Jaywalking crackdown: What’s the goal?


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.

This entry was posted in Transportation on by .

About John Bennett

Transportation, land use, local farming and green building are all potential topics for Sustainable Savannah. The goal is to aggregate content about local events and projects, so there will be a central place to review everything that’s happening. The site is aimed at encouraging collaboration and information sharing between groups and individuals currently engaged in sustainability efforts. The site can also provide a snapshot of Savannah for green-minded people who are considering visiting or moving to the area.

11 thoughts on “Jaywalking crackdown: What’s the goal?

  1. Dave

    Great article, I’m just about to write something very similar on Portlandize, regarding the best ways of improving safety in our cities – I agree that we often go about it completely backwards. We tell the most vulnerable road users that they had better just get out of the way of the least vulnerable users, and if they don’t, well, that’s their own fault. The more and more I think about these things, the more I think the automobile industry must have some very deep-rooted connections in politics all over the country. Either that, or they’ve just practiced some amazing advertising skills over the last 60-70 years.

  2. MikeB

    The problem is the high rate of speed that drivers are reaching downtown. Aside from the danger its ultimately foolish as they just end up waiting at redlights. With the large amount of on street parking and tree lined boulevards obscuring vision the police need to rigidily enforce speed limits- even when someone is only reaching 45 MPH for 200 feet before they slam on their brakes for a red light.

  3. Sean

    My mommy taught me how to look both ways before crossing the street. I don’t need my taxes spent on police officers doing the same.

    As someone who works downtown and commutes 1.5 miles on foot this issue is near to my heart. Great article.

    I’m afraid I’m a fairly new subscriber to this blog so I don’t know if this has been explored in a previous article but I think that the psych/sociological separation of an individual from the “outside world” is a very interesting topic. It’s relevant to this article in the discussion of autos and their lack of consideration for peds but is also applicable to many other urban issues or problems (road rage, bikes or peds vs. cars, wearing headphones everywhere you go, etc.).

    Thanks again.

  4. Chris

    I’ve been walking to & from work for more than 10 years in downtown Atlanta. Long ago I read the relevant GA code: pedestrians are given the right of way at every intersection–even where the crosswalk is only implied! That was news to me, and surely would be to most drivers here in GA. Of course, when I _am_ driving, and come up on a jaywalker, I get annoyed myself, but I _don’t_ go ahead and run them down!

  5. Tony

    Nice post! As it turns out, I was recently stopped for jaywalking in Phoenix, AZ. Not long ago, I went carfree when our new light rail system started operating, I’ve been using mass transit and walking alot. About a month or two ago I was heading home from work, stopped at the crosswalk (there’s a traffic light),I waited for traffic to pass, and even though I had the red light I continued on across the street. Unfortunately I did this right in front of a police officer. At 39, you kind of forget the rules for WALKING!!! Anyway, the officer took my information, went back to his patrol vehicle, I’m sitting on the grass waiting for him to come back while his partner watches over me, I could’ve died I was so embarrassed! All I could think was “surely, there must be SOMETHING going on other than a guy crossing the street on his way home from work.” Long story short, the officer let me go with a warning.
    I fully agree that there should be more enforcement for the people who are in cars, not on foot.

  6. Dave

    If you really think about how our cities are laid out at this point in time, it becomes more and more obvious that any non-motorized form of transportation is marginalized, pushed off to the side, secondary. While Portland is a relatively friendly city for cyclists, pedestrians, skateboarders, inline skaters, etc – it is obvious that in most parts of the city, the roads are the primary right of way, and primarily cars belong in them. Bicycles must ride as far to the right as safely possible, they must get over to the right to let cars pass, and many people still feel they shouldn’t be in the road at all, pedestrians are not allowed unless crossing, and then only at crosswalks (painted or not). It sends a very clear message that roads are for cars, and the rest of the people, though we’ll allow you some access to the roads, should stay out of the way of the cars.

    We used to live in Vilnius, Lithuania. In the city, probably one third of the roads in the main part of the city are car-free, blocked by large planters or bollards or just too narrow to drive on. Every street has sidewalks, many of them almost as large as the streets. One of the main streets through the center of the city was blocked by bollards after 6pm and before 5am, so that no cars were allowed, and especially during the summer, it would be full of people just walking around. In fact, the whole city was full of people just walking around. It felt there like pedestrians had priority. If you came to a crosswalk, without fail, oncoming cars would stop and let you across (before you were in the road). Speed limits were such that in most parts of the city, you never felt endangered by traffic. We lived for a year without a car, and really the only times I wished I had one were when we had to carry large grocery loads on the trolley buses, because it was so easy and pleasant to live without one there. Public transit went everywhere, even out into the country, and has steep discounts for students, veterans, pensioners, disabled. It was such a totally different feeling that we were shocked when we came back to Portland by how impersonal it felt at times, when we could go an entire day and hardly see a single person outside of a car on the roads (depending on where in the city you ended up during the day). A city like Vilnius feels much more human, I think.

    Portland is definitely moving that direction, and doing some things really well, but I think we – as most of the U.S. – have a long way to go just in our perception of how the city should be prioritized. It’s not that we should get rid of cars, they are an important part of our lives. However, we need to realize that our cities will be much more livable if people who aren’t in cars feel safe on our streets, and we need to make a noted effort to make that happen.

  7. Terry Smith

    My son and I visited Savannah GA to tour SCAD during the week of May 19-22. My son was ticketed for J-walking while on his way to an appointment with SCAD administrators, he was walking with another SCAD student who was not ticketed because she did not have her identification with her…so a bit of advice if you are stopped, don’t admit to having any ID! Did I mention that the officer chuckled when he was told by my son that he was visiting from out of state?? Told my son the ticket was “no big deal”, guess the joke was on us! Is there a bit of profiling going on here?? Guess if you can afford to be going to SCAD then you can afford the ticket…Welcome to Savannah??? I think not! As far as hurting tourism, you bet! I know that I personally spent a lot less in those gift shops.

  8. Fibes

    In past months I’ve noticed the new “stop for pedestrians” signs pop up all over Savannah. Unlike London, California, Oregon and a few other places where I’ve experienced drivers stopping all the time at croswalks, we do not have that here. Add to the fact that these signs are giving pedestrians false security that drivers will stop they fly out from behind live oaks into the street without a glance left or right. The City has put people at risk by not providing signage to “look both ways” at these very same intersections or by ticketing drivers for not stopping. Either way, they are battling with windmills while the rest of us get beaten down.

  9. Max Schneider

    “Jaywalking […] can disrupt traffic”

    Why do they always fail to realize that pedestrians (and cyclists) are traffic too? AFAIK cars are disrupting traffic a lot, not the other way around.

  10. Coni

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