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Our Letter on Decriminalizing Jaywalking: California Could Demonstrate National Leadership by Passing Timely Legislation

Walking is the original form of transportation and yet too often it is forgotten, actively discouraged, or even criminalized. We know that this approach harms BIPOC community members at disproportionate rates – whether through unsafe roadways or the biased application of laws against jaywalking

We all have a responsibility to support a culture of safe and accessible mobility for all people. We believe the decriminalization of walking and wheeling is a cornerstone in achieving this – and we now have the opportunity to make this a priority.

Based on its tenuous relation to safety and racial bias in its application, local governments are now moving to eliminate police enforcement from these archaic laws. Kansas City and Virginia recently decriminalized jaywalking. California is now at a crucial moment to demonstrate leadership on this issue.

We have written to Senator Lena Gonzales of Sacramento, CA, expressing our support for a bill before her committee. Feel free to borrow some of these talking points and make your own letter of support. 

Dear Sen. Gonzales, 

I write to urge you to pass AB 1238, the Freedom to Walk Act, sponsored by Phil Ting. As the national organization supporting walking in the United States, we believe that California has the opportunity to show national leadership on this issue by passing this timely legislation. 

Decriminalizing jaywalking is a movement that is gaining momentum. The State of Virginia removed jaywalking as a primary infraction last spring. The city of Kansas City, Missouri, followed suit in May.  

There is good reason more cities and states are repealing these unjust laws. To start, jaywalking infractions are unequally enforced. In Los Angeles County, Black people are three times as likely to be ticketed for jaywalking as white people. In San Diego, the disparity is more than four fold, according to California Racial and Identity Profiling Act (RIPA) data compiled by the California Bicycle Coalition. In addition, often these kinds of stops escalate into police brutality cases that can result in serious long-lasting community harms or even loss of life.  

Furthermore, we know that in many cases, pedestrians jaywalk because of inadequate infrastructure. If the nearest marked crosswalk requires a two-thirds mile detour, jaywalking may be the most rational choice. In addition, infrastructure inequality means that many neighborhoods of color have been passed over for amenities like well-lit crosswalks. We see these disparities in the fatality data; Black people are almost 50 percent likely to be killed while walking in the United States and native people are more than twice as likely to be killed, according to data from Transportation for America.   

The best practices in pedestrian safety involve protecting walkers and wheelchair users, by installing proper infrastructure — street lights, curb ramps, crosswalks, and slow streets — not prosecuting them. We need a paradigm shift in our conception of this issue. We need government agencies to take responsibility for protecting road users who are vulnerable, rather than finding ways to blame and punish them when they are harmed.  

The putative idea of “jaywalking” is a relic of another time and a concerted lobbying campaign by industry groups. We hope California, with your leadership, will help us chart a new, more just and compassionate direction. 

Sincerely, 

Mike McGinn
Executive Director
America Walks