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City Smart | Street Smart

Jaywalking Not a Step to Take Lightly

April 18, 1997|BOB POOL | TIMES STAFF WRITER

To hear pedestrians in Los Angeles tell it, you walk in the street and you get walked all over.

By the police.

"They sit there and wait for you to jaywalk. I heard one cop say it's like catching fish in a barrel," said Kari Johnson, a Larchmont Village store clerk.

Her boss, shop owner Linda Friedman, said she always looks both ways before she steps into the street. She's looking for motorcycle officers and patrol cars.

The coast was clear Thursday as Friedman crossed Larchmont Boulevard in front of her store, waving cheerfully to a motorist who slowed down for her.

"The police continually give tickets out here," Friedman said. "It's wrong. They shouldn't be ticketing people who face no personal peril. There are a lot of petty crimes here they should be investigating instead of spending their time on jaywalkers."

A few miles away in downtown Los Angeles, lawyers John Hochhausler and John Buchanan scanned left and right before they jaywalked across Grand Avenue. They were part of a crowd of nearly a dozen lunchtime strollers surging across between 3rd and 4th streets, right next to a "no jaywalking" sign posted mid-block.

But there's no such thing as safety in numbers for Los Angeles jaywalkers.

"A couple of months ago there was a cop who had eight people lined up by our building giving out jaywalking tickets," Hochhausler said. "He said, 'You, you, you, you . . . step over there!' "

Plenty of Angelenos have heard those dreaded words.

In 1995, 25,800 "pedestrian violation" citations carrying $55 fines each were issued by Los Angeles police. Repeat violators face fines as high as $75.

During the same period, a mere 40 jaywalking summonses (each carrying a $2 fine) were handed out by New York City police. In Boston, not a single person faced the $1 fine that accompanies jaywalking citations there.

Los Angeles police defend their policy.

Nationally, pedestrians were victims in 15% of all fatal vehicle accidents. But they accounted for 33% of Los Angeles' 354 fatalities in 1995, the most recent period for which statistics are available, said Sgt. Bob Rieboldt of the LAPD.

Los Angeles' streets are wider than those in many other cities, Rieboldt said, leading motorists to drive faster and putting jaywalkers in more danger.

A wide roadway played a role in the jaywalking death of anti-war activist Jerry Rubin, 56, who was struck on Wilshire Boulevard in Westwood in 1994.

Teachers union leader Helen Bernstein, 52, was killed earlier this month when she jaywalked across seven-lane Olympic Boulevard in the Mid-City area and was hit by a car.

Such tragedies should be enough to make anybody step gingerly, Rieboldt said.

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