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Support the Freedom to Walk Act

Author: Bike East Bay

Date: September 10, 2021

Freedom to Walk Bike East Bay is proud to join our local and state partners at organizations including the California Bicycle Coalition, California Walks, TransForm, Walk Bike Berkeley, the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights, The Greenlining Institute and many others in support of Assembly Bill 1238 (AB 1238), the Freedom to Walk Act. Our state legislature has already voted in favor, and you can help by writing the Governor’s office to ask that he sign the bill and make it law.

This much needed reform would repeal California “jaywalking” laws by legalizing certain common and safe street crossings that currently qualify as traffic infractions. It will not change existing law that already requires pedestrians to avoid potentially hazardous situations on the roadway. Instead, it would reduce some racially-biased “pretextual” policing targeting people of color, eliminate some punitive fines often imposed on those who can least afford them, and provide further evidence to support efforts for reimagining the role of police in traffic enforcement statewide.

Here in Oakland we already have experience that more pedestrian tickets does not result in increased safety. Between 2017 and 2019 the number of traffic stops was reduced by 54%, and in 2019 Oakland PD wrote zero jaywalking tickets, but over that same period severe traffic injuries or fatalities for pedestrians actually went down by 11% (per the TIMS crash database), thanks mostly to investments the city has been making in street and sidewalk infrastructure upgrades that improve safety for everyone. In contrast, stops of people on foot for otherwise inconsequential infractions, such as safely crossing against a traffic signal, were being made not for traffic safety reasons but as an excuse to stop and search an individual.

“Pretextual” stops and searches show significant bias against Black people in every dataset we have investigated, and can lead to punitive fines, harassment, or excessive force on the part of the police. These interactions can lead to tragedies, such as Kurt Andras Reinhold who was shot and killed by Orange County Sheriff’s Department officers on September 23rd, 2020, after being stopped for jaywalking.

We at Bike East Bay know that vehicle code reforms like AB 1238 will not end racial bias in enforcement or pretextual policing. Over the past decade we have worked on similar initiatives such as eliminating Oakland’s bike registration requirement, petitioned for bike/walk traffic stop deprioritization as part of Vision Zero initiatives, pushed for access to traffic stop data for all road users in order to reveal bias and help inform policy decisions, and engaged in Oakland’s Reimagining Public Safety task force to advocate for removing armed police from traffic enforcement.

But these efforts are dependent on local elected officials who are friendly to the cause, which is not the case everywhere in the East Bay, and larger solutions are still hampered by restrictions on the state level. The passage of AB 1238 can help by providing evidence statewide, similar to what we have already experienced in Oakland, that traffic safety can be improved more effectively for everyone by other means than police enforcement, and to help build support for more substantial and permanent change.

Find more information here about this bill and how you can get involved, from our friends at the California Bicycle Coalition.

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