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Jaywalking in LA vs NYC

+ Brandon Fuller

LA experienced increases in urban tract density for most of the 20th century, the only major American city to hold this distinction. The trend is likely to continue. Because a denser LA means more walking, the rules that govern interactions between pedestrians and motorists may need a rethink.

Marc Ambinder recently spoke with Brigham Yen, a key actor in downtown LA’s revitalization, about the uptick in pedestrian traffic. The LAPD has been enforcing the rule against jaywalking in downtown LA. To make the area pedestrian friendly, Yen wants them to ease up on enforcement and take more of an east coast approach on jaywalking:

“On the east coast I would NEVER be afraid that a cop was nearby if I were crossing the street, even jaywalking…It’s not enforced. People there do it all the time…And the police let them…I think pedestrians should be able to jaywalk if they feel it’s safe. If they make a wrong call, that is their own fault.”

This sounds roughly like the NYPD’s approach. It’s an approach that reflects a well-worn social norm about jaywalking in New York. The norm says it’s okay for a pedestrian to walk against the light or out of a crosswalk as long as he doesn’t impede the flow of traffic. Holding up traffic is a violation of the norm. Cars will honk, cyclists will scold, and people will look askance — I imagine few would object if the NYPD issued a ticket in this circumstance.

As the jaywalking norms take shape in the newly walkable parts of LA, Yen may be hoping that the LAPD enforces the law in a way that nudges people toward the norm in New York, instead of simply ticketing jaywalkers regardless of the circumstances. That seems like a good approach to me but it’s worth noting that the New York norm isn’t necessarily a prerequisite for walkability. Swiss and German cities seem to do alright even though the locals are sticklers for the rules.

Tile image by Jeremy Chan.

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