ASTORIA – On September 15, Council Member Costa Constantinides announced he will introduce a bill to effectively decriminalize jaywalking. He claimed that this would end the arbitrary enforcement overwhelmingly against Black and Latin New Yorkers, as well as pave the way for pedestrian-friendly streets.
“Every New Yorker crosses in the middle of the block, but that can end in a ticket depending on your skin color,” said Council Member Costa Constantinides, District 22. “It’s beyond time we end this system by changing these outdated rules, which no longer reflect New York City’s modern day streetscape.”
The legislation would bring the City’s street rules in line with those of the state, which allow a pedestrian to cross at any point of the street – so long as there is no oncoming traffic. By doing so, it will remove criminal and civil penalties for jaywalking. It is claimed that the City’s streets are governed by rigid, archaic rules in which pedestrians must cross within marked pathways when given a walk signal. Anyone cited for these violations must physically go to court to pay a fine, while drivers are allowed to settle their infractions online.
In a press release, Constantinides claimed that these municipal rules were outdated and not only betray a New York City norm – to cross at any point of the street when a car isn’t coming – but also unfairly target people of color. A Streetsblog analysis from earlier this year found Black and Latin New Yorkers received 89.8 percent of the 397 illegal crossing tickets issued in 2019. The first three months of 2020 – before the COVID-19 pandemic hit – followed the same trend, according to the safe-streets news organization, though the NYPD claims there is no racial bias in issuing tickets.
Yet, almost 40 percent of the 2019 illegal crossing tickets were issued in just three Bronx precincts, where almost every person fined was Black or Latin, Streetsblog found. In Brooklyn’s Sunset Park and Red Hook neighborhoods, these two groups make up 33 percent of the population within the 76th Precinct – but received 65 percent of illegal crossing tickets. Meanwhile, nearly half the City’s 77 police precincts didn’t issue a single jaywalking ticket last year, the analysis found.
Advocates for safer streets hailed the forthcoming legislation, which were introduced at the City Council’s September 16th Stated Meeting.
“In New York, crossing the street should not be a crime, especially one that disproportionately targets Black and Brown communities,” said Marco Conner DiAquoi, Deputy Director, Transportation Alternatives. “This legislation by Council Member Constantinides puts people first on New York City’s streets and would help end harmful and unacceptable racially disparate enforcement.”
“Most pedestrians killed or severely injured on New York City streets are struck walking in the crosswalk, with the signal, by turning drivers,” said Families for Safe Streets founding member Hsi-Pei Liao. “My 3-year-old daughter, Allison, was even holding her grandmother’s hand, but that didn’t save her life, nor did it prevent the victim-blaming. Enforcement against so-called jaywalking doesn’t address the most dangerous behaviors by drivers, and perpetuates the myth that victims are responsible for their own deaths on our streets.”
Issues with jaywalking enforcement were underscored by the 2014 police beating of 84-year-old Kang Wong. The Upper West Side resident was stopped by cops after crossing West 96th Street against the light, but didn’t understand what they were saying. One cop pulled him as the octogenarian continued to walk, which resulted in several officers hitting Wong so badly that he was hospitalized.
Constantinides argued that the incident, along with several others that followed, underscore the need to decriminalize jaywalking. In light of recent efforts to reform the NYPD, this legislation represents a larger movement to take traffic enforcements away from police and put the onus squarely on the Department of Transportation. For too long, both agencies have shirked the responsibility for street safety, often with one kicking it to the other, which has done little to make our streets more livable.
Council Member Costa Constantinides represents the New York City Council’s 22nd District, which includes his native Astoria along with parts of Woodside, East Elmhurst, and Jackson Heights. He serves as the chair of the City Council’s Environmental Protection Committee and sits on three additional committees: Sanitation, Resiliency, and Technology. For more information, visit council.nyc.gov/costa.