In his May 17 “City Talk” column in the Savannah Morning News, Bill Dawers wrote what I have been thinking:
In the aftermath of a recent tragedy in which two visitors to the city were struck by a vehicle at an intersection devoid of either traffic or pedestrian signals, the police are going to start ticketing pedestrians, mostly local ones, who do not obey the directions at intersections that do have signals? Why not go after the downtown drivers who do not yield to pedestrians when they are legally required to do so?
The incident he references is still under investigation, but details released so far would seem to suggest the pedestrian was not at fault. I think Dawers’ question is completely valid. Why not go after drivers?
Over the last several days I’ve been hearing chatter via Twitter and other channels about pedestrians being fined for jaywalking. This WTOC story indicates some motorists are being cited, too. But the emphasis seems to be on pedestrians.
Is this an effective way to reduce pedestrian injuries and deaths? According to the authors of Kansas City’s Walkability Plan, who examined best practices in enforcement, jaywalking crackdowns are not an effective strategy for promoting pedestrian safety:
Jaywalking is disorderly in appearance and can disrupt traffic, but it is not a big factor in pedestrian death and injury. The Seattle Police Department vigorously enforced the anti-jaywalking laws in that city for 50 years, issuing more than 500,000 citations. Seattle’s pedestrian crash experience was little different from the rest of the USA where little or no attention was paid to this problem.
The folks in Kansas City have a low opinion of jaywalking enforcement as an prudent use of law enforcement resources:
This is not considered an effective safety strategy. Jaywalking enforcement is often episodic and inconsistent, but is usually seen as a waste of police manpower. Many police administrators start jaywalking enforcement programs only to later regret this decision.
It’s worth noting that jaywalking itself is something of an invented infraction, conjured by groups seeking to redesign American cities around automobiles, according to Peter Norton, author of “Street Rivals: Jaywalking and the Invention of the Motor Age Street.”
Before the American city could be physically reconstructed to accommodate automobiles, its streets had to be socially reconstructed as places where cars belong. Until then, streets were regarded as public spaces, where practices that endangered or obstructed others (including pedestrians) were disreputable. Motorists’ claim to street space was therefore fragile, subject to restrictions that threatened to negate the advantages of car ownership.
So here’s what they did:
Automotive interest groups (motordom) recognized this obstacle and organized in the teens and 1920s to overcome it. One tool in this effort was [the term] jaywalker. Motordom discovered this obscure colloquialism in the teens, reinvented it, and introduced it to the millions. It ridiculed once-respectable street uses and cast doubt on pedestrians’ legitimacy in most of the street.
And what is jaywalking, exactly? The word does not appear in the Georgia Code. And in fact, what’s typically called jaywalking — crossing the street between intersections — is perfectly legal under state law in many areas of Savannah. From the O.C.G.A.:
§ 40-6-92. Crossing roadway elsewhere than at crosswalk (c) Between adjacent intersections at which traffic-control signals are in operation, pedestrians shall not cross at any place except in a marked crosswalk.
That means, for example, that if I want to cross Broughton Street midblock, between Abercorn Street (where there is a traffic light) and Lincoln Street (where there is not) I can do so as long as I “yield the right of way to all vehicles upon the roadway unless I have already, and under safe conditions, entered the roadway.” § 40-6-92. (a)
It seems to me if the true goal is to reduce pedestrian injuries and deaths, the main focus should be vehicle speed enforcement. Considering that when pedestrians are hit by cars:
at 20 mph, the risk of death is 5 percent, and most injuries are minor
at 30 mph, the risk of death is 45 percent, and most injuries are serious
at 40 mph, 85 percent of pedestrians are killed.
Why not go after those who can easily kill people with their vehicles, instead of going after whose who can easily be killed?
Photo by Poppyseed Bandits via flickr.