Nope, Harassing Panhandlers Isn’t a Pedestrian Safety Plan

Protesters oppose Dayton's crackdown on panhandling, which was guised as a pedestrian safety measure. Photo:  Social Alternative Dayton
Protesters oppose Dayton's crackdown on panhandling, which was guised as a pedestrian safety measure. Photo: Social Alternative Dayton

Standing near certain roads in Dayton, Ohio, could soon land people with a fourth-degree misdemeanor.

Last week, Mayor Nan Whaley and the Dayton City Commission approved a bill that prohibits “pedestrians from getting within three feet of vehicles that are in operation along 51 of Dayton’s busiest and most dangerous roadways,” reports Cornelius Frolik of the Dayton Daily News. The law also prohibits motorists from interacting with pedestrians on those roads.

Local anti-poverty advocates characterize the law as a pretext to criminalize panhandling, not a good-faith effort to reduce crashes and injuries.

Whaley contends that the rules will protect people who panhandle. But while most of Dayton’s pedestrian injuries happen on  these 51 streets, the city hasn’t marshaled any evidence that panhandlers comprise a significant share of the victims.

Restricting people’s access to public streets is the wrong way to go about improving pedestrian safety, said Emiko Atherton of the National Complete Streets Coalition. To prevent pedestrian injuries and fatalities, she said, Dayton should focus on street design and making that pedestrian infrastructure is adequate and safe.

“This legislation is disappointing because they are putting the burden of safety on the pedestrians on roadways that were designed for cars,” Atherton told Streetsblog. “Once again, a city is willing to criminalize walking.”

Dayton’s new law fits into a broader pattern of criminalizing pedestrians with rules prone to selective enforcement by police, functioning as tools to enforce social hierarchies rather than improve public safety. Jacksonville, for instance, infamously has 28 laws on the books restricting pedestrian movement, which police apply disproportionately to black residents. Despite its fervor for policing people on foot, Jacksonville remains one of the most dangerous cities for walking in the nation.

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