LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WAVE) - The city's hot-button pedestrian ordinance took effect Wednesday.
Metro Council approved the ordinance in August. Supporters say it will promote safety, but critics say the new law targets panhandlers.
“Panhandling’s gonna exist,” LMPD Lt. Ron Heady said at a news conference Wednesday. “It’s a constitutionally-protected activity. If you’re standing on the public right of way, the sidewalks, where it’s safe, and you’re not entering the roadway, there’s no (police) intervention at all.”
Heady said the measure will help curb accidents involving people in streets near moving traffic. He said there have been 19 pedestrian fatalities so far this year, 20% more than last year.
The ordinance focuses on high volume traffic arteries. Anyone who steps into the street or attempts to cross a major street outside of an intersection or crosswalk would be subject to ticketing and fines up to $250.
James Smith is a regular asking for money on Jefferson street where the I-65 off-ramp delivers a constant stream of cars.
He said he never goes into the street to collect because it is too dangerous.
“I don’t plan on walking out in the street,” Smith said. “I am never going to be out in the street.”
But if Smith does step off the sidewalk into traffic, or linger on a median he could now get ticketed.
“At the end of the day, it’s to modify behavior that is unsafe,” Lt. Heady said. “This is a small step at making the roadways a little bit safer.”
Pedestrians walking downtown Wednesday seemed to take note.
“I couldn’t really afford a ticket myself,” Gerald McElvain said. “But, I think it would be good for safety, keep somebody from getting run over.”
“Sometimes we try to get across as quick as we can and we’re just not going to make it,” Kent Bryson said. When asked what would happen if he were ticketed, he said, “I’m going to pay it and I’ll have to go to my boss. I work downtown here do I’d have to go talk to my boss about it.”
Opponents say there are unique areas, such as the Highlands Island at Baxter and Winter, where a small green space features a plaque and includes a water fountain.
Some are concerned people would be fined for using the fountain or reading the plaque because the ordinance states pedestrians can't be in the area unless they're in the process of crossing.
ACLU Staff Attorney Heather Gatnarek on Wednesday issued the following statement about the ordinance:
“We do have two concerns going forward. First, the ordinance forbids people from being on any median or gore. Some medians and gores have TARC bus stops. Following the ordinance, it would technically be illegal to use those stops because the ordinance states that people are not allowed on medians or gores unless they are in the process of crossing the arterial roadway. Second, we want to ensure the jaywalking provisions are not used as pretextual reason for police to stop someone in a way that targets people of color and people in overpoliced communities.”
A WAVE 3 News crew spent an hour Wednesday night at the corner of Brook and Jefferson streets. Two men received donations, one of whom violated the ordinance by walking from the sidewalk to the median. He said he’s new in town and wasn’t aware of the ordinance, but when told about it, he offered an interesting take on how he views street corners.
“That’s a great ordinance, but at the same time, this sidewalk and that sidewalk is where I live,” the man said. “So this is like my front door. So we really don’t think we’re invading peoples space.”
WAVE 3 News also spotted two LMPD cruisers drive past panhandling hotspots Wednesday night, but not citations were issued.