LAPD misses the mark on strategies to improve safety on our streets

Pedestrians in downtown LA December 2013Has this ever happened to you? You’re waiting to cross a street at a marked intersection downtown. The signal changes to let you know it’s safe to walk and you’re all ready to stroll across the beautiful new continental crosswalk, except there’s a car in your way.

You might have noticed the story on the LAPD’s jaywalking crackdown that’s been featured in the Downtown News, KPCC, and, most recently, the New York Times. Tickets are being issued for jaywalking, even at marked intersections, if the pedestrian leaves the curb after the “countdown” begins. While we’re grateful to the pedestrian advocates featured in these stories like Brigham Yen from DTLA Rising, who provided great points that supported walking in LA and questioned the value of the LAPD’s intentions, we are very unhappy with this new “safety campaign.”

Los Angeles Walks finds the new LAPD strategy of targeting and ticketing pedestrians who are jaywalking deeply troubling.

Pedestrians in DTLA - December 2013

We walked around downtown during these past two weeks to see evidence of jaywalking pedestrians who were making our streets unsafe. Instead, this was the scene we saw happening most often. At almost every intersection, pedestrians had to navigate around cars which had blatantly disregarded the marked crosswalk. When the countdown began, we often could not make it all the way across the street in time because there were so many obstacles in our way.

The LAPD says they are ticketing pedestrians to improve safety. So here are some safety figures. In 2010, the City of Los Angeles had 219 roadway deaths. 100 of those fatalities were pedestrians (Source: 2010 SWITRS). That means almost half of the deaths on LA streets were pedestrians. Yes, we agree: Los Angeles absolutely has a safety problem for those traveling on foot.

That’s one of the reasons it’s unsettling to read LAPD Chief Beck’s rationale for the pedestrian ticketing in the KPCC interview cited by the New York Times:

“Chief Beck said the crackdown was a matter of public safety and traffic flow, noting the frustration of drivers trying to make turns and faced with crosswalks filled with people.”

And the Downtown News article quote from Lt. Lydia Leos:

“We’re heavily enforcing pedestrian violations because they’re impeding traffic and causing too many accidents and deaths.”

So close to half of our city’s roadway fatalities are people on foot—but we’re targeting the walkers instead of the drivers? How could pedestrians be the ones causing collisions when it’s illegal for cars to make turns or enter the crosswalk when pedestrians are present?

Quartz points out another inequity issue for our most vulnerable street users. A parking ticket in Los Angeles will cost you $58, while the tickets LAPD are handing out to pedestrians who start crossing during the flashing hand are $197! $200 is a serious financial burden, especially if police are targeting low-income residents who are most likely to be traveling on foot.

Here’s our question: When do the drivers blocking crosswalks get ticketed? And why is that not the focus of the crackdown?

Check out this short video taken at 5th and Spring last week. As you can see, the cars are impeding pedestrian movement. Moreover, on wider streets in many parts of the city, the countdowns are often far too short for walkers of varying abilities to safely cross the street. It’s clear that targeting people who are crossing at marked intersections with the signal is not the right approach to make LA safer.

Los Angeles Walks encourages LAPD to revisit this “public safety” strategy immediately. Protecting people who are driving at the physical safety and financial burden of those walking in LA must end immediately. Perhaps the LAPD could visit with Mayor Garcetti, who has launched the Great Streets Initiative earlier this year. Or talk to the City’s Department of Transportation, who have implemented many safety initiatives for all roadway users. Or perhaps they could speak with the City’s Planning Department who is hard at work on a Mobility Element update for the entire city to support walking, bicycling, transit and driving.

1987 Los Angeles Pedestrian Bill of Rights

We’d like to see city leaders and agencies support a more multimodal Los Angeles with a unified “people first” vision.  Maybe it’s time to dust off this Pedestrian Bill of Rights, created by the city way back in 1987(!) and remind LAPD especially of goal #9, “Have needs of pedestrians considered as heavily as the needs drivers.”

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