New York’s Jaywalking Crackdown Sure Seems Real

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Photo: John Moore/2014 Getty Images

New mayor Bill de Blasio and his new NYPD commissioner Bill Bratton are threading a delicate needle as they try to increase the focus on pedestrian safety without officially cracking down on jaywalking, which as any New Yorker will tell you is basically a way of life here. De Blasio insisted on Monday that "there is no larger policy in terms of jaywalking, and ticketing and jaywalking," after police bloodied an 84-year-old man as they ticketed him for jaywalking Sunday. But, he said, "It is something a local precinct commander can act on, if they perceive there to be a real danger." Those local commanders are indeed acting; as The Wall Street Journal reported on Wednesday, the city has seen a major spike in jaywalking citations this year, issuing 64 compared to just 12 in the same period last year.

Many of those citations were issued at one location: The intersection of 96th Street and Broadway, where three pedestrians have been killed so far this year, The Journal noted. "On Sunday, an increased number of NYPD officers patrolled the intersection, issuing five traffic tickets to vehicles and citing 18 pedestrians for jaywalking, the NYPD said." But the department offered no explanation for the increase, saying the numbers tended to change depending on traffic patterns.

In this city of 8.3 million, police only issued 630 jaywalking in all of 2013, The Journal reported. That is incredibly low compared to the number of people one can observe, in any given trip outside, crossing in the middle of the block or against the light. Many of us probably committed 630 individual acts of jaywalking all on our own last year.

The latest citation statistics would appear to support some City Council members' criticism of the perceived crackdown on Monday, when Councilman Mark Levine complained, "To go from no enforcement to this aggressive action was overkill." Indeed, for New Yorkers accustomed to ignoring the lights while on foot, pretty much any citations for jaywalking are going to feel like a crackdown.