If you think police are wasting valuable taxpayer resources by issuing tickets to people who started walking across a street after the “don't walk” sign's numeric countdown has begun, you're not alone.
Los Angeles–area state Assemblyman Miguel Santiago is proposing a law, AB 390, that would stop this madness. Advocates have been lobbying for the legislation because, they argue, those tickets disproportionately affect the poor and people of color.
Deborah Murphy, founder and executive director of Los Angeles Walks, says the high-traffic intersections where pedestrians have been targeted for countdown violations are often downtown or in minority areas. The tickets, which can cost about $200, amount to a regressive tax for a populace facing soul-crushing rents.
“When you look at the pedestrian population of the city, and where these tickets are issued, like at Seventh and Figueroa, there are a lot of transit-dependent people targeted,” Murphy says. “I think police are being overzealous.”
Murphy recalled that one woman, who was poor, elderly and physically challenged, couldn't beat the countdown across the street and was ticketed. “She became so disenchanted she left the city,” she says.
In some cases, pedestrians can't step off a curb before the countdown begins because drivers are blocking them while making right turns, sometimes illegally. “They shouldn't be penalized because they can't make it across the street during that countdown time,” Murphy says. “They should be allowed to do that safely and lawfully. We're trying to encourage people to walk.”
A Los Angeles Times report cited by Santiago found that 17,000 pedestrian violation tickets were issued in a four-year period downtown. “Pedestrians shouldn't be preyed upon just to fill local coffers,” Santiago said at a news conference yesterday.
The pedestrian laws were written before the countdown clocks were added to the crosswalk signs. City Councilman José Huizar, who represents most of downtown, endorses the bill as a way toward “a new Los Angeles” that's much more pedestrian- and transit-friendly, he said at the news conference.
“We are in the midst of a momentous shift when it comes to increasing pedestrian uses and space, and our antiquated state crosswalk law has not kept pace with the city of Los Angeles' goals in downtown and elsewhere,” he said.
Santiago's office explained the legislation this way:
Current state law makes it illegal for a pedestrian to step into a crosswalk after the red hand starts flashing and the countdown begins, no matter how many seconds are left to cross. Assemblymember Santiago's AB 390 aims to amend Section 21456 of the CA Vehicle Code by authorizing a pedestrian facing a countdown signal to proceed across the intersection as long as the pedestrian completes the crossing before the display of the steady “DON'T WALK” or “WAIT” or approved upraised hand symbol when the countdown ends.
His bill is in the Senate Appropriations Committee. If it passes that hurdle, it will head to the full Senate in a matter of weeks, according to the lawmaker's office.