Sydneysiders tend to take a walk on the wild side

Sydney Morning Herald

Wednesday 9 May 2001
Author: Nadia Jamal, Urban Affairs Writer

Jaywalking in Sydney's city area is not a police priority despite thousands of pedestrians being hurt on the roads. Roads and Traffic Authority figures show that in the past three years, 9,148 pedestrians have been injured on the State's roads.

More than 500 pedestrians were hurt last year in major NSW centres including Sydney City, Parramatta, Wollongong and Newcastle. In the city alone, 288 pedestrians were injured and three were killed.

Jaywalking hot spots in the CBD include Druitt, King, Kent, York, Castlereagh and George streets, where many workers and visitors dangerously dodge cars, taxis and buses and walk against red flashing pedestrian lights.

The Pedestrian Council of Australia says jaywalking in the CBD has reached epidemic proportions. Its chairman, Mr Harold Scruby, criticised the lack of police enforcement and called for council rangers to have the power to fine jaywalkers.

He claimed phasing times at lights were traffic-driven and too short for pedestrians, forcing them to take risks.

“Police have to start accepting responsibility for this," he said. “The jaywalking problem is related to years of non-enforcement which has lulled people into a false sense of security."

So far this year, 43 pedestrians have been injured in vehicle accidents in central Sydney, according to City Central Police. Superintendent Donald Graham conceded that jaywalking was a problem, but said it was more of an annoyance than a critical issue.

“It is not a priority, but we do have traffic management strategies such as regular police foot patrols," he said.

Jaywalking attracts a $44 fine, but few fines are handed out in major city centres. Since December 1999, 524 fines have been issued in NSW. Of those, 48 were in Parramatta, two in Bankstown, 28 in Liverpool and two in Bondi.

RTA research shows small children and the elderly are key groups in pedestrian accidents. But adults aged between 16 and 34 display the most risk-taking behaviours, experiencing more injuries and fatalities than any group except the frail aged.

There were 110 pedestrian fatalities in NSW last year. Of those deaths, the RTA says about 10 per cent were at traffic lights or pedestrian crossing-controlled intersections.

Mr Scruby wants a 40km/h speed limit imposed in the CBD. “Bus mirrors, six inches from your face and coming past you at 60 [km/h] while you're on the footpath, is hardly conducive to a friendly shopping or commercial environment," he said. “Pedestrians have a responsibility to obey the law, but motorists are ultimately responsible for avoiding collisions with pedestrians."

One driver said yesterday she “constantly fears someone's going to suddenly step off the pavement and go under my car".

The Opposition transport spokesman, Mr Barry O'Farrell, said there was no point cracking down on jaywalking if traffic signals did not give people enough time to cross roads.