Guest Commentary: California’s Jaywalking Laws Need To Be Walked Back

Publication: CalMatters

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.”

Milton looked both ways before crossing the street midblock. He was almost to the bus stop when a police car slowed, lights flashing. Two officers wrote him up for jaywalking – a $198 citation that quickly rose to more than $500 thanks to late fees (called civil assessments), assessed after he couldn’t pay.

“It was embarrassing to be stopped in public and treated like I had just committed a serious crime,” he said. 

His experience encapsulates why a growing coalition is supporting the Freedom to Walk Act, Assembly Bill 1238, which would repeal California’s jaywalking laws. Authored by Assemblymember Phil Ting, a Democrat representing San Francisco, the bill would make it legal to cross the street as Milton did, like so many of us do: in a commonsense, safe way. Slapping people with fines for ordinary and logical behavior does not make our streets safer. In fact, it does more harm than good.