Tag: jaywalking

Despite Deadly 2022, Traffic Safety Bills Fail to Gain Traction

By Ryan Packer

After 2022—the deadliest year on Washington state roadways since the early 1990—it seemed likely that traffic safety would get significant attention during this year’s legislative session. But following a key early March deadline for bills to pass out of their house of origin, a number of promising bills are off the table.

A bill to reduce Washington’s blood-alcohol threshold for a DUI from 0.08 percent to 0.05 percent was a top priority for safety advocates, winning early support from a broad group of transportation sector organizatios, including the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), the Washington Traffic Safety Commission, and the National Safety Council. However, the bill failed to make it through the Senate, in part because legislators opted to debate a bill allowing more police pursuits instead during the final hours before a key deadline.

Another safety bill that failed to advance would have required car dealers to put warning labels on large trucks and SUVs that are designed in a way that puts pedestrians and cyclists at greater risk; the bill would have also increased fines for traffic infractions committed by people driving those vehicles. For decades, federal programs have rated the “crashworthiness” of specific types of cars and trucks, but as Americans have opted for larger and larger SUVs, that rating hasn’t taken the safety of people outside the vehicle into account,

A bill that would have prohibited drivers from turning right at any red light within 1,000 feet of a school, park, or other high-traffic public facility received strong support from walking and biking advocacy organizations but never got a committee vote in either the house or the senate. In 2018, Washington, D.C. piloted right-turn-on-red restrictions at 100 high-volume intersections, finding a 92 percent reduction in drivers failing to yield to pedestrians compared to before the restrictions were added. Based on that data, the district broadly adopted the restrictions citywide in 2022.

There is data showing that Black people are getting stopped at a rate of four times their share of the population, and unhoused individuals make up half of jaywalking stops. [The law against ‘jaywalking’] isn’t being enforced to promote safety.”—Matthew Sutherland, Transportation Choices Coalition

Legislators also weren’t ready to pass a bill that would have prohibited traffic stops for non-moving violations like broken taillights, or a proposal that would have to banned most “jaywalking” stops of pedestrians crossing outside legal intersections. One issue was that there isn’t enough data yet to determine the impact eliminating such laws has on pedestrian safety.

“Certainly [we] want to look at how we reduce disproportionality in our transportation space, but we need to flesh out how this fits into an overall safety strategy,” Marko Liias (D-21, Edmonds), chair of the Senate’s transportation committee, told PubliCola.

Matthew Sutherland, the Advocacy Director at Transportation Choices Coalition, said police use jaywalking stops as a pretext for targeting vulnerable people.  “Folks are being harassed,” he said. “There is data showing that Black people are getting stopped at a rate of four times their share of the population, and unhoused individuals make up half of jaywalking stops. This isn’t being enforced to promote safety.” Sutherland also noted that the jaywalking bill would have shifted more of the burden of pedestrian safety from pedestrians onto drivers, a controversial element of the proposal.

Liias said some bills didn’t advance because they weren’t bolstered with enough relevant supporting data. “I’m really trying to ensure that we’re data-driven.,” he said. “When we talk to vulnerable [road] users, we know right-turn-on-red is a problem. I think we now need to build the evidence and be able to articulate that piece of it, because we’re asking for a culture shift … and I think people are reluctant to do that without the full picture.”

Convincing data didn’t seem to help the proposal to drop Washington’s blood-alcohol content threshold for a DUI to 0.05 percent, however. Utah, the first state to adopt the lower limit in 2019, saw a double-digit drop in statewide traffic fatalities in the year after the new law took effect, without a corresponding rise in alcohol-related traffic stops or arrests. The bill was expected to prevent around 30-40 deaths in Washington state annually, but it received significant pushback from the restaurant and hospitality industries, which were concerned about increased liability for servers and bartenders who overserved patrons. Supporters of the bill, including Gov. Jay Inslee, said they looked forward to its return next year.

Liias pointed to several traffic safety bills that are still advancing where the impacts are more clear-cut. One bill would allow the Washington State Department of Transportation to use automated cameras to ticket drivers speeding on state highways. Another would require drivers under 25 to complete a driver’s education class before receiving their license, eliminating the current loophole allowing drivers 18 and older to get a license after passing a written test. Only around half of drivers under 25 licensed in Washington have received comprehensive driver training and those who have not have a crash rate that’s significantly higher than those who have.

“I knew coming into session that we aren’t going to achieve Target Zero in the next two years,” Sen. Marko Liias said, refering to a goal Washington has had in place since 2000 to eliminate serious traffic-related injuries and fatalities. “I think we’ve put this issue on the map, and now we’re starting to build that comprehensive set of policies that will help us get headed in the right direction toward zero.”

But Liias also noted the significant hurdles to changing behavior, even with the potential benefit of saving lives. “We’re used to doing things across the safety space in one way, and shifting to a new framework and a mindset takes time for folks.”

In the other chamber, Representative Jake Fey (D-27, Tacoma), chair of the house transportation committee, said there has been some progress on traffic safety, citing a bill that will provide hiring incentives to Washington State Trooper recruits: $10,000 over two years for cadets and $15,000 over two years for lateral hires from different police departments. That bill is now in the Senate after passing the House with only one vote in opposition.

Fey told PubliCola he considers efforts to increase the number of police on state roadways complementary with trying to reduce unnecessary stops. “Part of the intent was to make troopers and other law enforcement available for other important work, and not dealing with minor things that have the net effect of targeting certain populations,” Fey said. But with Democrats incredibly divided over police issues, hope for future movement on the issue could be dim.

With nationwide trends, like vehicle design, generally outside of state control also having a big impact on increasing traffic fatality numbers, the best legislators were hoping for was small progress on the issue this session. “I knew coming into session that we aren’t going to achieve Target Zero in the next two years,” Liias said, refering to a goal Washington has had in place since 2000 to eliminate serious traffic-related injuries and fatalities. “I think we’ve put this issue on the map, and now we’re starting to build that comprehensive set of policies that will help us get headed in the right direction toward zero.”








State Could Eliminate Jaywalking Law; Right-Wing Group Attacks Seattle Council for Addiction Program They Had Nothing to Do With

1. If you’ve ever lived outside the Pacific Northwest, or spent time in virtually any big city elsewhere, you may wonder why the state of Washington still has, and enforces, laws against “jaywalking”—the practice of crossing the street midblock or while the light is green but the road is clear. (“Jay-walking” is an antique slur for a rube who doesn’t know enough to keep out of the road). Crossing the street in an area other than an intersection or against a signal can set you back $68, and you’re far more likely to be targeted if you’re Black; according to a 2017 analysis, more than a quarter of jaywalking tickets issued between 2010 and 2016 went to Black pedestrians, even though just 7 percent of Seattle residents are Black.

This year, legislators plan to propose a bill that would eliminate the specific law against jaywalking—or “crossing not at a crosswalk,” as the state’s 57-year-old jaywalking law describes it—which would make it legal to cross the street as long as it’s safe to do so. During a recent Transportation Choices Coalition-sponsored forum, state Sens. Javier Valdez (D-46) and Marko Liias (D-21), the head of the Senate Transportation Committee, noted that legislators laid the groundwork for getting rid of the jaywalking ban by specifying that pedestrians, like drivers, must exercise “due care” when using roads and sidewalks.

Now, Liias said,  “I don’t think we need a specific violation for jaywalking, because if law enforcement sees someone that’s violating that duty of care, just like if they see any other user [doing so], they already have tools to hold that person accountable. When you look at the history of how these laws were used, it’s clear that there’s been disproportionate enforcement against low-income and BIPOC communities.” Basically, Valdez added, the change would give people the ability to use common sense when crossing the street without risking an automatic penalty. In areas where stoplights are far apart, the rational choice is often to cross midblock rather than walking a quarter-mile or more each way just to get to the other side of the road.

TCC, along with Commute Seattle, the King County Department of Public Defense, and other groups have started a coalition called Free to Walk Washington to support the elimination of jaywalking laws, which would follow similar changes in California, Virginia, Nevada, and Kansas City, MO.

2. Change Washington, a “strategic communications organization” funded by the right-wing organization Project 42, often makes and promotes some pretty outrageous claims about the city of Seattle on its website, which includes cross-posts from Project 42-funded ventures like the podcast of a well-known former local FOX reporter. Last week, though, they got the attention of a Seattle City Council member with a post that not only mischaracterized a well-established addiction management technique called contingency management, but accused the whole city council of proposing a “giveaway to drug addicts”—a claim without even a passing connection to reality. (The post uses the sneering slur “addict” no fewer than seven times.)

Contingency management is a method of helping a person reduce their drug consumption by offering them small rewards, such as money, a gift card, or a small prize, for a negative drug test. In numerous studies, contingency management has been found to be one of the most effective methods for reducing or eliminating drug use, particularly among people whose main drug of choice is stimulants, for which there are no broadly effective medications. There is longstanding, research-backed scientific consensus that contingency management works. Even so, the city council has never proposed funding it.

“The budget that City Council passed last month does not include funding for a contingency management program,” Herbold wrote Change Washington in an email. “I am unaware of any City Councilmember that has a proposal for a contingency management program,” she added, since the city doesn’t fund public health care programs—the county does. King County’s DCHS Behavioral Health and Recovery Division got approval last year to fund a contingency management pilot project.

After mischaracterizing contingency management as a frivolous “giveaway to addicts” that will just give them money to buy drugs and mocking its proponents for supposedly thinking “gift cards cure mental illness,” the conservative group also trashed needle exchanges, which prevent the spread of diseases like HIV and hepatitis, and said a better solution would be to force addicted people into (presumably locked) mental health facilities where they could be “monitored” to make sure they changed their ways. The post ends with a warning to council members about next year’s elections. But it looks like the election disinformation has already started.

Morning Crank: Voluntary or Involuntary

1. In an agreement that allowed both sides to declare a partial victory, city council member Lorena Gonzalez announced this morning that she had accepted a proposal from Mayor Ed Murray to appoint a joint committee that will oversee the transition between Murray and the next mayor, whoever that will be—and whether that transition is “voluntary or involuntary,” as Gonzalez put it in a letter this morning.

Murray has said he has no plans to resign in light of recent revelations in the Seattle Tiems about allegations that he sexually abused his foster son in Oregon three decades ago. Although Gonzalez said last week that she would move to impeach Murray if he had not stepped down by today, it quickly became clear that most of her colleagues had no stomach for forcing the mayor out of office, which would require a finding that he had neglected his duties as mayor or committed an offense involving “moral turpitude” while in office.

Creating a transition committee, Gonzalez said Monday morning, “provides us with the opportunity to have assurances and an independent understanding of whether the mayor is continuing to be effective in his role as mayor, given his position that he will not resign.”

2. At the same meeting, Gonzalez suggested that the best way to stop Seattle police from disproportionately targeting black pedestrians for jaywalking tickets might be to decriminalize jaywalking altogether, especially if jaywalking tickets do nothing to discourage jaywalking, as Gonzalez believes research suggests.

“I don’t think having jaywalking ordinances actually deters people from jaywalking, and … I have a lot of questions about whether we should be criminalizing jaywalking at all,” Gonzalez said. “We are now hearing for the second or third time that this is a type of infraction that has disproportionate policing impacts on the black community, and I’m not sure what the public safety goal is that we hope to accomplish by having this infraction.”

3. Working Families for Teresa, the union-backed independent expenditure group working on behalf of City Council Position 8 candidate Terese Mosqueda, has received $100,000 in the past week from the political arms of five state unions—UFCW 21, the grocery workers’ union; SEIU 775, which represents low-paid health care workers; the AFL-CIO; the Washington State Labor Council; and the AFL-CIO-affiliated Washington State Labor Council, where Mosqueda works as political and strategic campaign director.

The pro-Mosqueda IE has not reported precisely where all the money is going, although SEIU 775 reports contributing some of its staff time toward a radio ad campaign.

Sara Nelson, a business-backed candidate for Position 8, also has an independent expenditure campaign working on her behalf—People for Sara Nelson, which is funded by the political arm of the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce, the Washington Hospitality Association, which represents the hotel and restaurant industry, Bellevue investor Jeffrey Gow, and Seattle developer Greg Smith and his wife, Monica Smith. People for Sara Nelson has raised about $82,000 (plus a $10,000 pledge from the real estate group NAIOP) and spent roughly $75,000 on online ads on Facebook, the Seattle Times, Geekwire, and elsewhere.


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