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Transportation and Mobility

Newsom Vetoes Bill That Would Amend 'Jaywalking' Laws To Reduce Inequitable Enforcement

A man dashes across West Adams Boulevard in South L.A.
(Alborz Kamalizad
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Last week, Gov. Gavin Newsom vetoed the Freedom To Walk Act, which would have largely decriminalized the common practice known as "jaywalking" in California.

In his veto response, Newsom said that while addressing inequitable enforcement is important, he was concerned the law "will unintentionally reduce pedestrian safety and potentially increase fatalities or serious injuries caused by pedestrians that enter our roadways at inappropriate locations."

The governor also cited state data over the past five years, saying 63% of crashes in which a pedestrian was killed "were the result of pedestrians taking actions against traffic controls or safety laws."

Newsom made no mention of drivers, nor did he cite how often speeding and distracted driving factored into fatal pedestrian crashes. Safety experts agree reducing vehicle speeds is key to reducing traffic violence.

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The Freedom To Walk Act does not make it legal for pedestrians to walk into traffic whenever or wherever they choose; it allows people to cross a street when vehicles are absent or far enough away to not pose an "immediate hazard."

It was designed to reduce inequitable enforcement of jaywalking laws and minimize encounters with armed police. Data shows that police in Los Angeles cite Black pedestrians at a rate nearly three times their share of population in the city.

State Assemblymember Phil Ting, who authored the bill, said he was disappointed by Newsom's decision and "will continue my work on ending arbitrary enforcement of our jaywalking laws."

"We all deserve the freedom to cross the street safely. Jaywalking laws are enforced disproportionately against African Americans [and] have sometimes led to life threatening situations," Ting wrote on Twitter. "Low income pedestrians have also become saddled with draconian fines from a citation which they cannot afford to pay."

Safety advocates have criticized Newsom's decision, saying his view is based on an outdated, unrealistic understanding of traffic safety.

“The governor’s veto rests on the belief that police enforcement or the threat of jaywalking tickets will somehow prevent pedestrian fatalities in the future when that has consistently failed in the past," said Jared Sanchez, senior policy advocate for the California Bicycle Coalition. "Continuing to criminalize people’s rational, predictable responses to poor infrastructure is simply unjust."

John Yi, executive director of Los Angeles Walks, said Newsom's action "represents continued condescension of pedestrians."

“To think we can penalize our parents, seniors and students to bow to high-speed traffic at the cost of their own dignity, ease and safety is draconian and deeply misunderstands the needs of those walking every day," Yi said. "We cannot begin to ask why it is we jaywalk if we are already criminals in the eyes of the state."

I previously wrote about the push to eliminate jaywalking laws and their seedy origin in Los Angeles. You can read about that and more below.

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