For someone who jaywalks whenever I am in Manhattan, I’ve always found it liberating and even empowering as a pedestrian to cross a street wherever and whenever I felt it was safe to do so. The process is simple: You look down the usual one way street, and if there are no cars coming, you cross. Even though it is technically illegal to jaywalk in New York, thousands upon thousands do it daily in Manhattan, adding to a sense of “urban legitimacy” because of the power of choice given to pedestrians and free will to roam. Occasionally, one out of a million jaywalkers in New York will receive a jaywalking ticket, but it’s so rare that a NY Post article quoted a retired NYPD cop of 25 years who said he “wouldn’t know how to write a jaywalking ticket.”
So it always irritates me back in LA to see LAPD cops stopping pedestrians for jaywalking and giving them tickets ($204 a pop according to some unlucky pedestrians). And some LAPD cops have been especially egregious by even giving jaywalking tickets for just stepping off the curb if the red hand signal and countdown timer begins, even if it’s still perfectly safe to cross. Given the large blocks in LA, is it really reasonable to ask someone to walk all the way to a crosswalk when they can cross the street mid-block to get to their destination faster?
Perhaps we should also do a better job at separating people from cars in Downtown LA where the largest concentration of pedestrians exist in LA. A few ideas include making it illegal for a car to turn right on red in Downtown LA as well as adding scatter/diagonal crossings at many busy intersections. Scatter crossings allow people and cars to move through the intersection at completely separate times, and for pedestrians, in any direction they want to walk, including diagonally. You see these scatter crossings locally in areas like Old Town Pasadena, Beverly Hills, and Westwood/UCLA — anywhere with a fair amount of pedestrians traffic. The largest scatter crossing in the world happens to be in Tokyo in the famous Shibuya district.
As Downtown LA continues to densify with more urban infill developments and pedestrian counts increase dramatically, it is my hope that our LAPD cops will take a cue from the NYPD and turn a blind eye when someone decides to cross the street mid-block.
[UPDATE: 10/26/12 – “An argument for jaywalking” in Downtown LA is published on The Week. To read the full article, click here]