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Everyone's Laughing At LAPD's Silly Crackdown On Pedestrians

A busy Sunday afternoon (Photo by Michael Lynch via the LAist Featured Photos pool on Flickr)
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LAPD decided to ring in this holiday season by ticketing jaywalkers in downtown at the cost of at least $190 a pop. And while this certainly isn't the first time LAPD has made a big to-do about jaywalking, the national press seems to be having a field day with it—and rightfully so. It's embarrassing.

Atlantic Cities points out that parking incorrectly in Los Angeles might only set you back $58, while walking incorrectly is triple that. (Not that we'd like to see parking fines jacked up.) The LAPD has said it's all about safety, but in case you've forgotten, these tickets aren't just for run-of-the-mill jaywalking that we kind of all know is technically illegal—like crossing mid-block or when cross-traffic has a green light—but also for jogging across the intersection when the light says you've got 15 seconds to cross and you can totally make it.

The New York Times wrote up a Christmas Day story of the Grinchy practice of handing out these tickets and jokes "it is not quite 'Dragnet.'" The Times chalks it up to L.A.'s entrenched car culture:

There are an increasing number of people using bicycles, taking advantage of an expanding network of bike lanes. Los Angeles is in the midst of a major expansion of its subway and bus system. Much of the urban planning in recent years, particularly downtown and in Hollywood, is intended to encourage people to give up their cars in favor of public transit, walking or biking. From that perspective, the crackdown is a coming-of-age moment for this city, a ratification of how far it has come. It is a matter of simple mathematics: There are now enough people around to ticket.

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The Times is right in noting that it seems particularly idiotic to crack down on jaywalking just at a time that downtown's walking culture is almost in full bloom. Blair Besten, the executive director of the Historic Downtown Los Angeles Business Improvement District, told the Times, "I don’t know if I want someone’s first experience in downtown to be a ticket for jaywalking."But what the Times doesn't mention is that the LAPD began cracking down on jaywalking in downtown just ahead of the rapid wave of gentrification that has overtaken downtown. The city's Safer City Initiative that kicked off in September 2006 aimed to clean up Skid Row by flooding downtown with police officers and cracking down on crime: the result was 1,000 homeless and low-income folks being cited for jaywalking and loitering every month. Barbara Schultz of the Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles wrote in to the Los Angeles Times, "Now that jaywalking ticketing has moved west of skid row, there's suddenly an outcry."

Whatever the reason for the crackdown—car culture, a way to fill the city coffers or a way to rid the neighborhood of undesirables—it feels a little bit Mayberry in a city with much bigger problems (like hit-and-run drivers, for instance).

We'll leave you with this fascinating excerpt from the 99 Percent Invisible podcast on the origins of "jaywalking":

Automotive interests banded together under the name Motordom. One of Motordom’s public relations gurus was a man named E. B. Lefferts, who put forth a radical idea: don’t blame cars, blame human recklessness. Lefferts and Motordom sought to exonerate the machine by placing the blame with individuals.

And it wasn’t just drivers who could be reckless—pedestrians could be reckless, too. Children could be reckless.

This subtle shift allowed for streets to be re-imagined as a place where cars belonged, and where people didn’t. Part of this re-imagining had to do with changing the way people thought of their relationship to the street. Motordom didn’t want people just strolling in.

So they coined a new term: “Jay Walking.”

In the early 20th Century, “jay” was a derogatory term for someone from the countryside. Therefore, a “jaywalker” is someone who walks around the city like a jay, gawking at all the big buildings, and who is oblivious to traffic around him. The term was originally used to disparage those who got in the way of other pedestrians, but Motordom rebranded it as a legal term to mean someone who crossed the street at the wrong place or time.
Is It Time for the LAPD to Ease Up on Jaywalking Tickets?
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