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Denver city council to vote on jaywalking proposal

Advocacy groups argue that decriminalizing jaywalking is the first step to stop tickets targeting minority groups. The next step? Fixing infrastructure.

DENVER — Soon, Denver city council will cast votes on a proposal to decriminalize jaywalking.

Pedestrian advocate groups say Denver's laws aren't in line with the rest of the state, and that the ticketing process targets some people more than others.

Executive Director of the Denver Streets Partnership advocacy group Jill Locantore has been doing this work for at least 10 years, says lower income communities are less likely to have safe pedestrian infrastructure, hence the jaywalking.  

"They're less likely to have a complete, well-maintained sidewalk network. They're more likely to have streets like Federal Boulevard, where they're safe pedestrian crossings are few and far between," she said. "But those are also the places where we see the highest number of tickets for things like jaywalking, and so a disproportionate number of people of color, are getting the burden of this current policy."

Those concerns were echoed by Denver City Councilors Candi Cdebaca, Jamie Torres and Jolon Clark during a committee presentation earlier this month. 

City data from that presentation shows that Denver police only issued about 135 jaywalking tickets in the last five years. However, both advocates and councilors argue that enforcement isn't necessarily equitable.

A quarter of those tickets were given to people identified as homeless, transient, or vagrant. Additionally, 41% of those tickets were given to black individuals, which is significant considering only 10% of Denver's population is black.

The most common locations for getting these tickets? Along East Colfax, South Federal Boulevard, North Peoria and West Colfax, which are those majority-minority neighborhoods.

They're also what Locantore calls priority transit corridors.

"If we can invest in making transit a really convenient and safe way for people to get up and down those corridors, that means fewer people are going to be driving on those streets, which it just inherently makes them safer for everybody who's been involved," she said.

The city first committed to the goal of eliminating traffic fatalities back in 2017, and Locantore's group has been working toward that same goal.

To solve the jaywalking problem without enforcement, Locantore said the city should focus on rehabbing infrastructure.

"Enforcement cannot correct for dangerous street design. Oftentimes, the way people are behaving on our streets is a direct reaction to the presence or absence of safe infrastructure," she said. "And oftentimes, people are crossing the street where there's not a crosswalk, because there's no crosswalk available. So, it doesn't make any sense to punish people for just making do with our current street designs."

Locantore said the proposal decriminalizing jaywalking would be a statement of community values, telling pedestrians they have a right to be safe on the streets. 

City council argued that it would modernize Denver's language to fit with the state's jaywalking code, which is less strict. Their presentation said the measure would "decrease unnecessary interactions between law enforcement and communities of color." 

The proposal faced some opposition from other committee members who said it sends mixed messages about the city's "safe streets" priorities like adding crosswalks and bike lanes.

"It's [the proposal] not at all telling people that you can just walk blindly into the street without checking to see if a car is coming," Locantore said. "But it does give people the freedom to actually exercise good judgment decide whether it's safe to cross or not." 

The proposal will go to the full council for a vote next month.


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