One afternoon, I heard a man’s voice — “Hello, ma’am” — when I finished crossing at the crosswalk in Little Tokyo. I turned around and saw a police officer dismounting from his motorcycle.
I thought he was just being friendly, so I said hello back to him and assumed I’d just be on my way. As soon as I took a step forward, his tone of voice changed. “Excuse me, ma’am? I need to give you a citation for jaywalking,” the officer said.
“Jaywalking?” I was surprised to hear that because as I mentioned, I walked at the crosswalk, the signal indicated 17 seconds left, and of course, I finished crossing before the signal turned red.
I was waiting for him to smile because I thought he was joking. But unfortunately, I was so wrong. Instead, the officer showed no expression and started writing a citation.
According to the officer, stepping off the curb is illegal once the countdown clock starts ticking and a blinking hand appears. Pedestrians are allowed to enter the crosswalk only when the white “walking man” icon is lit.
If pedestrians step off the curb while the walking man is visible, but the signal changes to a flashing hand before finishing crossing, they are safe as long as they can make it to the opposite sidewalk before the signal turns red. The countdown clocks are for those who are already in the crosswalk.
I never knew about this rule. My understanding of jaywalking was that it meant crossing against a red light or outside of a crosswalk, which I’ve never done because I knew those practices were illegal.
I told the officer that I thought the countdown was for all pedestrians to know how much time we had left to finish crossing. And at many crosswalks in Little Tokyo, the white walking man appears for only a few seconds.
He admitted that many people misunderstood what the countdown clocks were for. (Given that, perhaps the LAPD could have focused more on educating the community before issuing tickets.) But it was too late for me. The citation was already in my hand.
I was stunned to find out about this unknown traffic rule, but what shocked me the most was how surprisingly expensive this jaywalking ticket was. I assumed that it might be $75 or so, but again, I was so wrong.
It was $197. I paid online so an e-Public Access service fee of ten dollars was added. It totaled $207. It was painfully expensive, and I was very upset.
After receiving the ticket, I learned that Los Angeles Downtown News had published several articles in the last six months about this unfamiliar traffic rule as well as the LAPD Central Division’s recent aggressive enforcement and residents and workers’ uproar over high fines of up to $250.
As reported by DT News, the LAPD and the Historic Downtown Los Angeles Business Improvement District hosted a community meeting in January 2014 to discuss this matter. About 50 people gathered to voice their opinions.
In response to participants’ claims that people are unaware that the practice is illegal, the LAPD is considering implementing a warning system rather than issuing fines immediately. In regard to the price of the ticket, the LAPD said it was the city’s decision. Although they acknowledged the need for more education about pedestrian safety, they planned to continue enforcing the law in the meantime, according to DT News.
Because I was so surprised to find out about this violation, I’ve asked the Rafu staff members, friends, and people at various assignment sites if they knew about this. Only six of the 40 people I asked knew.
Being a pedestrian as well as a driver, I understand the danger on both sides, and I support the LAPD’s efforts to increase public safety. I’m not complaining about my ticket. Rules are rules. I get that. But I believe that there are better ways to enhance public safety.
Instead of giving a “surprise” citation to pedestrians who have never heard of this law, the LAPD should issue verbal or written warnings until the community becomes well aware of this unfamiliar rule.
As for fines, I understand it’s up to the city, but the first offense should be fined a smaller amount, with gradual increases for second and third offenses, just like citations for using a phone while driving.
In the meantime, the LAPD should make more efforts to educate the public about this rule. For instance, between the January community meeting and when I was cited in April, I didn’t hear any information about this widely misunderstood rule from the LAPD.
On Thursday, April 24, the Central Division posted a video explaining about jaywalking citations on their Facebook page. The video is an important resource for the community to understand this violation, so it should be circulated widely —not just on Facebook.
Since the day I received the ticket, I keep telling people about this little-known pedestrian violation. It was an expensive lesson to learn, but now I know and you know. Stay on the curb as soon as the countdown clock starts.
Ryoko Nakamura is a reporter for the Japanese section of The Rafu Shimpo and can be contacted at [email protected] Ochazuke is a staff-written column. Opinions expressed are not necessarily those of The Rafu Shimpo.