Police use car vs. pedestrian crash to counter critics, warn walkers

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I really didn’t want to write about this again, but it looks like the Savannah Chatham Metropolitan Police Department is casting a June 19 car vs. pedestrian crash as vindication of its unpopular crackdown on jaywalking, which was launched last month. With a headline that’s unusually snarky for a police department communication, “Still Think We’re Being too Strict?”, the press release reports the injury of a pedestrian who “was not in a crosswalk at the time of the incident” and promises, “once released from the hospital, the pedestrian will be cited for jaywalking.

I have no problem with traffic crashes being used as cautionary tales to educate the public. However, I’ve heard from some folks who think the police are using this as a “gotcha moment” to challenge criticism of the jaywalking crackdown.

And couldn’t this latest car vs. pedestrian crash just as easily be worked the opposite way? Instead of proving the need for a crackdown, couldn’t it just as easily be spun as evidence that the crackdown hasn’t worked? After all, the police department’s well-publicized and enthusiastically executed crackdown on pedestrians didn’t prevent this incident. In fact, the latest crash would seem offer evidence that citing pedestrians for even the slightest infraction does not generally improve public safety (which is the conclusion of every item of research on the topic I’ve been able to find). Does it also explain why law enforcement agencies that undertake similar enforcement campaigns eventually abandon them?

Please understand that I do not wish to vilify the police nor do I disagree with the enforcement of city ordinances. I imagine the police felt compelled to do something after a foreign dignitary was killed in a downtown crosswalk, generating international attention. Unfortunately, the response has burned through police staff hours, pedestrians’ wallets and public goodwill for the department.

Meanwhile, the opposition to the jaywalking crackdown has turned out to be a pretty big tent, attracting not only those who question the effectiveness of the practice and the potential damage done to the city’s reputation as a walkable destination, but also those who have used it as a base from which to attack parking enforcement, which is beneficial to pedestrians (and something we need more of, not less). Others see the crackdown as a conspiracy to boost city government revenues. Some even view it as a test case for advancing libertarian political ideologies.

Now into the fray, I’m afraid, comes a third group comprised of motorists, who think the pedestrian’s sole role is to stay out of the way — even in environments that were designed for pedestrians.  You might call it a “a gradual shifting in the balance of responsibility for safety onto the pedestrian” kicked into overdrive and it’s something Bill Dawers predicted some time ago:

“I fear that this recent high-profile campaign targeting pedestrians only reinforced many drivers’ misplaced sense of entitlement on downtown streets.”

When enforcement efforts are aimed almost exclusively at people on foot, it conveys the idea that pedestrians belong at the bottom of the urban mobility food chain. I detect many people are responding to this as references to “idiot pedestrians” and similarly derogatory terms seem to be on the uptick in both online and in-person conversations locally.

All this has distracted attention from the questions we really ought to be asking as a community: What are the best practice models for reducing injuries and deaths and how can we implement them here? Here’s hoping we can take a deep breath, develop sensible strategies for addressing the problem and support the police and other agencies as they work to make Savannah’s streets safer.

Illustration from “Jaywalking and the Invention of the Motor Age Street,” by Peter Norton.

This entry was posted in Advocacy, Government, Politics, 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.

5 thoughts on “Police use car vs. pedestrian crash to counter critics, warn walkers

  1. Fibes

    Excatly what we need, smug police officers protecting idiots from themselves. I’m not sure which part of “to serve and protect” this behaviour comes from but I am positive that the effort is something a private company would be impeached for.
    It appears to be a good time to rob, cheat, steal, murder and pillage: unfortunately some of us have important work to do.
    What’s step 3 in the “run people out of Savannah” campaign?

  2. DMKY

    Crosswalks are the ghettos of the unmotorized untouchables. They are shoddy and inconvenient. A person on foot has equal rights as motorists to speedy travel without senseless delay. Given their lower environmental impact and their unlikelyhood of depriving others of essential liberty (life), they arguably have higher priority. The only moral action a person can take is to disregard crosswalks and J-walk.

    -Off the Reservation in KY

  3. MikeB

    Does anyone know? Has the driver that killed the Swedish tourist been cited? All this hoopla seems to have driven that question away.

  4. One who knows

    I believe that the police should check the vision of the driver. Assuming the driver is whom I have been lead to believe it is, he has extremely poor vision and should no longer be driving. He was also in an exhausted state which is not illegal, but may have contributed to reduced reflexes.

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