Boston Globe: “The Argument: Should Massachusetts toughen penalties for jaywalking?”

Boston Globe: “The Argument: Should Massachusetts toughen penalties for jaywalking?”

Boston Globe: “The Argument: Should Massachusetts toughen penalties for jaywalking?

NO | Brendan Kearney, Deputy Director, WalkBoston; Framingham resident

The term “jaywalking” was created by the auto industry in the 1920s to divert blame from drivers who were hitting and killing people. A century later it has proven to be a highly successful marketing effort. The proposed bill to crack down on jaywalking would just place an unnecessary burden on pedestrians without making anyone safer.

Making it illegal to cross anywhere outside a crosswalk — which the bill effectively does — is unrealistic. Existing law allows you to cross outside a marked crosswalk provided you are more than 300 feet from a crosswalk or signalized intersection and yield to motorists. The law reflects how we all use our streets and how our communities are designed.

I live on Central Street in Framingham. There is a sidewalk on one side of the street, opposite my house. I cross to that sidewalk when there are no drivers coming, or when someone yields. No crosswalk exists. It is unsafe to walk on the narrow 30-mile-per-hour street with traffic at my back to the crosswalk a quarter-of-a-mile away — and illegal. When there is a sidewalk, I’m supposed to walk on it; if there isn’t one, the law says to walk against traffic. The proposed bill would make it illegal for me to cross or walk along my street.

There are also significant equity concerns around jaywalking enforcement. Jaywalking laws contribute to racial profiling. A report by ProPublica and Florida-Times Union found Black people in Jacksonville, Fla. were three times as likely to be stopped and cited as white people. Similar patterns have been seen elsewhere; Streetsblog NYC reported that nearly 90 percent of people issued jaywalk citations in New York in 2019 were Black and Brown. In response, efforts to decriminalize jaywalking have been mounted in a number of places, including Virginia and California.

Moreover, increasing fines is not a proven strategy to change behavior. The National Institute of Justice has found increasing the severity of punishment does little to deter crime. If the goal is to keep people walking safer, let’s build streets that provide them with the same level of ease and comfort as those people who are behind the wheel. As it stands, this punitive bill does nothing to improve pedestrian safety.

Posted February 20, 2022

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