Research has shown that it’s more difficult — and dangerous — to cross the street if you’re black. Black male pedestrians are more often passed by cars and wait longer to cross at marked, but signal-less, crosswalks. Now, a joint report from ProPublica and the Florida-Times Union shows that “walking while black” in one of the country’s most dangerous cities for pedestrians is also unfairly expensive.
That’s because Jacksonville law enforcement issue hundreds of pedestrian citations each year, for everything from jaywalking to “failing to cross the road at a right angle or the shortest route” or not walking on the left side of the road when no sidewalk is available. The Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office is certainly not alone in targeting pedestrian offenses — according to the report, Jacksonville is ranked sixth among the state’s largest counties for the issuing of pedestrian tickets — but researchers found a troubling pattern.
From the article:
The pedestrian tickets — typically costing $65, but carrying the power to damage one’s credit or suspend a driver’s license if unpaid — were disproportionately issued to blacks, almost all of them in the city’s poorest neighborhoods. In the last five years, blacks received 55 percent of all pedestrian tickets in Jacksonville, while only accounting for 29 percent of the population. Blacks account for a higher percentage of tickets in Duval County than any other large county in Florida.
Blacks, then, were nearly three times as likely as whites to be ticketed for a pedestrian violation. Residents of the city’s three poorest zip codes were about six times as likely to receive a pedestrian citation as those living in the city’s other, more affluent 34 zip codes.
What’s more, tickets for the more obscure statues, like “failing to cross the road at a right angle or the shortest route” and “walking in the roadway where sidewalks are provided” fell even more disproportionately on the city’s black residents.
Despite the numbers, there was no “active effort to be in black neighborhoods writing pedestrian tickets,” Sheriff Mike Williams told reporters. The Sheriff’s second-in-command, Patrick Ivey, said that pedestrian violations were a legal way to establish probable cause, and that they were necessary for safety in a city with such high pedestrian fatality rates.
As Next City has covered, systemic inequalities in planning and development do often translate to better walking and biking infrastructure in whiter and wealthier neighborhoods. And the public transit system in Jacksonville leaves much to be desired — according to the ProPublica story, the Jacksonville Transportation Authority has 321 bus stops on roads without sidewalks. But the report suggests that local law enforcement aren’t just targeting the areas that are unsafe. Reporters looked at a variety of “data-driven hot spots” where officers were deployed to warn and ticket pedestrian offenders.
From the story:
The identified hot spots don’t seem to really correlate with where deaths were happening. Seventeen percent of the 94 deadly crashes in subsequent years took place on streets identified by the sheriff’s office as locations at which they wanted to focus their ticket enforcement.
A broader look at the five years, 2012 to 2017, shows a similar disconnect between where pedestrian tickets were issued and where fatalities took place. Just one of the top six census tracts in Jacksonville for pedestrian deaths was among the top six for tickets. Indeed, one of the deadliest tracts — six deaths — saw just 10 tickets in five years. The neighborhood with the most tickets had just two deaths.
And then, of course, simply targeting pedestrians for unsafe motorist behavior has been shown to be futile.
“It seems unfortunate to say the least, and capricious at worst, to be ticketing people for behavior when it just isn’t possible to do the right thing or be in the right place,” Andy Clarke, lead author of the city’s Pedestrian and Bicyclist Master Plan, told ProPublica and Florida-Times Union reporters. He added: “Trying to educate people to cross the road safely when there aren’t crosswalks or where there’s missing sidewalks — it just doesn’t work.”
Rachel Dovey is an award-winning freelance writer and former USC Annenberg fellow living at the northern tip of California’s Bay Area. She writes about infrastructure, water and climate change and has been published by Bust, Wired, Paste, SF Weekly, the East Bay Express and the North Bay Bohemian.