fact that if you step into a crosswalk when the timer has started counting down — doesn’t matter how long you have to cross or whether you make it across before the counter stops or the light turns yellow — you still get a $200 jaywalking ticket.

    As I wrote in my third comment on the Downtown News article, 6th and Hope appears to be an intersection set up exactly for cops to hand out jaywalking tickets. You can sit there and watch the cops hiding behind a utility box, then jump out and hand out a jaywalking ticket to someone who stepped off the curb into the crosswalk a split second after the timer started counting. This is one of the intersections with heavier pedestrian traffic in the Financial District, and the sign turns from “walk” to timer in about two seconds. That’s not nearly enough time for people to even get into the crosswalk. It’s bullshit, and it pisses me off. And no, I haven’t gotten a jaywalking ticket.

  • Missy

    OK, if I understand this correctly, if there is no actual crosswalk, with electric signals or at least painted lines, I’m still encouraged to cross at the intersection, but shouldn’t be fined if I cross in the middle of the street among those intersection? Or do I have to walk a while until I find a crosswalk with light and go through there?

    Little Tokyo and the Arts District is full of small residential intersections without crossing lights, and I just wanna make sure I don’t end up with a ticket by doing something I think I have a right to do.

  • Eric B

    I believe that any intersection creates 4 crosswalks, whether marked or unmarked. Does anyone know whether intersections with service alleys and small side streets count as unmarked crosswalks?

    Do you (or anyone else) know what code they use to cite pedestrians entering the crosswalk during a flashing hand?

  • Rich

    Eric, I don’t know offhand. I haven’t gotten a jaywalking ticket before, but I’ve seen LAPD do it. I’m not sure if it’s the same code section as jaywalking in the “traditional” sense, but it could be. Can we start a letter-writing campaign, or a social media campaign urging the City Council to take some sort of action against this? I’ve written to Councilwoman Jan Perry, and I know she’s good about reading her e-mails. Everyone is so angry about this, it would be a shame to let it fizzle out.

  • Missy

    Thanks! I’m calling LAPD right now to clarify. Also, I’ve heard so many people getting tickets for starting to cross at the flashing light, but I can’t find any reference to that other than ‘if it flashes, you may finish crossing’ but nothing about ‘don’t start if it flashes’.

    OK, the don’t walk into flashing or countdown is 21456(b) – walking against don’t walk sign – so only green (white) is the walk sign, everything else isn’t.

    I was also told that I can cross at unmarked crossings, which is basically just intersections, and because there is no traffic signal or cops directing traffic involved (a la 21955), I can also cross, as long as I’m not presenting a hazard by jumping out there, in between unmarked crossings. I believe this only counts if neither end of the section is controlled by light. To add, the police man was a bit hesitant, so I wouldn’t risk this latter if I wanted to avoid getting a ticket – or having to try to find it in court later.

  • Missy

    Not find it in court, fight it :)

  • Eric B, every location where a sidewalk could extend across the road is an unmarked crosswalk.

    This includes T intersections and minor streets.

  • This is what we get when we don’t have a comprehensive plan for LA’s transportation. Former councilwoman Wendy Gruel, in 2008, found out that LA has no transportation strategic plan (a required long range plan for our transportation network). She brought everyone together to talk about the issue, department heads had their staff prepare reports, but it all fizzled and she ran for Controller.

    Long story short, we have freaking law enforcement doing the job that our DOT and Planning Departments should be doing – making sure that people can get around safely!

    The last thing we need is a bunch of ticket-happy cops turning pedestrians (aka actual shoppers!) into contestants in the criminal justice system lottery of misery.

  • Basically all it does is clog up the system, if everyone challenges their ticket. With the four part system I’ve discussed before (extend ticket 60 days, request night court arraignment, trial by declaration, trial de novo), it can take a year or more to adjudicate a ticket. Thus any revenue the City would see would come many months down the line. They are trading some time now for a lot of twiddling of thumbs in court six to twelve months down the line.

  • If I’m on a skateboard or on a bicycle, or wearing roller skates or dressed up as an automobile in immaculate custom traversing through town in a traffic lane (not the sidewalk, but in the traffic lane itself), do I heed the traffic signal or the pedestrian crosswalk signal?

    Probably the traffic signal, right? After all – I’m a moving vehicle/ I am traffic!
    Therefore, what is the fundamental difference between a pedestrian and a moving vehicle? If I have wheels on my shoes, am I a vehicle? Or, am I still a pedestrian? Am I a pedestrian while sitting in my car? If so, then could I get a ticket for crossing a crosswalk on a flashing hand while within the confines of my car?

    If my futuristic car learns to walk, is it a pedestrian? Are those massive AT-AT Walkers from the Empire Strikes Back pedestrians or vehicles?

    If I am in the traffic lane with wheels on my shoes, am I a vehicle? And if I’m a vehicle, which signal do I have to obey?!

    Are mechanical robots vehicles and do robots get jaywalking tickets?

    Where I’m going with this is simple:

    Instead of walking on sidewalks, I suggest that all of us as pedestrians get in the habit of wearing roller skates and wrap ourselves in cardboard boxes that resemble the shapes of commonly recognizable automobiles (I’m either going to dress like a Prius or a Peterbilt, I haven’t decided which). We obey traffic laws as vehicles instead of as pedestrians and we regain our personal liberty and continue pursuing our healthy lifestyles.

    And we continue to revitalize downtown Los Angeles by frequenting its sidewalks as often as possible.

    -Will Wright

  • What, no one supports this ‘crackdown’ on criminal walkers? The possibility of pedestrians crossing mid-block would make drivers have to slow down and be alert, which takes all the fun and freedom out of driving.

  • Spokker

    At the legally allowed speeds jaywalking is likely to result in the slamming of the brakes and a dead pedestrian even if you are alert. You’ll be alert enough to skid out of control at 40-55 MPH (yes, Orange County has 55 MPH zones on some arterials, mostly down in South OC).

    You would have to lower speed limits if you wanted to encourage jaywalking.

  • WIll, a vehicle is rather strictly defined in the California Vehicle Code. Bicycles are “devices”, which in this state is a special class of object. Rollerblades and skateboards … I’m not sure, but I’d guess they are akin to being a pedestrian in a modified state, but otherwise subject to the rules governing walking. I am, of course, not a lawyer.

  • Thank heaven! If there’s one thing the police need to crack down on, it’s jaywalking. I expect that with those jaywalkers safely behind (metaphorical) bars, Downtown is soon to become a land of rainbows and lollipops.

  • Alek F

    It’s really pathetic that pedestrians are increasingly becoming a target of harassment. Shame on LAPD!! If anything, pedestrians need to be protected, not harassed by cops or get ticketed. The drivers of automobiles are the ones who need to be cracked-down on, period. What LAPD is doing is a destroying any desire to walk in Los Angeles. Have you visited other (pedestrian-friendly) cities?? Including Washington DC, New York, etc.! Well, in those cities pedestrians get much more respect than in Los Angeles; in those cities people can walk anywhere, anytime, and even crossing in front of the cops on red light will never ever result in a ticket. Why? Because the cops, and the city leaders, care about pedestrians, and respect them. In our City of Angels, unfortunately, only the automobiles get respected because it’s a huge money-maker, it’s a huge car propaganda. Shame on Los Angeles police! Shame on Los Angeles city leaders who crated this stupid “jaywalking” laws. We need to improve conditions for pedestrians, and give them respect, and stop harassing people!!

  • Alek F

    @ Drew: no way, pal. What the police needs to crack down on – is cars who nearly hit pedestrians, the crazy drivers who don’t stop at crosswalks. Let’s stop harassing pedestrians, for crying out loud!!

  • Alek,

    If this is the same Drew Reed that regularly posts here, I would bet he was being sarcastic. Drew’s politics seem to be just to the left of Damien’s. Newton that is, not Goodmon.

  • Where is American Apparel? LEGALIZE PEDESTRIAN

  • @Ichabod I’m actually a card carrying Marxist. But that’s only because they’re going to give me a free latte if I get my card stamped 10 times. Ahhh Marxist lattes: instead of cream on the top, they use class struggle.

  • Sameer

    @Josef: That’s not entirely true. While bicycles are referred to as a “device” in the CVC, they are still subject to the same laws as motor vehicles (with some distinctions, such as keeping to the right when not passing slower vehicles or turning left, and of course laws about bike lights, etc.), not those of pedestrians. The proper use of bicycles is extensively covered in the CVC (not that the LAPD knows much about that, though…):


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