No, I did not get a ticket for jaywalking.
Several people have asked me this following a Times-Union/ProPublica report that analyzed the more than 2,200 pedestrian tickets issued by the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office during a five-year period.
When I walked across Jacksonville, I didn’t think much about this (which, in itself, might be telling).
I worried about figuring out how to get from Point A to Point B, about walking on busy streets without any sidewalks, about remembering to wear a bright orange backpack for visibility, about making it safely across notoriously deadly intersections and, most of all, about paying attention to drivers.
Drivers texting. Drivers acting like city streets are the Daytona International Speedway. Drivers ignoring signs that said it was the law to stop for pedestrians in a crosswalk.
As I took a meandering path through the largest city in the contiguous United States, passing through neighborhoods of every demographic, was I a model pedestrian?
I’ve tried to think back. My honest guess is that I followed pedestrian laws most of the time — but that during most walks, there also were times and places when I did not.
The T-U/ProPublica report included some troubling anecdotes along with data illustrating that residents of the city’s three poorest ZIP codes were about six times more likely to receive a pedestrian citation as those living in the city’s other 34 ZIP codes.
Is that, some asked, because people in poor neighborhoods are less likely to have cars and more likely to be walking? Or is that because police are more likely to issue a ticket to a pedestrian in some parts of town for the same infraction they might ignore in Ortega?
I’d say this isn’t an either/or answer. It’s both.
But there’s an issue beyond this. Black or white, young or old, Northside or Southside, traveling by foot in Jacksonville is dangerous.
And the way to fix this isn’t pedestrian tickets.
That was my reaction even before this report found that more than half of the most common tickets were issued erroneously. It was my reaction last year when there were headlines saying that, as part of a statewide effort to make Florida cities safer for pedestrians, police would be issuing more citations to pedestrians.
Study after study shows that Florida cities, including Jacksonville, rank among the worst in America for pedestrian safety. This isn’t simply because of reckless pedestrians. It’s because of infrastructure. It’s because of the design of cities and roads. It’s because, according to several reports, we have some of the most distracted drivers in the nation.
The first step toward changing this is simply acknowledging it’s a problem, saying it’s something we care about changing.
There are people in Northeast Florida doing this. Last month about 100 people gathered at a Southbank hotel for the first North Florida Safe Streets Summit, a daylong event hosted by the North Florida TPO.
Audrey Moran, senior vice president at Baptist Health, moderated one panel and described the flashing lights in Avondale where drivers are supposed to stop for pedestrians in the crosswalk.
“You step out and you wait,” she said. “People aren’t going to stop. And the looks of annoyance sometimes are prevalent. Where my sister lives in Los Altos, Calif., you can kind of glance like you’re going to step off a curb and people will hit the brakes. They’ve created that culture. How do we do that here in Northeast Florida?”
The first panelist to answer the question was Steve Barreira, the assistant chief of Community Affairs for the Clay County Sheriff’s Office and a former sergeant with JSO’s Safe Streets Unit.
His first comment: You can’t arrest your way to a solution.
He followed this up by saying beyond the enforcement, there is the environment — that the type of infrastructure you build (or don’t build) not only dictates transportation but illustrates what you think is important.
Consider this detail from the T-U/ProPublica report: The Jacksonville Transit Authority has 321 bus stops on roads without sidewalks and 993 bus stops not within 300 feet of a crosswalk.
I could give you all kinds of examples of trouble spots from my walk across Jacksonville. But the example that concerns me most is from the walk my daughter makes from her school bus stop to home.
She has to cross a four-lane road where people routinely drive way over the speed limit. At the corner where she starts, it would make sense to simply cross the road on the north side of the intersection, walk a short distance and turn into our neighborhood.
The problem: While that side of the intersection has a crosswalk, it doesn’t have a pedestrian light.
You can cross there legally. But safely? We tell her she must first cross the two-lane side street, then cross the four-lane street on the south crosswalk (both of those crossings have pedestrian lights). But this means she needs to then get back across the two-lane street.
So she crosses three sides of an intersection — and then has the sidewalk stop abruptly on her walk along a still fairly busy two-lane street (or continues on the other side for a few hundred yards and crosses where there is no crosswalk).
This is merely one pedestrian concern in a city full of them, many much more daunting.
I’d like to see the school bus make another stop, maybe at a nearby middle school, so kids — not just my daughter — could avoid this. (My wife has contacted the school district transportation office about this and has gotten zero response.) But what I’d really like to see is a Jacksonville where walking is safer for everyone of every age in every neighborhood.
City Council President Anna Lopez Brosche gave the welcome at the Safe Streets Summit and asked those who attended to answer a series of question with a show of hands. How many of you have parents who walked or biked to school? (Almost everyone.) How many of you walked or bike to school? (The vast majority.) How many of your children walk or bike to school? (Fewer than a dozen.)
She gave the 2017 statistics about pedestrian and bicycling deaths and talked about how this isn’t just a safety issue, how it’s an economic development one, how potential employers and employees care about such things. She explained how many cities in America have adopted policies and plans such as “Vision Zero” — and how few in Florida have.
“So we have some opportunities,” she said.
City Councilwoman Lori Boyer wrapped up the summit with a pop quiz that illustrated some of the confusion, even among experts and enforcement, about pedestrian laws. She echoed some of what Brosche said.
There is bright potential in our dreary statistics.
When it comes to a long-running question for Jacksonville — What is our identity? — we often talk about our history, our water, our beaches and parks. A reader once suggested to me that between our recreational opportunities and medical resources, we could strive to be known as Florida’s healthiest city.
I like it. But we have a long way to go. And part of getting there should involve walking.