Tag Archive for 'jaywalking'

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 Change.org 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.


Should jaywalking laws change?

Pedestrians in Seattle, unlike those in some other American cities, often seem hesitant to jaywalk. While that may show us to be a patient and obedient sort of people, strict obeisance to marked crosswalks can impede pedestrian mobility as broken pedestrian signals add time to pedestrians’ perambulations.

Waiting for light signals adds up to a lot of wasted time and reduces the efficiency of walking compared to other modes of transportation. This seems to conflict with the goal of the city’s Walk, Bike, Ride program to make walking one of the easiest ways to get around.

For what it’s worth, only 1 of 4 city council members who participated in our Q&A clearly denied ever jaywalking.

By voter-approved ordinance, marijauna use is the city’s lowest-priority law to be enforced by the city. Our city council members are willing to admit to jaywalking, but would they admit smoking pot? If jaywalking is something that even our elected officials do, should jaywalking be the new lowest law-enforcement priority?

Or should the laws change? Should we make jaywalking legal unless it obstructs other vehicular movement?

[poll id=”10″]


Should Jaywalking be a Crime?

The jaywalking stop that went out of control has made the national news with video of a Seattle police officer punching a girl.

But that raises the question – should jaywalking be illegal in the first place?

Dan Savage of The Stranger says no, citing David Owen’s book Green Metropolis (emphasis his):

In Manhattan, creative jaywalking is an environmental positive, because it makes traveling on foot easier: it enables pedestrians to maintain their forward progress when traffic lights are against them, and to gain small navigational advantages by weaving between cars on clogged side streets—and it also keeps drivers on their guard, forcing them to slow down…. Tightly controlling pedestrians with a view to improving the flow of car traffic just results in more and faster driving, and that makes life even harder and more dangerous for people on foot or on bikes.

In fact, studies have shown that pedestrians are safer in urban areas where jaywalking is common than they are in urban areas where it is forbidden.

His post has received 150 comments with many different viewpoints.

Some people feel that jaywalking is a safety issue:

Jaywalking might seem insignificant in a city with serious crime issues, but police and the nearby high school say it’s a dangerous epidemic. John Navel graduated from nearby Franklin High the year before and said many people don’t see anything wrong with running across a busy road. “They don’t think it’s a big deal that’s why they were saying ‘you just hit her over jaywalking.” Navel believes the officer acted appropriately when he used force to gain control of the situation and he supports the officer going out there to look for jaywalkers.

The police say they also get complaints from businesses and even drivers. Barbara Hayes passes through on her way to and from work every day. She doesn’t think it happens too frequently but is glad the officers are trying to stop it. “I saw an incident the other night, the guy was lucky he didn’t get killed – it was only because there was a smart driver there.”

However, it appears that jaywalking stops often turn confrontational:

Auditors who oversee complaints against Seattle police officers have repeatedly expressed concerns about jaywalking stops and minor street confrontations that escalate into physical altercations, and they say better training is needed.

At least four auditor reports since 2004 — the most recent last year — have flagged the issue, which is receiving renewed attention in the wake of Monday’s videotaped jaywalking stop in which an officer punched a 17-year-old girl after she shoved him.

The history of jaywalking is an interesting one. As linked to from this blog, The Toronto Star reviews the history of jaywalking. Here’s more good insight into how walking across the street has become criminalized as “jaywalking”:

The cleverest anti-jaywalking publicity effort was in Detroit in 1922, where the Packard Motor Car Company exploited the new fashion for monuments to traffic fatalities. Packard built an oversized imitation tombstone that closely resembled the monument to the innocent child victims of accidents in Baltimore. But Packard’s tombstone redirected blame to the victims. It was marked ‘Erected to the Memory of Mr. J. Walker: He Stepped from the Curb Without Looking.’

What preceded the invention of jaywalking? A 1926 report notes “a Common Law principle which developed centuries ago… This ancient rule is that all 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.” (Miller McClintock for the Chicago Association of Commerce, “Report and Recommendations of the Metropolitan Street Traffic Survey,” p. 133, quoted by Norton on p. 289.)

So, should we go back to those idyllic days when roadway users had equal rights? It’s doubtful that would go over well with the motorists of the world. Considering how cities have been built for cars over the last several decades, a drastic change is unlikely. But, at the very least, it may be worth reconsidering how “jaywalking” is prosecuted.