Eduardo Lopez is 22-years-old. Last week, after he clocked out of his a minimum-wage graveyard-shift job loading pallets near LAX, he was rushing to catch a bus so he could make it to his class at Glendale Community College on time.
He crossed the street while the crosswalk signal was flashing, with 10 seconds remaining. A motorcycle cop stopped him and gave him a $197 ticket. Minimum wage in Los Angeles is $9.
Eduardo had to take time out of another busy day to go to court and ask if he could pay off his debt by doing community work. No, he was told. He has until April 27 to pay up, unless he tries to fight it, with no guarantees except that he'd eat up more of his valuable time.
I didn't know that crossing the street when the "don't walk" sign is flashing is a ticketable offense. I do it all the time in Studio City, where I live and have never seen anyone get a ticket here. But in the last four years, police have issued 17,075 citations for this kind of crosswalk violation in downtown LA.
Sgt. Mike Flynn, who's in charge of the LAPD's downtown bike units, says 2 million people converge on the downtown area every day. Aggressive enforcement, he says, prevents walkers from getting hit by motorists who are also in a hurry.
"Drivers get frustrated and hit the gas, and that makes it even more dangerous,'' he says. "The light cycle is so fast that the longest you wait is 15 or 20 seconds."
But [William Fulton, an urban planning expert at Kinder Institute for Urban Research in Houston] calls the emphasis on enforcement "archaic," a relic of the car culture that began in the 1920s and that is only now starting to dissipate.
And [Christopher Leinberger, a business professor at George Washington University] predicts that the city will eventually relax its stance on pedestrians.
"Having a lot of people crossing streets" he says, "is a sign of civilization."