Pop quiz, hot shot: Approaching a street you need to cross, you see the walk sign kick into crosswalk timer mode. Do you:
a) Speedwalk into the intersection so you can be sure to fully cross before it hits "1"
b) Stop at the corner as everyone on earth pushes past you to cross the street
c) Set up your chair and start yelling "No sex! No sloppy seconds!"
The majority of you probably said a), believing as San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency spokesperson Paul Rose once did that the timers are "an awareness tool" and that as long as you have the green, your trap is clean. But you and Rose are both wrong (Rose learned this one the hard way back in 2014), as Section 21456(b) of the California Vehicle Code reads:
Whenever a pedestrian control signal showing the words “WALK” or “WAIT” or “DONT WALK” or other approved symbol is in place, the signal shall indicate as follows:
(a) “WALK” or approved “Walking Person” symbol. A pedestrian facing the signal may proceed across the roadway in the direction of the signal, but shall yield the right-of-way to vehicles lawfully within the intersection at the time that signal is first shown.
(b) Flashing or steady “DONT WALK” or “WAIT” or approved “Upraised Hand” symbol. No pedestrian shall start to cross the roadway in the direction of the signal, but any pedestrian who has partially completed crossing shall proceed to a sidewalk or safety zone or otherwise leave the roadway while the “WAIT” or “DONT WALK” or approved “Upraised Hand” symbol is showing.
As the law says the only time it's acceptable to cross an intersection controlled by a "walk/don't walk" sign is when the "Walk" is on, starting to cross during the countdown is illegal, and those who violate that rule risk a citation.
While enforcement of that law is apparently rare in SF, with San Francisco Police Department spokesperson Officer Robert Rueca telling the Chron "Anecdotally speaking, I've seen officers more likely to ticket vehicles for not yielding to pedestrians," in April of 2015 the LA Times reported that police ran crosswalk sting operations in their downtown area, which is home to "communities of color who predominantly use L.A.'s transit system." 13,152 $197 tickets were issued there for this minor offense over a four-year period.
It appears that that seemingly lopsided enforcement, which the LA Times referred to as "an added tax for the crime of being poor," spurred LA Assembly member Miguel Santiago and SF rep Phil Ting to introduce AB 390, which according to the bill text would "authorize a pedestrian facing a flashing 'DON’T WALK' or 'WAIT' or approved 'Upraised hand' symbol with a “countdown” signal to proceed so long as he or she completes the crossing before the display of the steady 'DON’T WALK' or 'WAIT' or approved 'Upraised Hand' symbol."
And the law seems certain to enter the books, as it passed the state Senate on September 7 and the Assembly on Monday, so next stop is Governor Jerry Brown's desk for his signature. Assuming he signs, soon crosswalkers will be able to do the same thing they've been doing all along, but this time they won't be breaking a law that they might not have even known about.