Posted by Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) on December 2nd, 2008 at 2:05 pm
Lovejoy at 9th.
(Photos © J. Maus)
The Bicycle Transportation Alliance (BTA) and the Willamette Pedestrian Coalition are teaming up on a new bill that will seek to improve public safety by rewriting and expanding on Oregon's crosswalk laws.
The new law proposal will amend ORS 811.028 (Failure to stop and remain stopped for pedestrian) to create a new violation for motor vehicle operators that fail to stop for a pedestrian (or someone on a bicycle) that extends their hand toward oncoming traffic with intent to cross.
The impetus for the change is this: Currently, to legally cross a crosswalk in Oregon, pedestrians must step out into traffic before approaching traffic is required to stop. This, advocates feel, is dangerous for pedestrians, confusing for drivers, and unclear for law enforcement professionals.
This time around, advocates and legal experts feel like key changes have been made that will make it much more likely to garner the support needed for it to become law.
According to noted bike lawyer and member of the BTA's Legislative Committee Ray Thomas, the last time the proposal came before lawmakers, several of them objected. Some worried about how the hand signal would impact congestion during rush-hour, others worried the proposed law would "create driver confusion" and that it was too vague on how and where the signal would be given.
executive director, Scott Bricker
demonstrating the hand signal at
a workshop in 2007.
Thomas says they've learned from their efforts in 2007 and that the new law will solve those problems.
I got a hold of Thomas this morning (he's in Washington D.C. fighting with Phillip Morris in front of the Supreme Court) and he gave me the latest details on the new proposal.
The major difference with the new proposal is that it makes the hand signal violation applicable only to locations with marked crosswalks (the 2007 version included even unmarked crosswalks). Traffic safety advocates might not be happy with this change, but Thomas sees it as a necessary compromise to ensure success of the bill.
UPDATE, 12/5: I misunderstood Thomas when I first reported this. The proposed law will include unmarked crosswalks as well. I apologize for any confusion this has caused.
Another key provision of the new bill is how bicycles figure into the equation. Currently, Oregon law says that someone on a bike has the same rights as a pedestrian in a crosswalk (as long as they're riding slowly).
But what about when you're on your bike, on the sidewalk, waiting to cross?
"In Norway, someone can simply walk up to a curb and cars stop for them about 95% of the time."
Thomas says the new bill doesn't specifically name bicyclists, but it includes language that increases the size of what is considered the "crosswalk". Therefore, since existing law already says bicyclists have equal rights as pedestrians in a crosswalk, bicyclists can also raise their hand and benefit from the hand signal bill.
"The proposal moves back the official right-of-way to the curb as you're about to enter. So, as a bike rider, you can also put your hand up and motorists would be in violation if they did not stop."
To thwart hand signal fakers and to pre-empt potential opposition to the proposal among lawmakers, Thomas also told me a late addition to the bill is the creation of a new violation that would dole out a traffic citation to anyone who raises their hand without the intention to cross.
Thomas, who has written a manual on pedestrian legal rights, said he was inspired to fight for improvements to Oregon's pedestrian laws after a trip to Norway. "In Norway," he said, where they have a hand signal law in place, "someone can simply walk up to a curb and cars stop for them about 95% of the time."
So far, Thomas says he has the enthusiastic support of former Traffic Division captain and now Assistant Chief of the Portland Police Bureau Larry O'Dea and at least one Republican lawmaker -- State Senator Ted Ferrioli, who was almost hit while walking in a crosswalk.
It will be interesting to see the reaction to this bill, both by lawmakers and by the community. Commenting on a related story on BikePortland.org this morning, one reader doesn't think a hand signal is the right direction.
Reader "Shawna" wrote:
"Drivers need to obey the laws that exist, and we need to better enforce those laws. Adding a little hand-jive to the duties of pedestrians isn't going to improve the situation.
...We could pass a law that says "if you want to show your intent to cross the street, you should: find a crosswalk, use a hand signal, wear a red t-shirt that says "I'm crossing the street now!", and put a safety cone on your head.
This is not the fix we are looking for."
Reader "Scott G." writes in the comments below that:
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"I like the idea of sanctioning an action that gives the pedestrian some authority to assert themselves, and it seems like it would help encourage eye contact, too."