Community, Police Still Divided  Over Jaywalking Tickets

DOWNTOWN LOS ANGELES - A Downtown uproar erupted late last year, as area residents and workers protested a crackdown on jaywalking by LAPD Central Division officers. Stakeholders were particularly piqued that tickets, with fines of up to $250, were being dispensed not just for blatantly racing across the street against a red light, but even for stepping into the crosswalk when the countdown clock still had 10 or more seconds on it.

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The outcry has garnered the attention of the Los Angeles Police Department, which last week indicated that change could come. However, exactly what sort of change, and when, remains undetermined. For the time being at least, the tickets will continue.

On Wednesday, Jan. 22, approximately 50 people showed up at a community meeting on the issue hosted by the LAPD and the Historic Downtown Los Angeles Business Improvement District. During the event, Capt. Ann Young, who oversees the department’s Traffic Division, said the LAPD is exploring alternatives to the unpopular practice, among them lowering fines and implementing a warning system so that first-time offenders are not hit with a pricey ticket.

“We’re looking at other agencies and departments to see how they handle pedestrian warnings,” said Young.

According to California Vehicle Code 21456, pedestrians are prohibited from walking across an intersection if a Don’t Walk or upraised hand sign has flashed. Beginning to cross the street while the countdown clock is ticking also can result in a violation. 

The problem in the Historic Core and the Financial District, where the majority of the tickets have been dispensed, is that many people don’t know the practice is illegal. Instead, individuals often take a countdown clock as an invitation to dart across the street before the light changes to red.

Although a warning system could eventually be implemented, Young cautioned not to anticipate immediate changes.

“This might be something down the road,” she said, “but it’s going to take a lot of data gathering, a lot of research. Just for example, how many warnings should one person get for the same violation? Do you get a warning for jaywalking? Do you get a warning for running a red light?”

Adjusting the price of tickets is trickier, though it is being examined.

LAPD officials said they do not set the size of the fines, which generally run from $190-$250. Lowering the price, Young said, would need to be done by the city.

“We don’t have anything to do with the costs,” Young said, “but we agree they’re quite expensive.”

For the time being at least, nothing will change, either in the amount of the fine or the enforcement policy. LAPD officials said they will continue to issue citations, including for crossing during the countdown clock.

Although that is the very practice that has angered many in Downtown, police officials said it is a response to an increase in accidents that stem from jaywalking or careless pedestrian behavior.

According to LAPD statistics, there were 153 collisions involving pedestrians and cars in 2013 in Central Division. Thirteen of those incidents were described as “severe,” and there were four deaths.

Additionally, there were also 142 collisions involving bicyclists and cars, though no fatalities. 

“The stats are out there,” Lt. Melody Hainline said. “Peds and vehicles. Bikes and vehicles.”

So far this year, according to Hainline, there have been 18 pedestrian-automobile collisions. The most noteworthy occurred on Jan. 14, when a car carrying Mayor Eric Garcetti struck a pedestrian on Second Street, behind the Police Administration Building. Initial reports suggested the woman, who was taken to the hospital, was jaywalking. 

Capt. Michael Oreb, who oversees Central Division and attended the meeting, voiced his support of the policy, echoing concerns that handing out tickets is a safety measure. 

“One of the things we do need to look at is not getting people hit on the roadway,” he said. 

Residents at the meeting raised a number of concerns, including policing of traffic speeds, saying vehicles often race down streets, especially in the morning, at more than 50 mph, and that some drivers  run through red lights. 

Others complained that the jaywalking crackdown is unnecessary, noting the lax enforcement in cities such as New York City, Chicago and Boston.

More than anything, they said, the jaywalking tickets place an undue financial burden on pedestrians, and that many people can’t afford them. They said it was unfair when few even know they are doing something illegal. 

The LAPD said there has been an attempt at education, though it has occurred online rather than on the road. Central Division has been using social media, and has posted the pedestrian rules on its Facebook page.

“There has been zero education with pedestrians,” Young acknowledged. 

© Los Angeles Downtown News 2014