New York is built for the tough, the impatient, the bold, the ones who live to take risks. Basically, it’s a city built for jaywalkers. It’s a great unifier: people of all backgrounds, ethnicities, races, ages, and creeds united in their disdain for the city’s cars, bikers, and assigned crosswalks. And for the most part, the cops seem to get that—unlike other American cities, jaywalking is typically not cited across most of New York.
But, just like other American cities, there are exceptions that depend on who you are and where you live.
A recent StreetsBlog analysis found that, between Jan. 1 and Sept. 30, 2019, NYPD issued 316 summonses for jaywalking—and nearly 90 percent went to black or Latinx people (as the article notes, this rate dwarfs the city’s black and Latinx population, which sits around 55 percent). Jaywalkers between the ages of 18 and 25 were also disproportionately targeted, receiving 44 percent of all tickets despite being just 7 percent of the population.
This is a question of which neighborhoods are being ticketed as much as it is which citizens. More than half of the summonses (164) came from police precincts in the Bronx. Despite the fact that Manhattan has the most pedestrians, police in that borough only issued 29 jaywalking summonses in that 9 month period.
According to the most recent Census estimates, the Bronx has the highest concentration of black residents of any of the city’s five boroughs, with approximately 43 percent of Bronxites identifying as black (it’s also the only borough that has a majority Latinx population). This means, if you live in the Bronx, you’re most likely to be cited for walking illegally in a city where walking is a way of life.
And the ticket is more than a small inconvenience: As StreetsBlog notes, “people who receive ‘jaywalking’ summonses must go to court, which forces people to take time off their job or from their families. Undocumented immigrants risk additional charges.”
For what it’s worth, the median household income in the Bronx is $38,467—the lowest of all the boroughs.
The number marks the first uptick in anti-pedestrian tickets during Mayor Bill de Blasio’s tenure. To his credit, when de Blasio first took office, NYPD issued 1,659 jaywalking tickets. In 2018, that number was just 198.
But enforcement of jaywalking has been selective—and confusing— for quite some time in New York. A 2015 article, “The NYPD Enforces Jaywalking When It Damn Well Feels Like It,” noted that jaywalking enforcement at the time didn’t match the stated goal of keeping pedestrians safe.
[I]t’s hard to see any logic at all in the numbers. Most of the areas with the highest pedestrian fatalities are in Manhattan. But of the five most heavily targeted precincts, none are in Manhattan, and only two are listed in the highest danger category on the city’s Vision Zero map, which codes various precincts by the frequency of traffic accident fatalities and injuries per square mile. Some precincts listed in the highest danger category, like the 19th, on the Upper East Side, don’t even crack the top 50 for jaywalking enforcement.
The article noted that while New York, on the whole, was a lot friendlier to pedestrians than Los Angeles, it still lagged behind Boston and Philadelphia, where such pedestrian citations were rare.
While the numbers of jaywalking tickets are still relatively low, they’re part of a larger and much stickier pattern of NYPD disproportionately targeting young black people for all manner of smaller violations, like last year’s crackdown on black and brown bikers for not having bells on their bicycles.
Queens Council Member Costa Constantinides told StreetsBlog he plans to reintroduce legislation he hopes will ease some of the burden of a jaywalking ticket, by striking the court appearance requirement.
“We have to stop criminalizing crossing the street,” Constantinides said. “It’s just unfair to make a pedestrian face a court appearance, while drivers can simply settle many offenses with a few clicks online.”