WalkBoston Testimony for Somerville Traffic Commission hearing, 12/20/2022

WalkBoston Testimony for Somerville Traffic Commission hearing, 12/20/2022

Submitted in advance on 12/20/2022 via email.

My name is Brendan Kearney, I’m the Deputy Director of Advocacy for WalkBoston, the statewide pedestrian advocacy organization in Massachusetts. 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.

I’m writing to support the petition that restores the right for people walking to cross the street when it is safe to do so, even where a crosswalk or traffic signal is not present. We acknowledge that people walking must exercise reasonable care for their own safety and yield to people driving if a pedestrian is not crossing in a crosswalk. 

We think it is important to share what this petition isn’t: this is not the right to walk or run into the path of a vehicle that is so close that it is impossible for the driver to yield the right of way (Section 12-4(a) in Somerville’s Traffic Regulations). 

There are 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.

This proposed Somerville regulation change reflects how many people already use our streets in Massachusetts and how our communities are designed. There is not always a crosswalk where people want or need to cross the street. There have been ill-conceived bills at the State House over the last few sessions that would effectively make it illegal to cross anywhere outside a crosswalk. WalkBoston will continue to testify and speak out against those preposterous bills, and we encourage you to as well. Any proposed bills to crack down on jaywalking places an unnecessary burden on pedestrians without making anyone safer. 

I am grateful to residents in Somerville for moving this effort forward, and encourage you to adopt this change. 

Brendan Kearney
Deputy Director – Advocacy, WalkBoston

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