To Reduce Pedestrian Fatalities, Focus Enforcement on Cars

Today the issue of pedestrian safety has popped up a couple of times on the Streetsblog Network. First, the folks at WalkBike Jersey report that a bill giving pedestrians more protection in the crosswalk has passed the State Assembly and is moving to committee in the Senate:

2592590374_3239f9c206.jpgPhoto by tomswift46 via Flickr.

Under the bill, motorists would be required to stop and remain stopped at a crosswalk while pedestrians pass through the driver’s lane of traffic, even if a light changes to give the motorist the right of way.

A1329’s Primary Sponsor — Assemblywoman Linda Stender has been a champion of pedestrian safety over the years. “The number of pedestrian deaths in our state has been increasing instead of decreasing despite our best efforts in recent years,” said Stender (D-Union), vice chairwoman of the Assembly Transportation, Public Works and Independent Authorities Committee. “This measure will clearly give pedestrians the right of way so that school children and people on foot can safely walk to their destinations.”

The Assembly passed the bill, which simply seems to represent common sense, unanimously. If it becomes law, it will be interesting to see if it is enforced or used by prosecutors. But in a state where the latest figures show a recent surge in pedestrian deaths, any move to increase legal protections for those traveling on foot is welcome.

In Savannah, as we wrote a couple of weeks ago, the police have been reacting differently after a high-profile case in which a tourist was killed by a car. They’ve decided to focus enforcement on jaywalkers. As Sustainable Savannah reports, the flurry of jaywalking tickets has caused a backlash because of the high fines they carry, but the underlying problem with the strategy is much more profound:

Unfortunately, I see a critical question that’s not been answered: Is jaywalking enforcement the best way to reduce pedestrian injuries and deaths?

In yesterday’s Savannah Morning News, Alderman Tony Thomas said while the fines are too high, “We have to change the culture of pedestrians and bike riders. Those safety issues have got to be altered.” Meanwhile, WTOC-TV reports, “Chief Berkow isn’t pulling any punches as he stands by what he calls strictly ‘a safety measure.’”

In reviewing pedestrian safety literature published by state, federal and municipal agencies, many references to enforcement can be found. In the vast majority of reports, studies and guidelines that I’ve seen, motorists are the recommended focus of enforcement efforts. If the goal of the “jaywalking crackdown” is public safety, why are we pursuing a course of action that appears at odds with best practice models? Are we blaming the victim, as Connect Savannah’s Jim Morekis suggests?

Downtown business owner Ruel Joyner told WTOC, “It’s not the jaywalking ticket itself. It’s the sentiment under it. That’s not the signal we should be sending when we are the number one walking city in the nation.” And, “We need to be as inviting as we can and look out for the good of downtown.”

There’s real potential for the next transportation bill to include provisions for "complete streets" that would address, from a federal policy perspective, the idea that streets need to serve all users — not just cars. The Complete Streets Blog, newly online from the National Complete Streets Coalition, has word of a briefing in Washington this morning on the subject. We’ll be following them for news on that front.

13 thoughts on To Reduce Pedestrian Fatalities, Focus Enforcement on Cars

  1. Oregon has a very good pedestrian safety law called “Stop and Stay Stopped”. The law passed in 2003. There has been a LOT of other work done in coordination with it to educate the public about how it works. I believe it contributed to that fact that 2008 saw the lowest number of pedestrian fatalities in Portland’s history, with a record that dates to 1925.

    Here’s some info:

    New animation about the law:

    Streetfilm about crosswalk safety missions:

    Oregon ped laws – read 811.028 first:

    Pedestrian safety efforts:

    Portland fatal trends:

    Greg Raisman
    Community and School Traffic Safety Partnership
    Portland Bureau of Transportation

  2. Ticketing jaywalkers is absurd. Walking against the light is, itself, voiding your right of way to the cars; so if they hit you, it’s your fault.

    Why _additional_ penalties? All a ticket’s going to do is raise revenue, legitimize authority, and piss off thousands of reasonable people. It certainly won’t stop jaywalking.

    Longer light timings and thinner streets are the answer, but that won’t help the government raise revenue, or get more cops hired.

  3. Operators of automobiles are way too cavalier about the potential harm their actions can do. It is a crime when someone drives a vehicle in willful or wanton disregard for the safety of persons or property. It is evil behavior.

    It is time to stop making excuses and man up to the problem: Driving is so commonplace that we have stopped acting with due care.

  4. By the way, IANAL, but I believe accelerating into a crosswalk full of people is already illegal; the law prohibits a collision with a pedestrian that was avoidable with an exercise of due care on part of the driver is illegal.

    Anyone who plows through a newly-greenlit crosswalk with their five thousand pound car and hits folks, or just rolls into a green without looking, is committing a crime already. We don’t need yet another law.

    We need cops and prosecutors who’ll do their goddamned jobs.

  5. What is it supposed to mean when the person quoted claims that Savannah is the “number one walking city in the nation”?

  6. I believe the existing law is already adequate here. Pedestrians have the right of way for as long as it takes to cross the street, provided they started crossing during a “walk” phase. NYC VAT § 1112.

  7. Okay, I found the original story about the pedestrian killed in Savanna. ( The guy was in the crosswalk and as far as I know, crossing legally (he was an older Swedish gentleman so I doubt he was jaywalking)! Talk about totally misdirected police action.

    However, I’m not against police ticketing jaywalkers who are a blatant danger to themselves and to others. If your an adult and walk out into traffic without looking or against the light with traffic coming, you deserve a ticket. Unfortunately, I see way to many pedestrians in New Jersey acting just this way.

    I had a group of people do that today as I was riding to work and I needed to take evasive action to avoid plowing into them with my bike.

  8. I should add however, if a pedestrian crosses mid-block and is very careful to look both ways before walking into the street, then I believe that the police ARE NOT justified to give out a jaywalking ticket.

  9. Andy, at least in New York that’s not considered jaywalking and not illegal; pedestrians are only required to “yield” to automobiles when crossing mid-block. Crossing against traffic signals is a different question, however.

  10. I’d like to see more enforcement at stop signs.

    Drivers are, of course, suppose to stop at stop signs, then slowly proceed into the intersection if they can’t tell if it’s clear to proceed (on small streets with parking right to the corners, it’s often hard to tell if there’s traffic on the street you are crossing).

    In the Williamsburg/Greenpoint area, I so rarely see drivers actually stop at the signs, they almost always just slow down, rolling through the stop sign and into the intersection

  11. One of the primary characteristics of Jersey driving, walking, biking, and /being/ is the attitude whereby “when in Rome, act like I’m in Bergen.” Laws & customs in New York are very different from Jersey’s, regarding pedestrian presence in intersections, driver behavior in crowded roads, following distance, lane order & change behavior, and yields.

    When I’m in Jersey I try to drive a bit more like folks there do. When they’re here, they seem to act like they’re right at home.

  12. Kaja, do you really observe a substantial difference in motorist behavior between New York and New Jersey? As a transplant, I personally can’t distinguish between different vehicle “dialects” in the Tri-State Area, although I have noticed that the driving style tends to mellow out along the fringes of the metro area.

  13. I peeped at the S’blog Network post on the Tempe, AZ transportation center. It looks really amazing, even to my jaded eyes.

    Imagine if Port Authority was built next door to a football stadium and basketball arena, and had a bike storage station, a carshare garage, and hiking trailheads up a nearby mountain. Now I want to visit.

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