In late September, the University of Wisconsin Police Department announced via Twitter that they would place officers on the street crossing corner of University Avenue between Charter and Mills to more strictly patrol jaywalking incidents during class change times. UWPD also said they would “start with warnings, but fines are possible.”
It is a no-brainer that potentially dangerous incidents of jaywalking should never be encouraged, especially during busy times of the week when road traffic is at its peak and many students are heading to class. But the threat to possibly fine and cite students for simply trying to get to class is an unnecessary and rather exaggerated policing strategy.
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While UWPD said their intentions came from a concern for pedestrian safety, posting these officers is simply a way of policing minute crime. When it comes to minor offenses or any range of crime, people of color are often disproportionately targeted and reprimanded more harshly than others — including the issuance of citations and fines.
After UWPD’s announcement, the UW-Madison BIPOC Coalition tweeted, “UWPD is threatening to cite students who are crossing in the only area they can due to construction. This could be avoided if the UW would redirect sidewalk traffic to ensure students don’t go this route but why do that when you can police black & brown students!”
Ultimately, UWPD’s increased jaywalking patrol sets up the potential for Black and brown UW students to be racially targeted and disproportionately stopped, fined, confronted or even assaulted for the extremely minor offense. For this reason, police presence at this avenue crosswalk is unwelcomed by many at UW and should be extremely limited or completely removed.
Another reason why it’s unwarranted to hand out fines for jaywalking at this crosswalk is construction currently crowds and blocks the sidewalks around this corner. With the huge crowds of students going to and from class, there is limited pedestrian walk space that is convenient, safe and quick for getting to classes.
For many students trying to get to class on time, especially those with 15 minutes or less between classes, they may feel as if they have to chance it and illegally jaywalk. While jaywalking can be dangerous and shouldn’t be condoned or encouraged, there is obviously an issue with feasible pedestrian routes for students to get to and from class in this area.
There are better ways to deal with this problem than to patrol, stop and possibly fine broke college students for trying to get to class the only way they can. Associated Students of Madison representative Jack Phillips tweeted in response to UWPD, “You’ve identified an engineering problem and want to punish people for interacting with the system as it was designed?”
UWPD didn’t choose to work with the university or the city of Madison to better accommodate students with traffic redirections, traffic flow management, or safer walkway infrastructures in this campus area. Instead, they chose to address the wrong problem in the wrong way: policing and fining students for simply walking. Stopping kids from trying to get to class in this traffic-congested and heavily restricted pedestrian area is bordering on an abuse of power.
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As a student, I can attest to the large influx of students I’ve seen at this particular crosswalk during class passing times. At many times of the day, there are hoards of students constantly using this walk lane as one of the only feasible crossings to our classes due to the inconvenience of construction and sidewalk closures surrounding the area. There are also many lanes of traffic to cross that are often busy, obstructed and flowing inefficiently.
A better solution to the issue of jaywalking on campus is to utilize city and university resources to make sure pedestrians are accommodated in these busy crossing areas where traffic is heavy and already dangerous.
Potential solutions include the construction of safer and more efficient walkways on campus, University Avenue traffic flow management or class change accommodations. Policing students for trying to get to class in an area where they have very little pedestrian space is ultimately not the solution UWPD thinks it is.
Hallie Claflin ([email protected]) is a sophomore majoring in journalism and political science.