Denver City Council votes to decriminalize jaywalking

Advocates cited racial disparities in who gets tickets.
2 min. read
A pedestrian downtown, Jan. 30, 2019. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Denver looks set to join California, Virginia and Kansas City in decriminalizing jaywalking.

City Council approved a bill Monday that relaxes Denver's jaywalking laws and align's them with the state's less-stringent ones. It also instructs police to make jaywalking enforcement a low priority.

Advocates of the bill, which now heads to Mayor Michael Hancock's desk, say the change was needed because of the racial disparities in who gets jaywalking tickets.

The change doesn't mean that pedestrians can jump in front of cars whenever they want.

Drivers still have the right of way along streets, but the proposal gives pedestrians more flexibility in deciding the safest way to navigate and cross streets.

When discussing the bill in committee, experts gave examples of people unable to walk on sidewalks covered in ice -- which has been an issue this month -- or cross streets that lack crosswalks.

Councilmember Candi CdeBaca, who co-sponsored the legislation along with Council President Jamie Torres and Councilmember Jolon Clark, pointed to data on who gets jaywalking tickets as a major reasoning behind the bill.

Only 135 people have received jaywalking tickets in the past six years, but data from police and court records show that Black people were overrepresented and white people were underrepresented in those who received tickets when compared with Denver's latest census data. Data also showed that police gave most tickets in neighborhoods where people of color are the majority.

Advocates of the bill also referenced the Reimagining Policing and Public Safety Task Force, which recommended minimizing unnecessary interactions between police and community members.

While the majority of Council and transit activists praised the legislation, Councilmembers Kendra Black, Chris Herndon and Paul Kashmann voted against the bill.

Black questioned the data given how few tickets police gave out last year, and cited data from the Colorado Department of Transportation that collisions have been on the rise.

"While this may have certain intentions, I think the ultimate message it's sending is that it's OK to jaywalk, and I think that's putting pedestrians in harm's way," Black said during the Council meeting.

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