Queens councilman’s bill would decriminalize jaywalking in New York City

Photo courtesy of Costa Constantinides’ office

Astoria Councilman Costa Constantinides said he will introduce a bill to decriminalize jaywalking in New York City.

The bill, Constantinides said, would effectively end the arbitrary enforcement overwhelmingly placed against Black and Latinx New Yorkers and pave the way for pedestrian-friendly streets.

“Every New Yorker crosses in the middle of the block, but that can end in a ticket depending on your skin color,” said Constantinides. “It’s beyond time we end this system by changing these outdated rules, which no longer reflect New York City’s modern-day streetscape.”

An anti-jaywalking law was first introduced in 1958 in New York City, but the rule has since been broken by many New Yorkers, according to Gothamist. However, in the last few years, the NYPD began cracking down on pedestrians crossing in the middle of the street and issuing fines of up to $250.

Constantinides’ legislation would bring the city’s street rules in line with those of the state, which allow a pedestrian to cross at any point of the street so long as there is no oncoming traffic. This would remove criminal and civil penalties for jaywalking.

The councilman — who represents District 22, which includes Astoria, Rikers Island, and parts of Jackson Heights, Woodside and East Elmhurst — argues the city’s streets are governed by rigid, archaic rules in which pedestrians must cross within marked pathways when given a walk signal. Anyone cited for these violations must physically go to court to pay a fine, while drivers are allowed to settle their infractions online.

Black and Latinx New Yorkers account for almost 90 percent of the 397 illegal crossing tickets issued in 2019, according to an analysis by Streetsblog. In the first three months of this year, before the COVID-19 pandemic forced the city to shutdown, those trends persisted.

Streetsblog’s report found almost 40 percent of the illegal crossings in 2019 were issued in three precincts in the Bronx, where almost every person fined was Black or Latinx. In Brooklyn’s Sunset Park and Red Hook neighborhoods, Black and Latinx residents received 65 percent of illegal crossing tickets — but make up 33 percent of the population within the district’s precinct.

Nearly half of the city’s 77 police precincts didn’t issue an illegal crossing ticket in 2019.

The NYPD maintains there is no racial bias in issuing tickets.

Constantinides also cited the violent police assault of Kang Wong in 2014. The 84-year-old man was stopped and later beaten by police for crossing a street in the Upper West Side against the light.

Transportation advocates for safer streets support Constantinides’ upcoming legislation.

“In New York, crossing the street should not be a crime, especially one that disproportionately targets Black and brown communities,” said Marco Conner DiAquoi, deputy director of Transportation Alternatives. “This legislation by Council member Constantinides puts people first on New York City’s streets and would help end harmful and unacceptable racially disparate enforcement.”

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