After decades of limited enforcement, the days of a look-the-other-way attitude toward jaywalking may be over, as the New York Police Department has started ticketing jaywalkers more aggressively.
Traditionally, the NYPD has taken a relatively laissez-faire approach toward jaywalking, issuing only 630 jaywalking tickets last year — compared to 19,119 speeding tickets issued in 2012. But New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said at a press conference on Jan. 15 that his plans to eliminate all traffic-related deaths and serious injuries in 10 years has prompted a marked shift in the NYPD’s policy.
De Blasio’s plan, dubbed “Vision Zero,” launched last month in response to a slew of traffic-related deaths, which totaled 286 by the end of 2013. Following the example of countries like Sweden and the Netherlands, de Blasio’s plan will redesign areas where accidents regularly occur, implement more 20 mph zones and crack down on drivers that fail to yield to pedestrians.
While no provision of his plan explicitly targets jaywalking, de Blasio said local NYPD leadership can enforce laws more stringently at their own discretion.
“There is no larger policy in terms of jaywalking, and ticketing and jaywalking,” de Blasio said in a press conference on Jan. 20. “That’s not part of our plan. But it is something a local precinct commander can act on, if they perceive there to be a real danger.”
This precinct-by-precinct decision has activists such as Keegan Stephan, an organizer of the street justice group Right of Way, up in arms.
“Some precincts clearly have started to crack down on jaywalking, which pisses me off,” Stephan said. “The purpose of Vision Zero is to stop traffic fatalities and cracking down on jaywalking is ineffective and victim blaming. The vast majority of people being killed have the right of way.”
Stephan said that Right of Way supports the official provisions of the plan, which target reckless driving.
Stephan said one of the areas the NYPD has begun targeting is the intersection of Broadway and 96th Street where 84-year-old Kang Wong walked away bloodied on Jan. 19 after police tried to ticket him for jaywalking. Wong is now suing the police department and the city for $5 million.
When asked about the crackdown, LS freshman Keith Bonus said efforts to curb jaywalking seemed futile.
“I mean if I saw a cop on a corner, I’d probably be less likely to jaywalk, but I will definitely still do it,” Bonus said. “They can’t put cops everywhere.”
CAS junior Bukhtawar Waqas said jaywalking is an essential part of living in New York City and issuing tickets won’t change that.
“It’s second nature,” Waqas said. “I jaywalked at least three times today.”
De Blasio said jaywalking was systemic, but told reporters last month that educating the public about the dangers of walking against traffic and enforcing the laws already on the books are just two of many steps needed to curb traffic deaths.
“Education’s a part of the solution, more enforcement is a part of the solution, changing the speed limits, obviously the speed cameras,” de Blasio said. “All of this adds up.”
A version of this article appeared in the Wednesday, Feb. 5 print edition. John Ambrosio is a contributing writer. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.