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Louisville's Jaywalking Crackdown May Cause Extra Burden for Poor, Minorities

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Louisville's new effort to make dangerous intersections safer could have unforeseen consequences.

Metro Police have begun ticketing jaywalking pedestrians and motorists who don't yield at crosswalks. Rolf Eisinger, the city’s bicycle and pedestrian coordinator, said Metro government is seeking to prevent pedestrian deaths.

But the crackdown could have a disproportionate effect on minorities and low-income people.

Jaywalking could lead to a fine ranging from $20 to $100.

Fines take a greater percentage of the wealth of low-income people than others. But low-income people and minorities across the U.S. are also more likely to be cited for minor offenses, said Dennis Parker, director of the national ACLU Racial Justice Program. And low-income people who can't pay a $100 citation could end up facing a snowball effect of bigger and bigger fines, he said.

“The fines build up — it means diverting really much-needed resources from feeding the family or paying rent to paying large fines,” Parker said.

Jay Lambert, of the Louisville-Jefferson County Public Defender Corp., said a judge usually decides what happens when low-income residents can’t pay a citation — and that can lead to uncertainty.

"These cases come up all the time in front of a wide number of judges, and different judges have different ideas about what a person can reasonably be expected to pay, or if he or she has made reasonable efforts to pay the fine," Lambert said.

And if people want to fight a citation in court, fees can also be cost-prohibitive, Lambert said. A simple $100 citation can end up costing $250 in some cases, he said.

Last year, 18 people died and 429 were injured in traffic accidents involving pedestrians in Jefferson County, according to data from Kentucky State Police. So far this year, 11 people have died and 264 have been injured in Jefferson County vehicle-pedestrian accidents.

Louisville's pedestrian safety push is part of a three-year, $307,000 grant from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. New York City and Philadelphia also received grants.

In recent months, officers stationed through downtown have issued warnings for jaywalking. But citations are now going to become a part of the program.

Eisinger said if the program works as designed, Louisville will see fewer citations over time as people learn to be more careful around intersections. He said part of the program would include keeping track of how many citations are issued.

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