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Jaywalking a risky epidemic in the valley

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PHOENIX -

The valley's light rail system is poised to surpass all expectation since it launched in 2008. But with that success has come a dangerous problem that police are having a hard time getting a handle on -- jaywalking.

We're talking about people who cross the light rail tracks and jaywalk across busy streets.

We went out had no problem catching many people in the act.

This happens so often, in just the short time we were at a few light rail stations we caught dozens of people. Some felt guilty.

“There is no logic. And I apologize.”

Others didn't seem to care.

“But I have to pee. What is the problem?”

After going to the bathroom, that woman actually came back and let us ask her some questions.

Us: “Do you do it all the time?”

Jaywalker: “No. I did it today.”

Us: “Is this your first time?”

Jaywalker: “Yeah honestly it is.”

Us: “And your last time?”

Jaywalker: “Honestly I can't say that. If I have got to pee I am running.”

Some looked right into our camera as they crossed. Others crossed right in front of transit cop. His presence didn't even seem to bother them -- and he didn't cite them either. More on that a little later, but first listen to what this jaywalker told us.

Jaywalker: “It is too hot to like, to walk all the way across cause like the sun is hot and…”

Us: “The crosswalk is like 20 feet away?”

Jaywalker: “It is like over there and if you want to go over here, you see no cars coming anyway you know you are not going to get hit.”

Us: “What about getting caught? You could get a ticket.”

Jaywalker: “That is why you have to make sure there are not cops around.”

But the day we went to 7th Avenue and Camelback station, police were around.

“I just saw people jaywalking over there… they didn't get pulled over,” a pedestrian told us.

Regular riders say this happens all the time.

“Every day, every train. I sit there for like 5 minutes. You see about 10 people cross the tracks,” says Theresa Johnson.

Teacher Theresa Johnson fears someone is going to get killed.

“I just think it is dangerous. I see people do it and unfortunately there is not enough enforcement. I’ve never actually seen anyone and I ride the light rail every day. I have never seen anyone get a ticket.”

Police tell us that they are constantly handing out tickets, especially at the 19th Avenue and Montebello light rail station.

“I got a stack of 13 of them right here that were written in about 50 minutes last night by 3 officers,” says Lt. Adrian Ruiz, Phoenix Police Transit Enforcement.

Lieutenant Adrian Ruiz helps run Phoenix's PD Transit Enforcement Unit.

“I have seen baby strollers bumped over the guideway and run across the street. Cops see that every day. People making the wrong decision for convenience.”

“If you are caught crossing the light rail tracks and the street, the ticket can be pretty pricey. It starts at about $75. That’s on the low end. On the high end it can cost as much as $500.

Metro has a safety campaign called “Dying To Get There” -- a morbid reminder of the dangers.

“We are always doing outreach for schools for safety. Elementary schools. High schools. We go to ASU,” says Melissa Quillard, Metro Light Rail.

But the message isn't getting through some.

“This is an issue with any train system. From the very beginning from the designed phase, the system was actually designed to counter jaywalking.”

The warnings at the stations are very clear, but so often ignored. We showed Lieutenant Ruiz the video of the jaywalker crossing right in front of a transit officer -- and while she couldn't speak to this specific incident, she made it clear with only 4 transit officers covering Phoenix's entire bus and rail system at any given time -- this problem can be overwhelming.

“As soon as I left and as soon as these officers left Montebello or any particular area where we have high incidents of crossing midblock at the tracks, there will be 20 to 30 people right behind them,” says Ruiz.

So the message from police and light rail is this: “It becomes the individual’s responsibility to take safety into their own hands.”

With light rail expanding further into Phoenix and Mesa, hopefully the jaywalkers listen before someone gets killed.

Pedestrian fatalities are big problem in the valley. According to government statistics from a few years ago, Phoenix ranked 4th in the nation for pedestrian fatalities behind New York, Los Angeles and Chicago.

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