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Give Californians the Freedom to Walk

A campaign to eliminate unjust ‘jaywalking’ laws.

It‘s time to legalize safe street crossings

In 2021, CalBike sponsored AB 1238 (Ting), the Freedom to Walk Act, to repeal California ‘jaywalking’ laws. This crucial legislation would have protected vulnerable pedestrians against arbitrary, racially biased, pretextual policing, as well as burdensome fees and fines, and unnecessary, and potentially lethal, interactions with law enforcement.

The Freedom to Walk Act has passed the Assembly and the Senate but was vetoed by Governor Newsom.

If a police officer cites you for jaywalking under CVC 21955, crossing the road outside a designated crosswalk, you may face a fine as high as $250. That amount can get higher as additional violations are added. This jaywalking fine is higher than most parking tickets and some common traffic citations. A jaywalking ticket may also cost you $1,000+ in insurance hikes and penalties.

The Freedom to Walk Act would not change existing law that already requires pedestrians to avoid potentially hazardous situations on the roadway. It would merely legalize what people are already doing: finding the best routes to safely walk in their neighborhoods.

The Freedom to Walk Act, AB 1238, would have:

  • Legalize safe, commonsense street crossing, when traffic permits, whether or not a pedestrian is within a marked/unmarked crosswalk or the walk cycle of a traffic signal.
  • Remove a pretext for over-policing that has disproportionately hurt Black and Latinx Californians.
  • End a traffic enforcement practice that places an undue financial burden on low-income residents through fines, fees, and penalties.
  • Recognize the rights of pedestrians to fair and equitable use of our public roadways.
Legalize safe street crossings

NEWSOM VETOES FREEDOM TO WALK IN CALIFORNIA

Movement to End Unjust Jaywalking Laws Will Continue

SACRAMENTO – In a setback for the movement for more equitable streets, Governor Gavin Newsom vetoed the Freedom to Walk Act (AB 1238, Ting). The law would have ended penalties for safe mid-block pedestrian crossings. CalBike and a coalition of more than 90 groups and individuals supported the repeal of ‘jaywalking’ laws.

“The governor’s veto rests on the belief that police enforcement or the threat of jaywalking tickets will somehow prevent pedestrian fatalities in the future when that has consistently failed in the past. Continuing to criminalize people’s rational, predictable responses to poor infrastructure is simply unjust,” said Jared Sanchez, CalBike Senior Policy Advocate.

Inequities in neighborhood design and street infrastructure leave many lower-income California neighborhoods less than pedestrian-friendly. Because of this, policing jaywalking often amounts to punishing people for the lack of government services in their community.

Legalizing mid-block crossings would have helped protect vulnerable pedestrians against racially biased, pretextual policing, inequitable fees and fines, and unnecessary and potentially lethal interactions with law enforcement.

John Yi, Executive Director of Los Angeles Walks, said, “The Governor’s recent veto represents continued condescension of pedestrians. To think we can penalize our parents, seniors, and students to bow to high-speed traffic at the cost of their own dignity, ease, and safety is draconian and deeply misunderstands the needs of those walking every day. We cannot begin to ask why it is we jaywalk if we are already criminals in the eyes of the state.”

“This is a tremendous loss not only for racial justice across California but also for active transportation as a whole as Governor Newsom failed to recognize the importance of non-automobile modes of travel,” said CalBike’s Sanchez. “But the Freedom to Walk Act has helped spark a national conversation about unjust jaywalking laws that can’t be stopped by one misguided veto.”

Jaywalking laws are not enforced fairly.

Across California, police departments are stopping Black pedestrians more often than others. From 2018-2020, data from the California Racial and Identity Profiling Act (RIPA) shows that Black Californians are severely overrepresented in being stopped for jaywalking.

Police department data also show that police are almost four and half times more likely to stop Black Californians than whites for jaywalking, in some cities (right chart).

jaywalking data 1
jaywalking data 2

Read about CalBike’s campaign to decriminalize safe pedestrian behavior

‘Jaywalking’ was created by car clubs and manufacturers in the 1930s to shift the blame for traffic fatalies from drivers to pedestrians. It’s time to decriminalize walking.

The very concept of jaywalking creates and reinforces the belief that public roadways belong exclusively to people in motor vehicles. Drivers, believing they are asserting their right-of-way, may threaten pedestrians with their vehicles, whether pedestrians are ‘jaywalking’ or not. Decriminalizing safe street crossings will discourage vehicular aggression towards pedestrians.

The criminalization of jaywalking encourages dangerous behavior by people in motor vehicles.

The problem with jaywalking laws

  • Ongoing criminalization of low-income Black and Brown communities. Jaywalking is categorized with other low-level ‘quality of life’ infractions. This refers to a practice of heavily policing a number of normally non-criminal activities and everyday behavior such as standing, sleeping, and congregating in public spaces, as well as minor offenses such as public urination, panhandling, littering, and unlicensed street vending because, the argument goes, if left unchecked, these minor offenses will lead to an explosion of serious crime. Police officers rarely if ever issue citations for these infractions in white, wealthy neighborhoods. This ongoing form of police harassment of Black and Latinx communities, people experiencing homelessness, and people with disabilities can cause trauma, and enforcement of minor infractions has led to police violence. 
  • California is in the process of reforming its laws regarding the use of public spaces. Several categories of infractions have already been eliminated in recent years at the state level, including vending without a permit and possession of marijuana. It’s time to add jaywalking to this list.
  • The criminalization of crossing the street mid-block often results in hundreds of dollars in fines and fees people cannot afford to pay. In some counties, outstanding jaywalking tickets can be the pretext for warrants and arrests for people who either do not pay or fail to appear in court. Low-income people who commit minor offenses such as jaywalking can end up saddled with fines, fees and penalties that drive them deeper into poverty. This is part of a long history of police departments overly enforcing such minor infractions because of government dependence on the criminal justice system to raise revenue. California has been moving away from these kinds of regressive approaches to revenue-raising. Fines for jaywalking, an infraction that causes no injury to the community, should be considered in the same category and should likewise be eliminated.
  • Our streets are not designed to make walking safe or convenient, particularly in our most disadvantaged communities. In the absence of safe and accessible pedestrian infrastructure,  residents do their best to navigate across major roads with high-speed traffic and inadequate crossings. Dangerous roads, which lack adequate crossings, lighting, and sidewalks, are typically concentrated in Black and Brown neighborhoods. Because of this, law enforcement often polices communities for their lack of governmental services and improper land use planning; issues that white affluent neighborhoods do not similarly face.
  • Jaywalking laws were originally created by auto industry-aligned special interest groups in the 1930s during the rise of mass automobile ownership. Prior to the emergence of cars in cities, no such concept existed; pedestrians had free run of the public right-of-way. But, as city streets became sites of increasing carnage in the early days of America’s auto era (about 200,000 Americans (many of them children) were killed by cars in the 1920s), towns and cities began to enact low-speed limits to protect other street users. Automakers and owners sought regulations that would shift responsibility away from drivers and onto pedestrians. Jaywalking laws effectively fence in people traveling on foot so that cars can travel at unsafe speeds, endangering children, seniors, and other vulnerable road users. It’s time to take back our streets.
  • Jaywalking represents a rational adaptation to an unfriendly built environment: Signal timing that prioritizes vehicular traffic, lack of crossings between common destinations, long distances between crosswalks are all characteristics of an unfriendly built environment. In some cases, jaywalking is driven by the fear of crime, particularly in low-income communities. Jaywalking is often the most rational choice among bad options. For example, an investigation into the nation-leading pedestrian deaths in Arizona by the Arizona Republic last year found only about a third of the pedestrians killed in Phoenix were near (within 500 feet of) a crosswalk. The reporters concluded there was a need for more crosswalks, not a crackdown on jaywalkers. Criminalizing a rational, predictable response to poor infrastructure is unjust. 

More about unjust jaywalking laws

Millions of California residents every day find themselves breaking the law as they walk our public streets. Crossing the street in the middle of the block or against the traffic light are harmless, common behaviors that are nevertheless illegal. AB 1238 would make it legal to cross the street outside a designated marked/unmarked crosswalk or crossing time, so long as it’s safe to do so.

Jaywalking laws do more than turn an ordinary and logical behavior into a crime; they also create opportunities for police to racially profile. A jaywalking ticket can turn into a potentially life-threatening police encounter, especially for Black people, who are disproportionately targeted and suffer the most severe consequences of inequitable law enforcement. With national attention on Black Lives Matter protests and calls to transform the role of law enforcement, there is new energy and increased political will to eliminate harmful police functions. Now is the time for California to address the decriminalization of harmless pedestrian actions across California to answer the demand for racial justice. 

Black people suffer disproportionate and unequal treatment at the hands of the police. California has a long history of over-policing, criminalization, and incarceration that imposes disparate impacts on Black Californians. One major contributor to the disparity is “pretextual policing,” which is the practice of stopping someone for a minor traffic violation in order to conduct investigations unrelated to the reason for the stop. Mid-block pedestrian crossing (i.e. ‘jaywalking’) is an important example that has continuously proved tragic, especially for people racialized as Black, in confrontation with the police.

In addition to racial profiling, there are two other core issues with criminalizing common pedestrian behavior:

  • The fees associated with jaywalking tickets place an undue burden on the people least able to afford them. Many low-income people rely on walking to meet their essential needs.
  • Beyond inequitable enforcement, the prevalence of jaywalking in certain neighborhoods reflects inequities in street design. Poorer neighborhoods are more likely to have larger distances between designated marked or unmarked crosswalks, malfunctioning pedestrian crossing buttons, and gaps in sidewalks. People who need to walk in their neighborhoods should not be penalized for decades of infrastructure neglect and auto-first street design that fails to consider the needs of users who aren’t in cars.

California must join efforts across the country to remove penalties for commonsense pedestrian behavior and go further by legalizing mid-block crossings between signalized intersections and walking against the light, which currently qualify as traffic infractions. 

Further Justification

Local Context

Out-of-State Efforts

Studies

Data Sources

Freedom to Walk In the News

Articles, editorials, news features, and podcasts

On a hot june evening in Berkeley, California, last year, while his groceries sweated on the couch, 24-year-old Darrell Owens sent a tweet that changed his city.

On a hot june evening in Berkeley, California, last year, while his groceries sweated on the couch, 24-year-old Darrell Owens sent a tweet that changed his city.

Last week, Gov. Gavin Newsom vetoed the Freedom To Walk Act, which would have largely decriminalized the common practice known as “jaywalking” in California.

At the very deadline for signing bills, Governor Newsom vetoed two important traffic safety bills that had garnered wide support among legislators as well as a broad range of organizations.

Faced with the opportunity to redefine the traffic safety regime in one of the nation’s most progressive states, Governor Gavin Newsom flinched.

California’s Gov. Gavin Newsom has vetoed bills that would have allowed cyclists to treat stop signs like yields and repealed jaywalking laws. Both bills were supported by bike and pedestrian advocacy groups including CalBike.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom on Friday rejected an effort to decriminalize jaywalking, despite supporters framing the issue as a social justice reform.

CalBike’s jaywalking bill is featured: listen for what rhymes with “jaywalking” in the limerick section.

Gov. Gavin Newsom on Friday night vetoed a pair of bills designed to make streets more welcoming to non-vehicular modes of transportation, including a measure that would have decriminalized jaywalking and another that sought to allow bicyclists to treat stop signs as yield signs.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom on Friday rejected an effort to decriminalize jaywalking, despite supporters framing the issue as a social justice reform.

Gov. Gavin Newsom vetoed a bill Friday that would have allowed people to cross the street outside of crosswalks when cars were not present without facing the possibility of a pricey jaywalking ticket.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom on Friday rejected an effort to decriminalize jaywalking, despite supporters framing the issue as a social justice reform.

The governor has until Sunday to approve or veto a number of contentious proposals.

A bill is on the Governor’s desk that would make it legal for bicycles to move through intersections with stop signs without stopping. It sounds dangerous, but proponents believe it will actually make things safer.

California is poised to abandon one of the most problematic conventions in American transportation. On September 8, the California Senate advanced a bill that would eliminate fines for crossing the street outside of a crosswalk — the practice better known as jaywalking. Proposed by Assemblyman Phil Ting of San Francisco, AB 1238 is part of a wave of similar decriminalization efforts across the nation, following a turbulent year of norm-shifting public crises.

California has recognized that there are environmental, public health and mobility benefits to getting people out of cars and into other modes of travel, including biking, walking and taking public transit. Yet in too many instances, state law still favors cars.

California cyclists could treat stop signs as yields if a new bill becomes law. KCBS’ Alice Wertz has this report.

When Parker Day approaches a stop sign while biking in San Francisco, he slows down, looks for any oncoming cars or pedestrians, and advances through the intersection if it is safe to do so.

Streetsblog recently joined BikeTalk and the California Bicycle Coalition in a conversation with new Deputy Director of Planning and Modal Programs at Caltrans, Jeanie Ward-Waller, about changes and challenges at Caltrans. Below is an edited version highlighting some of what we talked about; listen to the entire conversation at BikeTalk.

On a rainy Thanksgiving night in 2019, Jihad Muhammad, 62, was standing by a crosswalk on Adams Boulevard near West View Street when he was struck by a white Audi whose driver sped off, leaving him lying on the street.

Civil rights attorney Ben Crump is suing the city of Beverly Hills and the captain of the police department over a program called “Operation Safe Streets.”

Assembly Bill 122, also known as the Bicycle Safety Stop bill, has passed all committees and could be coming up for a vote on the Senate floor as early as this week. If passed and subsequently signed into law, the statewide pilot program would allow bicyclists to treat stop signs as yield signs until January 1, 2028.

One thing the group has been pushing for is to get California’s lawmakers to give e-bikes the same public support that larger electric vehicles have been getting. For example, one can get thousands off the purchase price of an EV (on top of federal tax credits) if their income is low enough, and that has helped spur the purchase of EVs. Similarly, it’s difficult for many Californians with lower incomes to purchase an e-bike, due to the extra expense.

A 66-year-old black man was given a nearly $200 ticket for walking across the street. Richard Milton of Culver City, California was recently fined $198 by two officers for jaywalking. After late fees including civil assessments given when he couldn’t pay, Milton was left with a bill of $500.

Five years ago, Oakland planners broke ground on a bold project on Telegraph Avenue: a protected bicycle lane. It might not seem like that big of a deal until you see it. Most bicycle lanes in Oakland and the rest of California are the buffered type, which place bike riders in a painted strip next to vehicle traffic, with parked cars on their right. Protected lanes entirely separate bicyclists from moving traffic by putting a barrier in between them.

Within the budget bill awaiting the governor’s signature is $10 million for incentives to buy electric bicycles. This is included in a planned $425 million investment in the Clean Vehicle Rebate Program, which is part of nearly $1 billion in investments in clean vehicles, including trucks and transit and school buses.

In the next few weeks, current bills that have already passed their house of origin are being heard by committees in the other house. All must be passed – or held, or die – before the legislature goes on summer break, starting July 16.

The Walking College will provide fellows with an opportunity to hone their skills and knowledge around creating vibrant, safe, accessible communities for people of all ages and abilities. Fellows, paired with experienced leaders in the urban planning field, will learn about the historical underpinnings of the car-centric transportation landscape and the basics of design and policy that foster safe, inclusive, accessible design for non-motorized transportation while developing essential leadership skills. Over the course of the program, fellows will also create a blueprint to address a specific problem in their community. AARP California will cover the fellowship program fees and provide fellows who successfully complete the program with a $1,000 stipend.

Richard Milton walked out of his medical appointment in Culver City into the noon sun. He needed to get back to the garage space he calls home. Black, 66, and a proud Army veteran, Milton has struggled with homelessness for years. “The garage is my sanctuary,” he said. “I have privacy there.”

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KERO) — The debate over e-bikes continues in Kern County. This time about whether or not they should be banned from bike paths at the Kern River Parkway.

In April 2017, Nandi Cain Jr., who is Black, was beaten by a Sacramento police officer. Following a verbal altercation, Officer Anthony Figueroa threw Cain to the ground and punched him repeatedly.

Sacramento, CA – A bill intended to seek fairness and prevent escalating police stops for jaywalking passed the California State Assembly on Wednesday.

JUNE 2, 2021

Assembly: Phil Ting

I’ve done it. You probably have, too. You’re walking on Clement or Irving streets, and a store on the other side of the street catches your eye. Giving in to temptation, you look both ways and cross in the middle of the block once it’s safe to do so. Most of us don’t realize we’re breaking the law, but that’s jaywalking – something you can get a ticket for.

I’ve done it. You probably have, too. You’re walking on Clement or Irving streets, and a store on the other side of the street catches your eye. Giving in to temptation, you look both ways and cross in the middle of the block once it’s safe to do so. Most of us don’t realize we’re breaking the law, but that’s jaywalking – something you can get a ticket for.

I’ve done it. You probably have too. A flower shop or a store catches your eye on the other side of the street while walking. Maybe coffee or ice cream is calling your name. Giving in to the temptation, you look both ways, and when safe, you cross in the middle of the block. Most of us don’t realize we’re breaking the law, but that’s jaywalking—something you can get a ticket for.

Black Californians are up to 4.5 times more likely to be stopped for jaywalking than their white peers, according to data the state collects under the Racial and Identity Profiling Act (RIPA). The Freedom to Walk Act, a bill introduced by Assemblymember Phil Ting (D-San Francisco) and pedestrian safety groups, aims to address this disparity by decriminalizing walking in the street outside of a legal intersection.

Circulate San Diego joined a coalition letter supporting AB 1238, the Freedom to Walk Act, which would repeal California’s “jaywalking” laws by legalizing certain common and safe street crossings that currently qualify as traffic infractions. The Freedom to Walk Act does not change existing law that requires pedestrians to avoid potentially hazardous situations on the roadway.

Jaywalking is one of those criminal offenses that many of us don’t think twice about committing. We need to cross the street, any approaching cars are a safe distance away, so off we trot from one side to the next mid-block.

SAN DIEGO (KGTV) — A California lawmaker is proposing a new bill that would decriminalize jaywalking in the state.

California Assemblyman Phil Ting wants to repeal the state’s jaywalking law and supporters point to past cases where people have died at the hands of police after being accused of walking across the street against the light.