DTLA - If you try to cross the street in the middle of a traffic-clogged Downtown block, or race through a crosswalk when only a couple seconds remain on the countdown clock, and cause drivers to honk in exasperation, then you may deserve a jaywalking ticket (you also may get hit by a car). If, however, you enter an intersection when the countdown clock still has 10, 15 or 20 seconds left, and there is plenty of time to reach the other side before the light turns red, you should not be penalized.
That’s common sense, but common sense and the law don’t always square. For years LAPD officers have been dispensing jaywalking tickets, with many being given to pedestrians in Downtown Los Angeles who step into a crosswalk after the countdown clock has begun, not knowing this is illegal. It is, and too often there has been no mercy.
So it is fortunate that state Assemblymen Miguel Santiago and Phil Ting have authored legislation that would change California law, allowing people to start crossing even after the countdown clock has begun, if there is time to reach the other side safely. Their AB 390 passed the California Assembly’s Transportation Committee this month. We hope it quickly makes its way through proper channels and is signed into law by Gov. Jerry Brown.
This effort actually began in Downtown. Last year, 14th District City Councilman José Huizar authored a resolution calling on the state to update crosswalk laws — existing legislation was written before countdown clocks were instituted. According to an Assembly report on the bill, countdown timers first appeared in San Francisco in 2001. Today they’re ubiquitous.
Huizar and Santiago, whose territory also includes Downtown, took action in response to a series of LAPD stings. Numerous Downtowners have been hit with jaywalking tickets for something they never would have guessed is forbidden.
The police activity isn’t new. Back in 2010 Los Angeles Downtown News reported on people getting slapped with $190 jaywalking tickets. At the time and ever since, LAPD officials have said they were trying to cut down on risky pedestrian behavior and reduce accidents. It’s a noble pursuit, but financially hammering someone for a countdown violation is egregious.
Changing the law doesn’t mean people should behave like idiots and run into the street whenever they want. There may also be disagreements between police and pedestrians as to what constitutes a reasonable time to cross the road — there is no single answer, due to differences in street width and traffic conditions.
Still, this is a right-minded approach to an outdated policy. It seems silly that it takes a state law to address a Downtown problem, but if this is what is required to rectify the situation, so be it.
© Los Angeles Downtown News 2017