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A city that punishes pedestrians: out-of-town takes on jaywalking in L.A.

Ticket pedestrians for crossing on "don't walk"? To outsiders, L.A. comes across as bumbling on transportation

Nobody celebrates the thought of a low-wage worker getting a $197 jaywalking ticket while trying to catch the bus to his college classes, but the initial batch of letters responding to Steve Lopez's column Saturday on Eduardo Lopez's brush with the law after hustling across a downtown sidewalk on a flashing "don't walk" signal -- technically a violation of the California Vehicle Code -- didn't express much sympathy for the aspiring firefighter stuck with a fine that amounts to a third of his monthly rent. A few readers, including two whose letters were published, pointed out the confusion caused by California's jaywalking law and the dilemma faced by Eduardo Lopez -- whether miss the bus and therefore class, or sprint across the street on a "don't walk" sign and make it on time -- but most initially sided with the police officer who ticketed him.

But after the three letters were posted online Monday and printed in the paper Tuesday, the tone and the perspectives of the readers who continued to send us their reactions changed. More expressed support for Eduardo Lopez, including those from readers who had lived outside Los Angeles or who were writing from the outside looking in. 

The backdrop of Steve Lopez's column and the news story that inspired it is a Los Angeles ostensibly more friendly to non-drivers. Increasingly, L.A. residents are trading in their cars for bicycles, bus passes or good walking shoes, adding traffic and increased density to sidewalks and bike lanes that were comparatively deserted or nonexistent in the recent past -- and they're doing it with the city's blessing. I only rarely commute to work by car, and an institutional crackdown on lawless pedestrians -- those protected only by their own judgment and nimbleness, not airbags and crumple zones, and who present no mortal danger to anyone else -- strikes me as counterproductive.

But to readers from places less punishing of their pedestrians, Los Angeles may deservedly come across as schizophrenic and bumbling on transportation.

Ari Ofsevit of Cambridge, Mass., says L.A. should guard pedestrian safety by slowing down cars:

Here in Boston -- America's walking city -- we don't get tickets for jaywalking. (It's on the books but unenforced; the fine is $1.) A study in New York (cited in a recent article in the New York Times Magazine) found that pedestrians there step off the curb three seconds before the walk signal, a previously unknown negative "reaction time," a harmless and efficient maneuver much like Eduardo Lopez darting across the street in Los Angeles.

Walking is easy, efficient and relatively safe, and the way to make it safer is not to punitively ticket pedestrians, but to address the real menace -- fast-moving vehicles --by slowing traffic and creating better environments for walking, even if it comes at the expense of vehicle movement.

 

If Los Angeles -- America's driving city -- wants to better accommodate pedestrians, it should look east to places where walking works. And the answer, we can assure you, is not to harass pedestrians, but encourage them.

East Coast transplant M.B. Nachman of Venice says the pedestrian practices in L.A. were a culture shock:

I am an ex-New Yorker. When I arrived in L.A. I could not believe anyone actually obeyed the traffic signals or observed the sanctioned places to cross the street. 

Imagine if New York City enforced jaywalking codes; the city would collapse. It is a farce to ticket people getting somewhere on foot for trying to make the trip less bothersome.  

Ticket jaywalkers? Bah. Find your income somewhere else. Don't target the poor who cannot afford a cab.

Jaywalking tickets? I don't need your stinking jaywalking tickets.

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