In the hours before a recent City Council meeting, resident Miranda Kocher and her daughter toured the city in search of jaywalkers — people crossing busy streets outside of crosswalks in violation of state law and, some would say, good sense.
In just a few hours, she photographed more than a dozen examples — including people in motorized wheelchairs and parents holding children darting across multiple lanes of swift-moving traffic. Some of the photos showed cars screeching to a halt as they approached the pedestrians.
Kocher, who lives on Main Street and works in Haverhill, told councilors she witnessed a boy struck and killed by a motor vehicle while crossing the street in another state many years ago, and that she doesn’t want to see the same thing happen here.
“Two years ago I saw some kids playing in the street near CVS on Main Street,” Kocher said. “That’s when I began my activism on (jaywalking) in Haverhill.”
Kocher showed her jaywalking pictures to councilors, who said they were concerned but not surprised by what they saw.
“I work downtown and see this everyday,” Councilor Thomas Sullivan said. “This is a serious issue and a tragedy in the making. I’d like us to take this on and try to do something.”
Councilor Colin LePage said his then-teenage son Sean witnessed a pedestrian struck and killed while crossing the street many years ago and that the incident had a profound and long-lasting impact on both of them.
Councilors thanked Kocher for highlighting the issue and referred it to the council’s Public Safety Committee for a meeting to discuss ideas for addressing the problem. Councilors said they would invite school officials and representatives of local service organizations to the meeting to develop an educational campaign aimed at young children. There was discussion of trying to make it part of the school curriculum.
Councilors said they would also explore the idea of installing signs warning pedestrians to use crosswalks on the city’s busiest streets. Kocher said such signs are common elsewhere, but not in Haverhill.
Jaywalking (”jay” is slang for an inexperienced or naive person) is a term used when pedestrians ignore do-not-walk signals at intersections or when a person crosses in a dangerous manner, such as diagonally, or in Haverhill crossing without using a crosswalk if you are within 300 feet of it, according to a city ordinance.
Jaywalking is punishable by a $1 fine — a penalty that goes to back to a state law passed more than 100 years ago. The same law calls for $2 fines for fourth and subsequent offenses.
Some of Kocher’s photos showed police cruisers parked near jaywalkers. She said she visited the police station to ask why officers were not enforcing laws against jaywalking. She said she was treated rudely by police and told that jaywalking is not a concern or priority in Haverhill and that if she had a problem with that, she should go see her city councilor about it.
Councilor Michael Hart said enforcing laws against jaywalking can be difficult, especially with the city’s minimal police enforcement resources.
“Education, especially of our young people, is the way to address this, not enforcement,” Hart said.
Hart added that he is also concerned about drivers not stopping for pedestrians crossing the street.
“You go to the post office in Washington Square and it happens more than it should,” he said. “Most drivers are good about it, but there are too many that aren’t.”