Our Testimony Before the California State Assembly

CA Statehouse via Alex Proimos, Creative Commons

Yesterday, our founder, Angie Schmitt, was invited by the California Bicycle Coalition to testify before the California State Assembly’s Transportation Committee about a new bill that would decriminalize jaywalking. Below is a transcript of the testimony, which was limited to two minutes:

“I am here today to support AB1238 from Assemblymember Phil Ting.

Over the last 10 years we’ve seen a 50 percent increase in pedestrian deaths in the United States. One in six happen in California. Those that are killed are more likely to be Black, Hispanic, elderly, disabled, low income or some combination of thereof.

The cultural impulse has been to dismiss these deaths or injuries, when they occur, as being the result of one individual who acted stupidly or made a bad choice.

But in urban planning we recognize this is a systemic issue — and fault lies with the wider system which is hostile to those on foot or wheelchair. When we map these deaths, they occur in very clear patterns, along wide multi-lane suburban arterials, primarily, where traffic speeds are high and where crosswalks may be a half-mile apart.

Pedestrians contend not just with a hostile built environment, but also an extremely punitive regulatory environment where normal, rational decisions are criminalized.

These situations are much more fraught for racial groups that are targeted by police. In every account that I have come across in my research (in Chicago, in New York, in Seattle), Black and brown people, especially young men, have been cited for jaywalking at wildly disproportionate rates. 

In addition to being biased, these stops are frequently explosive. Pedestrians are often confused about why they are stopped or (rightly) angry about being hassled for such a trivial offense. Some officers interpret this kind of reaction as an affront and the situation can easily escalate into a situation where someone is badly hurt or even killed.

In addition to the trauma inflicted on the affected communities, these situations are embarrassing for the departments involved and often leave taxpayers on the hook for mostly settlements.

Furthermore, we know that jaywalking enforcement is not effective at reducing pedestrian crashes. Experts who I interviewed for my book, told me there is no evidence that jaywalking enforcement improves safety outcomes and that most more conscientious cities have moved away from that approach. 

The safest nations in the world for walking — Scandinavian countries primarily — have no equivalent infraction. 

In order to address the pedestrian safety crisis in the U.S. we need to move away from punitive measures directed at vulnerable individuals to creating a system that protects them. 

Thank you. 

I wanted to add a couple thoughts here: I was so impressed with the California transportation committee. The bills members are working on and advancing were so progressive, it was exciting to see them moving ahead. The testimony and public input was so well organized. Being from Ohio, which is another world politically, (especially at the state level) it was almost hard for me to believe.

It is also a credit to all the organizations out there who have been building support and educating the public, including SPUR, the Sierra Club, NRDC, California Bicycle Coalition, California Walks, San Francisco Walks, Families for Safe Streets (SoCal and Bay Area branches) and others.