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Opinion: Put Pedestrians First—End Jaywalking Laws

To reduce pedestrian deaths, we must restore their rights as primary street users, argues a former NYC traffic commissioner.
April 8, 2021, 10am PDT | Diana Ionescu | @aworkoffiction
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Payton Chung

Writing in the New York Daily News, Sam Schwartz, former NYC traffic commissioner, calls for "an end to jaywalking laws and restoring pedestrians to their rightful place atop the hierarchy of street users." Jaywalking laws, Schwartz claims, "do not improve traffic safety, and there’s evidence that pedestrian casualties are higher where the laws are strictly enforced." It is also well-documented that these laws often target people of color and can lead to violent or fatal arrests.

"A Smart Growth America study found that seven out of the top 10 most dangerous metro areas for peds are in Florida, with Orlando topping worst, Palm Bay fourth, and Daytona Beach fifth. They are all tough on jaywalkers," writes Schwartz, indicating that jaywalking enforcement doesn't correlate with pedestrian safety.

In the Netherlands, a different model has taken root. "A widely known engineer in traffic safety circles, the late Hans Monderman, radically challenged traffic engineering principles by getting rid of most traffic signals, signs and pavement markings in parts of several Dutch cities allowing people, cars, bike riders and others to negotiate sharing the space with each other as humans did until the early 20th century. The result: Drivers slowed down and crashes declined." Yet U.S. laws continue to privilege cars and ignore the safety of people outside of vehicles.

Schwartz's solution to America's rising pedestrian death rates: "get rid of jaywalking laws, design more streets for walking, slow traffic through design and once again declare pedestrians kings and queens of the road."

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Published on Monday, April 5, 2021 in New York Daily News
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