Jaywalking … to Jail?

About a month ago I was walking around the city on a Saturday with my girlfriend Libby. We were walking east on P Street and approached the intersection with 22nd. Traffic was light, and the street is one way. We stopped, and looked to the right — no cars were coming. I looked to the left, only several seconds remained on the other timed crosswalk. We began to cross. A hitherto unnoticed police officer previously parked in the gas station reacted with impressive speed. He flipped on his siren and roared onto the street. We backed up several steps back to the curb. He rolled up, window down.

I can’t remember what followed verbatim, but the gist was this: the officer said we better “watch out” or we’ll “end up in jail.” I said, thank you and we continued on our way. Needless to say I regret not risking the ticket to point out jaywalking was a civil infraction, punishable usually by a ticket and fine. If it’s possible to end up in jail for jaywalking, that would be news to me. In fact, the offense is not even in the city code, only the city’s regulations, Title 18 of which specifies the following fines:

2603.1 The following civil infractions and their respective fines set forth in this section refer to pedestrians:

“DON’T WALK” or “WAIT” Signal Walking against (§ 2302.3) Intersection – $ 20.00
Crossing diagonally (no signal) (§ 2303.3) – 20.00
Crossing between (§ 2304.1) – 20.00
Lawful order or direction of Police Officer [Repealed] D.C. Law 11-157, 43 DCR 3699, 3700
(July 19, 1996)
Parading without a permit (§ 2218) – 50.00
Path of a vehicle
Walk suddenly into (§ 2303.2) – 10.00
Red light, crossing against (§ 2301.4) – 20.00
Fail to yield to an emergency vehicle (§2305.6) – 10.00

Cross at other than right angle (§ 2304.3) – 10.00
Cross where prohibited (§ 2304) – 10.00
Obstructing traffic in – 20.00
Walking in (sidewalk provided) (§ 2305.2) – 10.00
Walking on wrong side (no sidewalk) (§ 2305.3) – 10.00
Soliciting rides while standing in roadway (§2305.4) – 10.00

The practice of ticketing pedestrians in Washington ruffled feathers during a previous crackdown in 2005, and in that same year the police issued a $5 ticket to a 73-year-old urban design expert who suffered serious injuries after being hit by a car. More recently, Nicholas Stephanopoulos argued his way out of a jaywalking ticket by arguing the infraction was by only seconds, and also by noting the D.C. ordinance speaks of a “WALK,” “DON’T WALK,” and “WAIT,” signs, instead of the icons displayed on the city’s new crosswalks.

As we walked home that day, we observed jaywalking at practically every intersection we crossed. Perhaps it’s time to amend city law, to provide pedestrians the right-of-way in marked intersections if no traffic is oncoming.

Author: Rob Goodspeed


  1. I agree. When I visited DC a few years ago, I marveled at the 60-second long pedestrian countdowns, but if you were waiting to walk the other direction — and there was no traffic — that is a very long time.

    I think this raises the issue of controlled vs. uncontrolled intersections, and I would add a third category: semi-controlled intersections. Too many times, especially in cities, the default is a traffic light (controlled) which requires a defined pedestrian walking time. Without that, there would be chaos. In a semi-controlled intersection, say, a traffic circle or even a four-way stop sign (which many times is just as effective as a traffic light), pedestrians have the right-of-way by default. (Obviously uncontrolled intersections do not work in urban areas.)

  2. I agree that waiting for a walk signal can feel like waiting for grass to grow, there’s also the issue of people crossing the street in flagrant violation of the signal, particularly during rush hours. The flashing red “don’t walk” means don’t start, and clear out of the intersection if you’re in it. One of my greatest sources of road rage is trying to turn right onto Rhode Island off Connecticut northbound, where people ignore the pedestrian signals with abandon and start crossing when the timer reads 3 seconds. I appreciate that pedestrians have somewhere to go, and I applaud that you use public transit – I wish it were more feasible for me to do so. In the meantime, I’d really appreciate it if we could all share the roads. It might make for a bit more peace and lower blood pressure all around.

  3. The jaywalking would not provide you with a overnight visit to DC jail rather the officer would most likely arrest on the catch-all infraction (read: somebody pissed off a cop) of Failure to obey the lawful order of a Police officer.

    I would suspect, however, that this particular officer wanted to flirt with your GF and this hamfisted power grab was his best effort.

  4. The solution lies with progressive engineering solutions. It is too bad DDOT isn’t into that (despite the rhetoric).

  5. they got me last week for ‘parading without a permit’ – i tried to convince them that you cant have a ‘one-man-parade’ by definition; but no such luck

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