Among the bills signed into new laws by California Governor Jerry Brown this week was Assembly Bill 390, which now makes it legal for Californians to step into a crosswalk even when the countdown signal turns red.
Note that the precise language of the bill, sponsored by San Francisco Assemblymember Phil Ting and Los Angeles Assemblymember Miguel Santiago, means that not all street crossings are now necessarily equal:
A flashing “DON’T WALK” [...] with a “countdown” signal indicating the time remaining for a pedestrian to cross the roadway means a pedestrian facing the signal may start to cross the roadway in the direction of the signal but must complete the crossing prior to [..] when the “countdown” ends.
[...] A flashing “DON’T WALK” [...] without a “countdown” signal indicating the time remaining for a pedestrian to cross the roadway means a pedestrian facing the signal shall not start to cross the roadway in the direction of the signal, but any pedestrian who started the crossing during the display of the “WALK” or approved “Walking Person” symbol and who has partially completed crossing shall proceed.
In short: If you can make it to the other side while the countdown is on, go for it. If not, stay put.
Previously, the legality of crossing on a red hand was murky. The Los Angeles Times reported that LAPD conducted jaywalking stings to stick pedestrians with $250 jaywalking tickets even if the light was green when they began crossing the street—which many pedestrians assumed was a legal crossing by default.
In January of this year, SFPD warned that it would begin to enforce laws about illegal street crossing as part of a larger program about pedestrian safety. As Streetsblog notes, California enacted its present jaywalking law in 1981.
The new law doesn’t go into effect until January, meaning that for the next three months it still counts as jaywalking if crossing on the flashing red hand at a California intersection.