Monthly Archive for November, 2011

KPLU wonders why Seattleites don’t jaywalk

KPLU looks at Seattle’s notorious aversion to jaywalking.

In 1978 it was one the first things Patrick Fitzsimons notice when he came to interview for the police chief job. Seattle Police officer John Abraham says the story has become stuff of legend.

“Chief Patrick Fitzsimons and his wife were in a hotel in Belltown and Fitzsimons is looking out the window and he calls his wife over, ‘Ogla you gotta see this! It’s pouring rain. It’s Sunday morning, and they are waiting for the light to cross. We are staying here.’”

KPLU looks at why that is the case and suggests that the Seattle Police have a part in maintaining the non-jaywalking culture here.

As long as it’s the law, police officer Abraham says citing jaywalkers will continue to be a top priority.

“Jaywalking can cost your life; smoking marijuana can just give you a buzz. So, I’ll be after a jaywalker rather than someone with a joint. Unless that person starts to jaywalk, then they’ll really be in trouble.”

KPLU links to the current petition to make jaywalking legal unless it impedes motor vehicle traffic and also provides some advice:

  • Jaywalk in the middle of a block. It’s safer because you have a clear view and there are no cars nearby making turns into the intersection.
  • If you get caught, don’t cop an attitude with the police officer and don’t give them any excuses such as being late or “just grabbing a coffee”. They’ve heard it all. Apologize and move on.
  • You can take your ticket to the city’s magistrate office, where they will probably offer to cut the fine in half.
  • Don’t bother trying to take it to trial. You will likely lose and it will be a big waste of time and resources for all parties involved.
  • The new crosswalks with the count-down timers can be confusing. You are technically jaywalking if you enter the intersection after the walk signal is gone and the numbers start ticking down.

Change Jaywalking Laws in Seattle

While Seattle has lost out on $44 million of funding for sidewalks, transit improvements, bike lanes, and pothole repairs that Proposition 1 would have brought, there is still an opportunity to make a difference for pedestrians.

A petition on is directed towards the city and City Council to Make jaywalking legal unless it obstructs vehicular movement.

Currently, jaywalking in Seattle is a more severe offense than smoking marijuana or public nudity. Only 1 of 4 city council members who participated in our Q&A clearly denied ever jaywalking, however.

Loosening jaywalking laws is necessary, since SPD aggressively targets pedestrians. Last year, SPD issued 1570 tickets to pedestrians, yet less than 200 to drivers for failing to yield the right of way (the largest cause of pedestrian collisions in the city). Auditors have also found that jaywalking citations often escalate to confrontations or violence.

Changing jaywalking laws here would support the city’s goal to make walking one of the easiest ways to get around, similar to pedestrian-friendly nations Sweden and Norway that also have lenient jaywalking policies.

Car manufacturers helped to criminalize jaywalking in the 1920s, and before automobiles, the rule was that “[A]ll persons have an equal right in the highway, and that in exercising the right each shall take due care not to injure other users of the way.”

Changing the law is a low-cost way to improve pedestrian mobility in the city. Click here for the petition.