Ashland sting finds pedestrians at fault
ASHLAND — More than three dozen people were handed $97 tickets Wednesday morning for walking against a traffic signal on Siskiyou Boulevard during the Ashland Police Department's first pedestrian sting.
Police conducted the sting in response to the death last month of Southern Oregon University student Gladys Jimenez, who was struck by a vehicle while in the crosswalk at Garfield Street on Feb. 13.
In 31/2 hours Wednesday, police cited 37 people for crossing against "don't walk" signals near the university.
"We can't write tickets as fast as they're disobeying the signal," said Deputy Chief Rich Walsh. "A lot of people are emotionally upset about it. I think people are just creatures of habit, and if they have a habit of walking against the light five days a week, they're going to continue."
Police also cited 12 drivers with $242 fines for failing to stop when a pedestrian was in the crosswalk.
Police said they will continue patrolling the half dozen crosswalks on Siskiyou Boulevard in front of the university indefinitely.
Many citizens complained recently to the city's Traffic Safety Commission that unwatchful pedestrians are the root of the problem. Though bright orange flags for pedestrians to carry were installed at every crosswalk in front of the university, few people have been using them.
SOU students with fresh tickets in their hands complained bitterly about the sting.
"It's kind of a joke. This is not going to help people become more cautious of cars — just more cautious of police officers," said senior Joey Jannsen. "Each person should have the right to use their own judgment, and the fine is way too steep."
"I'm pissed," said freshman Krista Jackson. "I'm a student and I'm broke. I always take my first step into the crosswalk when I see the light (for vehicles) turn yellow, like a runner leading off first base. It's going to piss all the students off and they will keep doing it."
Freshly cited pedestrian Tiffany DeMiss said it was "kind of annoying and made me late for class. It's not fair."
But Walsh said the sting and the fines "raise awareness not just for drivers, but for pedestrians, so we can avoid another tragic story of a student getting killed."
The operation, in which a plainclothes officer posed as a pedestrian, drew a quick protest from an SOU student calling himself Gus Freelancer. He stood at the corner of Siskiyou Boulevard and Wightman Street with a placard reading, "Is the threat of citations making it safer to cross the street?"
He said, "I thought it was the law that vehicles are supposed to stop for pedestrians. In response to this Gladys thing, they shouldn't be threatening students who obviously can't pay exorbitant fines."
Funding for overtime pay for pedestrian stings was one of several measures authorized by the city to make the crosswalks safer after Jimenez died Feb. 20 from head and possible internal injuries suffered in the crash. Other measures, yet to be implemented, include flasher warning lights at crosswalks, brighter street lighting and lowering of the speed limit from 30 to 25 mph.
Asked if the crosswalk sting might spur students to jaywalk between crosswalks, Officer Steve McLennan said, while jaywalking is not illegal in Oregon, police can and will cite pedestrians for failure to yield to a vehicle if they enter a roadway outside a crosswalk and make a driver touch the brakes to avoid them.
John Darling is a freelance writer living in Ashland. E-mail him at email@example.com.