Since the Savannah Chatham Metropolitan Police Department began issuing stiff fines for jaywalking, there’s been plenty of media coverage and even the formation of a facebook group for people opposed to the fines. And more recently, city officials have signaled they are interested in reducing fines.
Unfortunately, I see a critical question that’s not been answered: Is jaywalking enforcement the best way to reduce pedestrian injuries and deaths?
In yesterday’s Savannah Morning News, Alderman Tony Thomas said while the fines are too high, “We have to change the culture of pedestrians and bike riders. Those safety issues have got to be altered.” Meanwhile, WTOC-TV reports, “Chief Berkow isn’t pulling any punches as he stands by what he calls strictly ‘a safety measure.'”
In reviewing pedestrian safety literature published by state, federal and municipal agencies, many references to enforcement can be found. In the vast majority of reports, studies and guidelines that I’ve seen, motorists are the recommended focus of enforcement efforts. If the goal of the “jaywalking crackdown” is public safety, why are we pursuing a course of action that appears at odds with best practice models? Are we blaming the victim, as Connect Savannah’s Jim Morekis suggests?
Downtown business owner and one of the founders of the facebook group, Ruel Joyner, told WTOC, “It’s not the jaywalking ticket itself. It’s the sentiment under it. That’s not the signal we should be sending when we are the number one walking city in the nation.” And, “We need to be as inviting as we can and look out for the good of downtown.”
I think Joyner’s on the right track here and I hope he and others can look beyond the current controversy and become true advocates for pedestrian safety. After all, getting more people out of their cars and on their feet in downtown Savannah will lessen demand for parking and ease traffic congestion, two trends downtown merchants would welcome. Plus, walkability is good for business.
I urge Joyner and his colleagues to work with Cheif Berkow and other city officials toward environmental improvements, education campaigns and enforcement actions (so long as they are directed where they can do the most good). Such an effort, if sustained and reasoned, will save his customers from paying high fines and save lives.