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Hawaii #1 for Jaywalking Tickets
By Grassroot Institute @ 4:03 AM :: 1215 Views :: Hawaii Statistics, Law Enforcement

Hill offers reasons Legislature should support ‘Freedom to Walk’

from Grassroot Institute of Hawaii, March 24, 2024

Hawaii hands out an average of 5,000 jaywalking tickets per year, the highest per capita in the nation, but that has done virtually nothing to promote pedestrian safety, according to Malia Blom Hill, policy director of the Grassroot Institute of Hawaii.

“If jaywalking tickets were the solution to pedestrian danger and fatality, then Hawaii would be the safest state for pedestrians since we give out so many tickets, But it’s not,” said Hill, who spoke this past Sunday, March 24, with host Johnny Miro on the H. Hawaii Media radio network.

In fact, Hill said, Hawaii has the second-highest pedestrian fatality rate in the nation. And somewhat worrisome, she added, the tickets tend to fall disproportionately on the homeless, poor and minorities. 

In response, the Hawaii Legislature is considering a “Freedom to Walk” bill that would allow pedestrians to legally cross the street outside of crosswalks when it is safe to do so.

Hill said it’s “just common sense” to let people cross the street carefully when no cars are coming, rather than waiting needlessly at an intersection for a walk signal.

She said the bill, SB2630, has passed the Senate and is awaiting a hearing in the House Judiciary Committee. 

TRANSCRIPT

3-24-23 Malia Hill with host Johnny Miro on H. Hawaii Media radio network

Johnny Miro: It’s another beautiful Sunday in the 808 state, and it’s time for public access programming on this H. Hawaii Media radio station. I’m Miro here on our H. Hawaii Media family radio stations. Now we’re also available on Kauai, and you can pick us up anywhere at HawaiiStream.fm in the Live 365 app.

Alright, so this morning we’re going to be talking with another member from the Grassroot Institute of Hawaii. That would be policy director Malia Hill. And it’s an interesting topic, but it is getting and gaining some momentum, let’s put it that way, because we’ve all been there. I imagine we’ve all been there.

Have you ever been ticketed for jaywalking here in Honolulu or just anywhere in general throughout the state? If so, you wouldn’t be alone. 

Thousands of people are ticketed in Hawaii every year for crossing outside the crosswalk, entering the crosswalk too soon, entering the crosswalk too late, or just even skipping the crosswalk altogether. But why is that the case?

So, to answer those questions to the best of our ability, Policy Director Malia Hill joins me this morning to talk about this interesting issue. Good morning to you, Malia.

Malia Blom Hill: Good morning. Thanks for having me.

Miro: Yea, so we have this bill moving in the state legislature that would decriminalize jaywalking in certain circumstances now. What exactly would this bill do, and why are lawmakers debating it in the first place?

Hill: Yeah, so the bill number is SB2630. People say it legalizes jaywalking, but as you know, that’s not really accurate.

What the law does, it just says that police shouldn’t stop you or ticket you for crossing the street in a way that violates the jaywalking laws. 

The jaywalking laws are just about crossing against the “Don’t walk” sign or the countdown timer, crossing outside of a crosswalk, walking on the wrong side of the crosswalk or stepping off the curb suddenly. That’s what you can get cited for.

And this bill, what it does, it just says if you take care, if you’re reasonably careful so there’s no risk of collision with the vehicle, or you don’t even make a car slow down or stop for you, and you’re more than 200 feet away from a crosswalk — so basically, in normal language, if there are no cars around and you’re being careful and responsible about crossing the street, you don’t get hit with a jaywalking ticket for it. That’s all.

It’s called “freedom to walk.” And it’s kind of a growing issue across the country, not just because it’s common sense, but also because there’s really no evidence that jaywalking tickets make anything safer. 

And there’s a lot of evidence that they’re really overused and that police are just a little too zealous about enforcing jaywalking.

Miro: So how about let’s bring it here locally. Let’s talk about the ticket issue. Just how many people get ticketed every year for jaywalking here in Hawaii?

Hill: Yeah, there’’s a really surprising answer to that. The Hawaii Appleseed Center for Law and Economic Justice, they just did a study of jaywalking citations in Hawaii. The name of their study is called “Freedom to Walk,” I think.

And what they found is that Hawaii is really over the top when it comes to handing out jaywalking citations.

They looked at six years between 2018 and 2023, and in that time there were 30,168 jaywalking citations given out — like an average of about 5,000 a year. In 2018, they actually gave out about 8,000 jaywalking citations.

And as I told you before, about half of these tickets were given for crossing outside of crosswalks. Another 46% were crossing on the countdown timer — once the timer starts or the “don’t walk” sign. And about 5% were just suddenly leaving the curb.

And they even break down the geography of these citations. So, 99% are all given out on Oahu by the Honolulu Police Department, and 78% of them are given out in urban Honolulu, like between about Kaimuki and Kalihi.

They even managed to figure out the streets that get you jaywalking tickets the most. 

Specific intersections have more tickets than other places. Like Hotel Street in Chinatown was 1,316 tickets in that one year, 2018. It was like 16% of all the tickets are on Hotel Street. 

And then King Street had about 11% of the tickets. And then Kalakaua in Waikiki had about 7%.

Miro: They really lessened their enforcement on Hotel Street. I know for a fact — I remember 2018. You had police out in force looking for jaywalkers back then. So I can see that number being that high, definitely. 

But I don’t see the presence anymore, and it is a priority for them anymore, especially with the crime uptick in downtown. Not sure about elsewhere though.

How does this stack up against other states as far as jaywalking tickets in other cities?

Hill: Yeah, that’s actually a really good question because it gives some perspective. You know, we don’t really know — is that a lot? Is it a little? Turns out it’s enormous.

Hawaii isn’t just a little bit higher when it comes to jaywalking tickets. It’s much, much higher than other states and cities. 

So in the six-year period, Hawaii gives out about 30,000 tickets. Washington state in the same period — the entirety of Washington state — 9,800.

So if Hawaii is giving out an average of about 5,000 jaywalking tickets a year, Washington State is giving out about 428 a year. And that’s before you even adjust for the population.

So when you adjust like, well, Hawaii is actually kind of a smaller population. So per capita, what is the deal? For every 100,000 citizens, Hawaii gives out 349 citations for jaywalking. And for every 100,000 citizens, Washington state gives out six — six jaywalking tickets. And New York City is about the same.

Jacksonville, Florida; Sacramento, California — they’re maybe closer to 50. But that’s still way less than 350. 

You know, if you’ve ever been to New York City or Seattle, and Honolulu, you feel like Honolulu is way more likely to overpolice jaywalking. That’s because it is, by about 5,000%.

Miro: Wow. So it doesn’t really seem like it’s affecting the country roads, and that wouldn’t apply to any of this. There’s no need to even apply something like that. It’s just dealing with the urban core?

Hill: Yeah. They’re not — that’s where nearly all of these tickets are getting out. There’s a handful being given out other places. But by and large, we’re talking about urban core here.

Miro: OK, OK. So some of the objections you can see them coming. You’ve heard, it will compromise pedestrian safety. In fact, one person said that if Hawaii has the second-highest pedestrian fatality rate now, maybe it’s because the police need to issue more jaywalking tickets. What’s the case?

Hill: Yeah, I have heard that. I totally understand why people are worried, but you have to call out the faulty logic here.

You know, it is true that Hawaii, at least in some studies, is the second most dangerous state for pedestrians. It has been up there no matter which study you’re looking at. But it’s also true that we hand out far more jaywalking tickets.

So if jaywalking tickets were the solution to pedestrian danger and fatality, then Hawaii would be the safest state for pedestrians since we give out so many tickets. But it’s not. All those tickets that we’ve been giving out for years have not made Hawaii any safer.

In fact, globally speaking, if we go outside the United States, the cities that have the lowest pedestrian death rates — these tend to be Scandinavia, Northern Europe, Western Europe — they don’t even have jaywalking laws. So there’s not this connection between safety and jaywalking laws, which really makes sense when you think about it.

Because think about when you’re trying to cross the street — you’re not thinking about “Could I get a jaywalking ticket?” That’s not the uppermost thing in your head. It’s “I hope I don’t get hit by a car.” That’s your main motivation.

So jaywalking tickets aren’t really a deterrent. It’s not getting hit by a car that’s the deterrent. 

And when they’ve done these studies, they also find that a lot of the jaywalking tickets end up being issued to homeless people and minorities and the poor. So it really raises the question about who it’s for.

Miro: I was at an intersection just ready to push the button, you know, to get the thing moving, the countdown going. I looked to my right — I was on Merchant Street — and just as I was looking to my left, it wasn’t a car coming by whizzing along Merchant. It was a mono wheel going about 25 miles an hour. So if I just stepped out a little bit, I would have been clipped, and the individual would have been on the pavement, too.

So it’s not just cars we have to watch out for anymore. It’s electric bikes.

Hill: No, no, it’s not. It’s all the cars, the scooters, the mono wheels. But you know, it’s not really about that. I mean, you still have to watch, no matter what happens with this bill, you still have to watch out for what’s coming.

Miro: Yeah, you just keep your head on a swivel in all instances these days, anyways. And it’s just one other instance — you look left, you look right. That’s what we were taught, even in a car. 

You look left, you look right before you pull on out, and you have to really stare, look at the vehicle before you cross, even though you might have a green light. But nonetheless, it’s all about common sense. 

So personal liability, that’s always big here. Would this bill allow pedestrians to walk into a busy highway without any personal liability in case their action were to cause an accident? That seems a little out of the possibility, but nonetheless a question here.

Hill: Yeah, I mean, for real — if someone is just walking into busy traffic, again, there’s a lot more going on there that can be addressed with a jaywalking ticket. 

But some people have brought this up in testimony about the bill. And it’s a kind of misconception, and even call it slightly misinformation about the bill because not only does this bill have all these caveats where you have to be a certain amount of distance from a crosswalk and you have to take reasonable care, and you can’t cross when a car is coming, and you can’t make the car slow down or anything like that — it has to be super safe — but it also explicitly says in the bill that nothing here changes the duty of care on the part of the pedestrian or a driver. So none of the liability changes. We can’t just walk into traffic. You know, no one, drivers, pedestrians, no one gets more liability.

Really, the only thing that changes with this bill is that the police cannot give you a ticket for crossing against the light or crossing without a walk sign if there are no cars around.

Miro: Well, Malia, have any other states or cities done something like this? And if so, what have been the results? Have you seen massive increases in pedestrian deaths? We learned over that. But how about for the other states?

Hill: Well, you know, this effort to decriminalize jaywalking — it’s kind of a growing trend, as I mentioned before. And there’s a lot of these “freedom to walk” bills that we’ve seen in Hawaii, we’ve seen them elsewhere.

So, you know, the first place it passed, I think, is in Virginia in 2020. And then more recently, California, Nevada, in Anchorage, Alaska, in Kansas City, Missouri. And I want to say New York City and Washington state are also looking at it.

So that’s kind of — it’s a new topic, sort of brought on by people researching what is the use of jaywalking laws. So there’s not a lot of data yet. But I can tell you that, since it’s one of the oldest ones in Virginia — they decriminalized jaywalking in 2020, and it has had no effect really on pedestrian injuries or deaths.

I mean, I can tell you, as someone who spends a lot of time in Virginia, like, I don’t think people even realize that the law changed. That’s how little an impact it made.

Miro: I mean, I could see people with, you know, the weather it gets to be wintry or it’s raining really hard and you’re sitting there waiting for the light and there’s no cars coming. And you’re getting poured on or it’s heavily snowing or it’s freezing outside — you want to get to your destination.

So those are the instances where people say, “Hey, it’s time to walk. There are no cars coming. I’m gonna use my judgment to walk across the street so I can get to my destination.” So I can see this working in that fashion. So as you said, you lived in Virginia for quite some time, Malia.

What would you say to those who are concerned that this would represent a loss of revenue? Because we always have the quota thing going on and are thinking about what the police are out there to get their quota on. So how would this affect revenue?

Hill: That is a good question, because with so many tickets, you kind of think, well, that must be what it is. It must be some sort of push for revenue. But ironically speaking, from the point of view of revenue, this is not a good — jaywalking, it’s not a good moneymaker.

You know, you’d think that with so many tickets, there’d be public funds, that we’d be paying for something important. But metaphorically speaking, jaywalking tickets are like one of those big blockbuster movies that come out in the summer and they cost a ton and then the studio doesn’t even make the money back.

That’s what jaywalking tickets are. Appleseed looked at it, and they figured out that in those six years, all those jaywalking tickets represented $3.8 million in fees assessed for jaywalking tickets. And out of that $3.8 million, they collected $854,000, about.

And then meanwhile, it cost $1.8 million to enforce the jaywalking laws, if you look at time spent and all the administrative costs and so on and so forth, and officers and that kind of thing. So they basically lost almost a million dollars on jaywalking tickets. So they don’t even pay for themselves.

Miro: Not even close. Policy Director Malia Hill from Grassroot Institute, and you can catch them at grassrootsinstitute.org. 

Did any of this impetus come from possibly — because I think it’s been a success of the diagonal crossings when you have all the cars stop and then the pedestrians in Waikiki. This is where they first rolled it out, Ala Moana Boulevard, I believe, Hobron and Kalakaua Avenue and I believe the Royal Hawaiian, that section. 

Has that spurred this and moved this along? Is that part of the thought process? It seems like that’s working, and I can see that expanding to other areas. How has this played into it, if it has at all?

Hill: Well, you know, there are two separate things going on. There’s this push for increasing safety, just in general — you know, road safety, pedestrian safety. And that’s something that the Hawaii Legislature, you’re right, has been more interested in and that, you know, different cities are experimenting in.

And then at the same time, I think it raises these questions. So groups like Appleseed and other organizations — they start — and obviously Grassroot — they start looking at the data and they go, “So what about these laws that are supposed to be about safety? Are they really safe? Or is that completely unrelated?”

And I think that’s kind of what happens. At the same time that we’re trying to make things more safe, we’re also going, “So what is it, what does this do? These jaywalking citations — what are they for then? Are they not to make people safe, if they don’t make a difference, if the data doesn’t show it?”

And then on top of that, when they do that research, they find out, well, actually, not only does it not make anyone more safe, but jaywalking tickets tend to — for some reason — center on the poor, the disadvantaged, the minorities.

I want to say that when New York City looked at it, they found that 90% of the jaywalking tickets in New York City went to Blacks and Hispanics. They got 90% of them.

Somewhere else — I want to say it was in Washington state — it tended to be homeless people. So it really raised a lot of questions. 

So at the same time that you’re trying to make the streets safer, you’re also asking, “What is the point of jaywalking tickets?” So I think those two things are happening at the same time in the Legislature.

Miro: Yeah, it’s all about making things work better, functionality, and looking at the ways to do this thing. 

And then these days, people — time is sped up with the caffeinated society we have right now. Nobody wants to wait that long to get across the streets anymore. And if we can do it safely without worrying about a jaywalking ticket, that would be a plus.

And Malia, anything else you’d like to add before we say aloha?

Hill: Sure. You know, I guess I want to say that there’s a lot of ways to look at the jaywalking issue. For some people, it’s really about restraining an overpoliced, over-zealous  police force — just too much government.

For some people, it’s about, “Well, we need to change these because it’s about standing up for the little guy and the people who are unfairly targeted, people who don’t have cars and walk,” and that kind of thing.

For some people it’s just, “Hey, walking is good. We should encourage people to walk and not just kind of be hammering down on them about jaywalking to them constantly.”

But the jaywalking decriminalization effort — it isn’t really about — there’s no question of safety involved. Obviously, no one’s encouraging anyone to run into traffic. No one’s trying to put more pressure on drivers. That’s all a myth.

It’s just common sense. If you’ve ever sat there on a corner where no car’s in sight and you just want to get home, and it’s late at night and it’s just waiting and waiting and waiting for the light to change that you can cross, going, “Why can’t I just cross? You know? I know how to cross the street. I’ve known since I was 5 years old.” It’s just common sense. And I think that’s something that everyone should be able to agree on.

Miro: So this is in the Senate, right? And then if they move it, it’s gonna go down to the House and it’ll be discussed, and then eventually passed on to become law. So how many more readings does it have to go in the Senate?

Hill: Well, it started in the Senate and it has crossed over to the House now. And the first House committee, which isTtransportation, has heard it already and passed it.

So from there it has to go to House Judiciary. And then from there, conference committee — assuming it passes the House entirely, then it would go to conference committee. And then maybe, hopefully, to the governor’s desk.

Miro: And what was the public input, if there was any so far?

Hill: Well, it’s been interesting. There are a lot of groups that have been very much in favor. The Grassroot Institute has been testifying for it. The Office of the Public Defender testified for it. There’s various coalitions about healthy living and getting active — Hawaii Bicycling League. Obviously, the Appleseed Center has also testified for it. 

And then against it, obviously, you’re going to have the police and the Department of Transportation.

Miro: So there you mentioned the Hawaii Bicycling League. So they’re also bringing that up for people on bikes, that they can quote-unquote “jaywalk” with their bike if they feel and deem it safe?

Hill: Yeah, I think it’s really just about — it’s safe to get out, it’s safe to walk. Let people walk safely. Let people use their common sense to walk safely.

Miro: OK, all right. Well, that wraps it up — interesting topic. [chuckles]. You might not have thought we would be discussing jaywalking laws, but here we are, or eradicating them. And here we are in 2024, and we’ll see if, indeed, that does take place down the road.

Malia Hill, policy director from Grassroot Institute of Hawaii — grassrootinstitute.org for more on their great work that they do there and all the fine employees and staff over there at Grassroot Institute.

Malia, thanks so much for joining us, and we hope to be talking to you again soon about a very important topic. 

Hill: Thank you.

---30---

GRIH: Lets Cut Jaywalkers Some Slack

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