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Los Angeles: Where Pedestrians Get Ticketed While This Douchebag Driver Got Off Scot Free

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Last winter, the LAPD wounded our sense of civic pride by deciding to crack down on jaywalking. Police warned pedestrians that they could end up coughing up $250, even for the sin of deciding to dash across the street moments after the crossing signal countdown started. This certainly wasn't the first time Los Angeles had gone after pedestrians—LAPD often cracks down on jaywalking around the holidays when shoppers are out in full force. And it wasn't shocking given our city's well-deserved reputation for being car-centric. But that this happened just as the city is on the cusp of becoming actually, truly walkable was disheartening.

The LAPD admitted that they wanted to keep traffic flow smooth during the holidays, but the fact that they framed the pedestrian crackdown as a way to improve walkers' safety seemed suspect at the time. One pedestrian's recent run-in with a nasty driver perhaps points to LAPD's real concern.

Melanie Freeland wrote in to the pedestrian advocacy group Los Angeles Walks with her story of a driver almost crashing into her and then threatening her in front of an LAPD officer, who first accused her of blocking traffic and then claimed that there was nothing he could do about the driver.

Freeland describes what happened when she crossed at Sixth and Flower streets around noon in a bustling area of downtown:

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The car came to a quick stop in the crosswalk, startling me and I stopped walking to look at the driver, expecting to see an acknowledgement or nod of apology for nearly hitting me. Instead the driver laid on the horn, long and loud. Confused, I looked at the crosswalk signal which was still a clear walk signal, not even counting down, with other people around me continuing to cross the street. I pointed to the signal and held my hands up in a “I don’t understand” signal to the driver. He then proceeded to roll down his window and lean his head out, yelling expletives which—in summary—demanded I get out of the street. I had my cellphone in hand so I held it up to snap a photo of him and his license plate. Upon seeing this he hit the gas, swerved, pealing out as he continued down Flower Street. He missed hitting me and other pedestrians in the crosswalk by only a few inches.

This is how the police officer responded:
I asked if he had seen the car. He said, “I did. Did you hear me hit my PA?” I said no, at which time he asked if I was okay and why I was “blocking traffic.” To be clear, he specifically asked if I was on any medication. I explained I was in the crosswalk to cross the street with a clear walk signal—he was at the same red light waiting—and that the car nearly hit me, then threatened me verbally and threatened me with his vehicle. He explained that he had seen the driver lean out the window but couldn’t hear what he said or the events [preceding], [so he had assumed] I was blocking traffic, thus why he had hit the PA.

At this point I was extremely frustrated with the situation. I questioned the officer about the vehicle code, asking him if a driver could enter a crosswalk and then proceed through it while pedestrians were in the area without being ticketed. He told me that unless someone was injured then a ticket could not be issued. I requested a follow up and left him with my information and the information of the car and driver.

Los Angeles Walks believes that it has found a state law that the LAPD (or any police officer in California) could use to ticket drivers who dangerously blow through crosswalks where pedestrians have the right of way. We'll leave it up to lawyers to decide whether that's true. But if the LAPD, and by extension the city, wants to take pedestrian safety seriously—and why shouldn't they?—shouldn't they be citing this law or at least coming up with new legislation making the practice of threatening pedestrians illegal.

Related:
Is It Time for the LAPD to Ease Up on Jaywalking Tickets?