Jaywalking tickets strike nerve with pedestrians, businesses - WTOC-TV: Savannah, Beaufort, SC, News, Weather & Sports

Jaywalking tickets strike nerve with pedestrians, businesses

By Don Logana - bio | email

SAVANNAH, GA (WTOC) - You probably cross the street in the middle of the block once in a while, jaywalking instead of going to the crosswalk and waiting for the signal.

Well. Watch out.

Savannah-Chatham police are ticketing. Their "awareness campaign" has plenty of people fuming. Residents and tourists.

Lots of tickets. Big time fines. And they're ruffling feathers.

There is even a Facebook page, http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=92660306441, dedicated to getting a petition to city hall to stop the tickets and even revoke them. Almost 1,000 people have joined.

Businesses are upset, city officials are changing their tune and the police chief is defending the crosswalk tickets.

City leaders say they are looking for a solution, but the fight isn't over yet.

Tickets are flying as a few hundred jaywalkers and crosswalk violators have been slapped with a hefty $208 fine.

"I've literally had people coming in the door crying about it," Ruel Joyner, owner of 24e on Broughton Street, told WTOC.

Joyner says cops have canvassed every block of Broughton Street since early May, when a shooting at the corner of Jefferson Street and Broughton Street took place.

Now, he believes businesses are hurting as pedestrians are being caught breaking a now strictly enforced jaywalking law.

Joyner says Broughton Street has been a safe street with few pedestrian related accidents and no fatalities.

However, it has been hit hard by the jaywalking crackdown. He thinks the city is trying to increase revenue to pay for the extra police presence.

"It's not the jaywalking ticket itself. It's the sentiment under it," Joyner said. "That's not the signal we should be sending when we are the number one walking city in the nation."

Joyner and others have hit Facebook, rounding up support to stop what he calls a sly revenue tool for the city.

"I'm not pointing my finger at the police. I'm pointing at city hall. Somebody told Chief Berkow to start writing these tickets," Joyner told WTOC. "We do not need to give people a reason not to shop downtown. We need to be as inviting as we can and look out for the good of downtown."

"Absolute nonsense. Hyperbole. A good sound bite for you guys, but not even close to reality," Chief Michael Berkow with the Savannah-Chatham Metropolitan Police Department, told WTOC.

Chief Berkow isn't pulling any punches as he stands by what he calls strictly, "a safety measure."

"We've had eight pedestrian fatalities in the last ten months," Berkow said. "There is very much an issue of how people cross the streets. We knew going in this was a lose."

While some people are fuming about the high priced tickets, Berkow has some sympathy.

"I don't think the fine needs to be $200 to get peoples' attention. I think the fine could be dramatically reduced, but we have no say on it at all," he said.

He points to state law determining the ticket price, and calls from city and community leaders to his department to get tough on crosswalk safety.

"Now that there is a little bit of a backlash and I would characterize it as small, they've remained silent," Berkow said. "I have heard all the nonsense about revenue, and all this. We don't pay attention to that."

The crosswalk awareness campaign has shifted from downtown, expanding to Abercorn Street and Ogeechee Road, where there have been recent pedestrian fatalities.

Berkow says the tickets are necessary to change people's pedestrian behavior.

"Nobody likes to get a ticket. That's the bottom line," he said. "That's sometimes necessary to try and enforce a change."

City leaders broke their silence on the crosswalk issue at Thursday's Savannah City Council meeting. Joyner thinks their attitude may be changing after this recent ticket backlash.

Aldermen tossed around a few ideas, from a warning system with increased fines for repeat jaywalking offenders to exploring a local ordinance to reduce the fine for crosswalk violations. 

Friday, alderman Tony Thomas was less than sympathetic, but understood the concerns about the high priced tickets.

"I think the fines are excessive, but if they were ticketed, they were violating the law," Thomas said.

However, the city manager has spoken with Chief Berkow and the enforcement will continue.

Thomas says calls for revoking the tickets won't help. However, reducing the fines may be the solution.

"Hopefully we can reduce the fines. Recorder's Court maybe or staff can find a way, but no, those people violated the law and there is nothing we can do about that," Thomas said.

"Politicians are known to backpedal," Joyner said.

Joyner plans on taking the jaywalking battle all the way to city hall, with a petition including 10,000 signatures by the end of the month.

"They are the ones who pushed for this large crackdown on it, and they will have to answer for it. The people have spoken. We're sick of it. Enough is enough," Joyner said.

The Facebook brigade is picking up speed fast, gaining hundreds of members a day to fight the jaywalking tickets. They want city council to throw out the tickets, forgiving the jaywalking offenders.

City leaders have instructed staff to continue to look into if a local ordinance could over rule the state law, allowing for fine prices to be reduced. 

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