By Susan Le
A HUGE congratulations is in order as California’s Governor Newsom signed legislation called the Freedom to Walk Act into law!
California joins the national trend to legalize walking. As silly as that sounds, jaywalking laws were created by the auto industry in the 1930s as vehicle ownership started to increase. The goal was to keep people off the streets and make room for vehicles as they started to become a normalized way of transportation. This began a car-centric movement throughout the country, which has been difficult to coexist with pedestrians who seek to cross streets safely, but laws and city planning made it more difficult to do so. With the unjust impact it has on low-income communities, children, BIPOC people, and other vulnerable groups, now is the time to reclaim our streets, and we are thrilled to see California doing just that.
This success didn’t come easy. Last year, the efforts perished when the bill sponsored by Assemblymember Phil Ting landed on Gov. Newsom’s desk. Although Newsom acknowledged inequitable enforcement was important, he raised pedestrian safety concerns and vetoed the legislation. In fact, data has shown that jaywalking citation has not helped with decreasing pedestrian fatalities. Indeed, the pedestrian safety crisis is growing as vehicles become larger and more deadly, and DOT’s continue designing roads for speed, not safety.
In California, everyone jaywalks, but jaywalking laws are enforced disproportionately against Black and Brown people. The Freedom to Walk coalition worked with legislators to adjust the current laws to legalize walking while keeping reassurance that people are able to cross the street safely. Although the bill does not fully decriminalize jaywalking, it does prevent police from issuing tickets unless the street crossing is truly dangerous.
This act will do the following:
- Decriminalize safe, commonsense street crossing, when traffic permits, whether or not a pedestrian is within a marked/unmarked crosswalk.
- Remove a pretext for over-policing that has disproportionately hurt Black and Latinx Californians.
- Recognize the rights of pedestrians to fair and equitable use of our public roadways.
- End a traffic enforcement practice that places an undue financial burden on low-income residents through fines, fees, and penalties without increasing safety.
California joins Nevada, Kansas City, and Virginia for taking on flawed jaywalking laws. Although the journeys differ, there is a lot to learn from the advocacy efforts made to keep our streets safe and protect our communities. We want to recognize the Freedom to Walk Coalition and CalBike for spearheading the campaign! We are proud to be supporters of powerful groups of organizers and would like for this to be a domino effect for others to follow suit. If you are working on decriminalizing jaywalking in your town, let us know – we want to help! Feel free to reach out to Susan at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.