For Berkshire communities, Pittsfield foremost among them, to address jaywalking, the Legislature will have to act. That may finally happen this session.
Senate Majority Leader Harriette Chandler, a Worcester Democrat dismayed by pedestrian deaths in her city attributed to jaywalking, asked her counterparts Wednesday to raise the fine for jaywalking, which is currently a meaningless $1. She proposes increasing the fine for a first offense to $25, followed by two steps to $50 and then a maximum fine of $75.
A similar bill filed in the House by Representative Tricia Farley-Bouvier, a Pittsfield Democrat, would raise the fine to $50. Ms. Farley-Bouvier, while an adviser to then-Mayor James Ruberto, and Pittsfield Police Chief Michael Wynn, took on jaywalking in the city five years ago following five accidents, three of them fatal, involving pedestrians in 2010. Progress was made, but there are limits to what communities can do in terms of raising fines without the Legislature changing the law. Ms. Farley Bouvier's bill was referred to the House Judiciary Committee.
A quick visit downtown (or upstreet) reveals Pittsfield's severe jaywalking problem. It is apparent that far too many pedestrians either don't know the rules pertaining to crosswalks or don't care about them. Walking against the traffic lights and the electronic red hand signaling pedestrians to stay put on the sidewalk is not only illegal it could lead to a crippling injury or death.
A $1 fine won't dissuade jaywalkers or give police any incentive to enforce the law. A heavier fine will accomplish both. A combination of the Farley-Bouvier and Chandler bills beginning the fines at $50 with a cap at $75 is ideal, but any bill raising fines substantially is acceptable as long as it is passed and sent to the governor this year. We urge the Legislature to act quickly on a law that will give communities an important tool in making their streets safer.