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Walking advocates try (again) to revise Oregon’s crossing law

Posted by on February 8th, 2011 at 4:04 pm

Stephanie Routh, WPC.
(Photos © J. Maus)

Advocates who want to make it safer to walk are leading a charge to revise Oregon’s crossing law. This will be the third consecutive legislative session that advocates have attempted to change ORS 811.208 (“Failure to stop and remain stopped for pedestrian”); but with the non-profit Willamette Pedestrian Coalition (WPC) finally coming into its own as an advocacy group, this could be the year something gets passed.

The problem with the current law is that a person must “proceed” or “cross” the street before their right to cross is activated. The thinking is that once you’ve begun to cross, traffic will stop. But many people recognize that the law is not clear and that subjecting yourself to physical harm just to activate your legal right to cross a street is more than a bit absurd.

“I feel current Oregon law all but requires people to act as “aggressive pedestrians” in order to cross the street, while caution is met with apathy. We need to do better.”
— Stephanie Routh, Willamette Pedestrian Coalition

In 2007, the Bicycle Transportation Alliance (contracted by the WPC to lobby in Salem) tried to pass a “hand signal bill” that would have had people raise their hand to signal their intention cross the street (and activate their legal right-of-way). That bill passed the Senate but failed to make it out of the House.

Stephanie Routh, the executive director of the WPC, says they’ve moved beyond the hand signal idea.

Calling the current law, “An issue that everyone agrees is a problem,” Routh tells BikePortland that, “We need a crosswalk law that includes important wording like “Intent to proceed” and a clarified description of how that intent is demonstrated by the person wishing to cross.”

Currently law only gives walkers the
right of way after they physically
step into the roadway.

Here’s how local lawyer Ray Thomas describes the problem with the existing law:

“No one feels safe walking out in front of speeding traffic, so the pedestrians stand at the curb, often looking forlorn, wistful or angry as they watch cars approach and pass. If the pedestrians could only exercise their legal right of way without having to step in front of speeding traffic, then pedestrians could signal their intent to cross, watch as approaching traffic slows and stops for them, and then continue.”

Below is the current language Routh, the WPC, and Thomas are working to form into a bill that would amend ORS 811.208:

“For the purposes of this section, a pedestrian is crossing the roadway when any part or extension of the pedestrian, including but not limited to any part of the pedestrian’s body, wheelchair, cane, crutch, bicycle or leashed animal moves onto the roadway with the intent to proceed.”

The WPC identified safe crossings as one of their top priorities in their Getting Around on Foot Action Plan released last year. Routh says both national and local statistics show that failure of vehicles to yield the right of way to people crossing the street on foot is a major problem.

Oregon had a record number of walking deaths in 2010 and some felt that sad statistic highlighted the need for more caution while walking on our roads. Troy Costales, Transportation Safety Division Manager for the Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT), even went so far as to say that “aggressive pedestrians” have become a part of the problem.

Routh disagrees. “Personally, I feel current Oregon law all but requires people to act as “aggressive pedestrians” in order to cross the street, while caution is met with apathy. We need to do better.”

Stay tuned for more coverage of this legislation as it moves through the system down in Salem.

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Comments
  • peejay February 8, 2011 at 4:08 pm

    You go, Steph!

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  • John Mulvey February 8, 2011 at 4:25 pm

    I wonder whether language like “intent” is enforceable here. We’re talking about a traffic infraction, so the question is whether you can legally issue a citation to someone based on whether they correctly guess another person’s intent. I’m not sure you can, although if the law spells out a few examples of objectively verifiable behavior that constitutes a legal demonstration of the intent, that would help.

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  • Paul Tay February 8, 2011 at 4:27 pm

    WPC? Thumbs…U.P.

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  • Esther February 8, 2011 at 4:39 pm

    This is wonderful – what a great solution WPC & Ray Thomas are proposing.
    It would be nice to have ‘assistive device’ in there somewhere since assistive devices may not be limited to wheelchairs, canes and crutches – could also include scooters and walkers.

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  • valorieb February 8, 2011 at 4:41 pm

    Cars, bicycles, skateboards, joggers with strollers pedestrians,rickshaws none of us should be guessing intent. Cant see how aggressive action helps either.
    Make eye contact, nod, wave an arm, pay attention no matter how you are transporting, legislation is abstract, flesh being harmed by bigger moving objects is concrete, so do something real.

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  • tonyt February 8, 2011 at 4:42 pm

    Aren’t there some places where a hand signal is part of the law? If the ped steps up to the curb and holds up their hand in a “stop” fashion, then traffic must stop. That makes a lot of sense to me, eliminating the confusion of whether a ped intends to cross or not.

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    • are February 8, 2011 at 8:07 pm

      the hand signal is what they tried to get through salem in 07 and they were met with some pretty weird resistance

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  • Bjorn February 8, 2011 at 4:53 pm

    @tonyt I believe that law exists only in Norway at this point. The hand signal law got a pretty bad rap in salem though and I think that the WPC is right to try a different tact.

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  • RyNO Dan February 8, 2011 at 4:58 pm

    Thank you WPC. As a pedestrian, I can step into the street, raise my hand, and still have car after car not yield. In fact they will honk most of the time, and even drive into the other lane (!) in order to miss me, yet not stop. And this is in SE portland. Good luck.

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  • Allan February 8, 2011 at 5:24 pm

    Go Steph! We need something like this. Even if it isn’t enforced maybe it will bring some much needed pub to the issue.

    That being said, I think it is ludicrous how few cars will stop for pedestrians

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  • Ely February 8, 2011 at 5:25 pm

    peejay
    You go, Steph!

    +1000

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  • drew February 8, 2011 at 5:40 pm

    Drivers look straight ahead while ignoring the obvious intent to cross by the pedestrian, trying to convince their fellow citizens and themselves that they have no peripheral vision. Something needs to be done!

    Thanks to the WPC for this effort!

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    • El Biciclero February 8, 2011 at 6:15 pm

      Heh. Like children pretending not to hear Mom calling because they don’t want to stop playing…

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      • El Biciclero February 8, 2011 at 6:17 pm

        If I may be so cheeky as to reply to myself–

        The “pretending not to see” phenomenon is indicative of a bully mentality, like so many other roadway attitudes.

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  • J_R February 8, 2011 at 6:37 pm

    Every time I am walking to the store and find an abandon grocery cart along the way, I push it all the way to the store. I’ve found that motorists are VERY considerate as I make my way into the crosswalk while pushing a cart. Maybe it’s just a coincidence, but I have a feeling that they fear damaging their cars if they don’t stop….

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  • Andy February 8, 2011 at 7:19 pm

    This is a great idea but the language is poorly drafted. There needs to be a clear standard that motorists and pedestrians can understand. The bicycle should not be a factor as a cyclist must be walking to be a pedestrian under Oregon law. Intent is impossible. Maybe not the best idea, but I put one foot off the curb into the crosswalk to establish intent and it seems to work. Those who don’t stop wouldn’t stop anyway. Not saying this should be the go forward standard, just something clear.

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    • Alex Reed February 8, 2011 at 8:07 pm

      Actually, as I understand current law, a person riding a bike AT WALKING SPEED gets the same street-crossing rights (and responsibilities) as a pedestrian.

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  • John Lascurettes February 8, 2011 at 10:43 pm

    Routh disagrees. “Personally, I feel current Oregon law all but requires people to act as “aggressive pedestrians” in order to cross the street, while caution is met with apathy. We need to do better.”

    I’d say I’m an assertive pedestrian downtown, not aggressive. I know my rights and I exercise them. If cars have clear and safe stopping distance and we can clearly see each other, I step right off the curb on an uncontrolled intersection and proceed right across while people I’m with are usually part of the timid crowd that wait until drivers proactively stop for them. I get some nasty looks at unmarked crosswalks and even some aggressive behavior (mostly from Trimet bus drivers on the latter) – but it’s within the law.

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  • Chezz February 9, 2011 at 12:08 am

    They notice that little red light up in the air, but not the person standing in front of them. Crossing without a stoplight is dangerous business. Even when one car stops, and you think it’s safe to walk, sometimes the traffic keeps moving in the other lanes. Maybe we need cameras at every crosswalk, and pedestrians can send the photos to traffic court by pushing a button.

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  • Todd Boulanger February 9, 2011 at 12:21 am

    Go Steph go! Cross on!

    “The problem with the current law is that a person must “proceed” or “cross” the street before their right to cross is activated.”…but then police/ traffic engineers and the press will define the vulnerable road user as having “darted” or “dashed”…such aggressive behaviour to protect our crossing ‘rights’.

    I hope this can be clarified correctly especially with the law clarifying that a driver shall not enter the intersection (if the pedestrian is on the far side) or yield with 30 ft buffer to a near side crossing pedestrian…then and only then will pedestrians feel confident to fulfill the letter of the law (on local streets). T

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  • Deepak Saxena February 9, 2011 at 1:36 am

    I don’t know that this is the law we need. I’m currently living in Paris where the traffic is far worse than that in Portland and there are many more pedestrians walking around and weaving in and of traffic and I’ve seen no accidents. I don’t think this is because of some law, but because of a much lower speed limit (30KPH/18MPH) in the city on all but the few really really big steets. I think fighting for a lower speed limit would be far more beneficial to everyone involved (peds, bikes, cars) and more enforceable and understandable than this legislation.

    If this law is passed, what is the plan to educate the public on this? I don’t like the idea of just adding a laws to the books and then being able to pull them out to prosecute people who may not even know these laws exists.

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    • malka February 9, 2011 at 7:23 am

      I have to agree with the point about vehicular speeds. Even while driving the posted speed limit I don’t think drivers are ignoring pedestrians–they simply don’t have enough reaction time. I became soberly aware of this when I drove a car for the first time in four months. As conscientious as I was in making my way through the city, I still noticed pedestrians wanting to cross the street too late to slow down and stop for them.

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    • Steph Routh, WPC February 9, 2011 at 9:20 am

      Hi Deepak,
      Indeed, education is extremely important, and the WPC and partners view the passing of this bill to be a crucial first step to education about the law.

      Regarding speed, the City of Portland’s legislative agenda includes reduced speed limits on designated corridors. The WPC endorses this wholeheartedly and will seek ways to support its passage this session. There’s no shortage of work to be done!

      Thanks to Jonathan for the great article; to Ray Thomas and Scott Bricker and other legislative committee members for their work; to the BTA for our shared legislative efforts; and to all for your support, participation, and leadership. There truly is no movement nor change possible without you.

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  • Ken February 9, 2011 at 7:25 am

    I’m all for clarity in the law. I see many cars just blow through an intersection while a pedestrian waits at the corner. However, just as often, I see pedestrians walk into a crosswalk, without looking for traffic. I can’t tell you how many times, at NW Couch and NW 11th Ave, I have stopped and then proceeded through the intersection only to have a pedestrian walk in front of me without looking. In my opinion, that is just as wrong as the drivers who don’t stop for pedestrians. This problem isn’t one-sided, there needs to be clarity and education for both drivers and pedestrians.

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    • Suburban February 9, 2011 at 8:25 am

      Yes, if “Blow Through” means Drive Through Quickly.

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      • Ken February 9, 2011 at 9:45 am

        I’ve seen drivers speed up just to beat the pedestrian that was trying to step into the cross walk. But I’ve seen pedestrians intentionally ignore traffic and enter a crosswalk without looking.

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  • Kevin Love February 9, 2011 at 8:22 am

    In Toronto, the rule is to point across the street at a crosswalk. I’ve never seen a car fail to stop.

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  • Perry Hunter February 9, 2011 at 8:36 am

    I too, appreciate the effort and agree that the law needs to be improved, but the wording here is far too loose in my opinion. It leaves a gaping hole where a motorist who is cited for a violation can claim that the pedestrians intent was unclear. Requiring a clear hand (or some other) signal would eliminate the excuses and make enforcement much easier.

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  • deborah February 9, 2011 at 8:51 am

    With Oregon’s high number of deaths IN a cross-walk last year, this clarification of the law will be a welcome change when it comes to fruition. I hope it also comes with MUCH stiffer penalties for hitting a pedestrian in a cross walk and failure to yield to a pedestrian in a cross walk.

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    • Ken February 9, 2011 at 9:39 am

      This assumes every incident is the drivers fault. I have had pedestrians intentionally ignore that I had stopped and was proceeding safely through the intersection. They don’t stop and look for traffic before crossing, they just continue walking as if they are on the sidewalk and not entering the roadway. Downtown this is a fairly common occurrence.

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      • are February 9, 2011 at 11:42 am

        so what you are saying is that you stopped and then proceeded even though there were pedestrians crossing? you may want to review the existing law, which gives pedestrians a right of way at crosswalks.

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  • Justin February 9, 2011 at 9:04 am

    Salt Lake City put out orange flags at crosswalks for pedestrians to wave/carry as they crossed the street, starting in ~2003. Once everyone got done laughing about how silly it seemed, it seemed like they worked pretty well. Grabbing an orange flag and waving signals intent very clearly.

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  • Justin February 9, 2011 at 9:10 am

    Here’s a link describing the SLC pedestrian flag program:
    http://www.slcgov.com/transportation/Pedestrian/pdf/CrosswalkFlagsBrochure11_05.pdf

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  • jim February 9, 2011 at 10:07 am

    So many times I have stopped for someone walking out into the intersection so I stoped only to have them turn around and walk back up on the curb to their bus stop. I dont know why they have to walk out in the street to be looking for the bus to come? It’s not going to make it come any faster.

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  • John Mulvey February 9, 2011 at 10:29 am

    Perry Hunter
    Requiring a clear hand (or some other) signal would eliminate the excuses and make enforcement much easier.

    I totally agree. As I said upthread, a criminal statute that requires proof that a driver knew a pedestrian’s intent may not be enforceable in court.

    But this problem also raises a more practical concern: where a law is vague or requires mindreading by the police officer, it’s not likely to be used much.

    I’m one of the growing number (I think) who believe that inadequate enforcement is our #1 safety problem in Portland. A law such as this one may sound good in a hearing room in Salem but would have about the same real-world impact as the hands-free phone law (ie, zero).

    This law needs to be as unambiguous as possible or it won’t do anything to improve pedestrian safety.

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    • matt picio February 9, 2011 at 10:41 am

      John – the problem with enforcement is where do you stop? And how much are you willing to spend? To enforce the existing laws with any hope of modifying driver behavior, we need to either expand the police force drastically, or empower citizens with rights until now only held by police. Both options have unintended consequences, and both would need a substantial amount of money to be effective. If we truly want to enhance enforcement, then there are a number of discussions that need to happen first, especially who will pay for it, and how do we maintain adequate oversight?

      Not saying it won’t work, just that there are tradeoffs, and it may make some current problems worse.

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      • El Biciclero February 9, 2011 at 5:05 pm

        Well, then what’s the point of passing new laws if we can’t enforce the existing ones? Seems like if pedestrians wanted to signal to drivers their intentions to cross a street, they could do that already, without having a law in place. If we could just encourage meaningful communication among road users, rather than blind adherence to laws, we’d be much farther ahead. But that would require a cultural mind-shift from travel as competition to travel as cooperation.

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  • Dick Pilz February 9, 2011 at 11:31 am

    I live near SE Hawthorne, so I travel there via foot, bike and car. When driving, I am always on the lookout for potential crossings. Eyes right, eyes left.

    When driving, I have had the most problems between 34th and Cesar Chavez/39th at night. Sure, other traffic may be stopped, but is that car stopped for a crosser or parking?
    1. When it is raining, the glare from oncoming traffic can mask crossers. (Please don’t drive inner city with high beams.)
    2. Dark clothing. Duh. I am especially guilty myself, but I wear a light-colored hat and flag with it.
    3. That clump of people at the crossing – are they just chatting or wanting to cross?

    And ,though others may dislike it, it is my habit to honk if I am stopped for a crosser and other lanes just blow through.

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    • davemess February 9, 2011 at 12:22 pm

      I’ll agree with you about that section of Hawthorne. My wife works there and sometimes I have to pick her up. It is really not a fun stretch to drive. WAY too much going on. I think it would be a good idea to reduce traffic to one lane each way, you could then make the second lane on each side a bike lane. There is low visibility and almost no buffer (with street parking there) currently.

      Nor do I feel that safe driving the section of the Pearl near her other job site (Everett from 405 to 8th). I drive through the Pearl at about 20mp and it still feels too fast most of the time.

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  • beelnite February 9, 2011 at 2:00 pm

    Alex Reed
    Actually, as I understand current law, a person riding a bike AT WALKING SPEED gets the same street-crossing rights (and responsibilities) as a pedestrian.

    I’m with Alex on this – yes – bicycles are pedestrians at walking speed. Period. It doesn’t matter if you are on your bike or not – cars should stop.

    But they don’t. Even City of Portland Police and Trimet Bus Drivers blow the cross-walks on 39th – if you are ON your bike. You can have both feet planted but if you are straddling that baby – most folks don’t think you have a legal right to cross.

    But I’ve taken to hopping off. Standing there. IF someone stops – I get out there in the crosswalk AND GET BACK ON MY BIKE – in the crosswalk. I know, I know… how silly, right? But it helps the driver’s kind of accept me crossing with my legal rights. And that’s what this is about right? Sending a clear signal about intent? You bet.

    Still I wish there were better education about when a cyclist has pedestrian rights. MOST Drivers (and cyclists!) assume if you are on your bike motor vehicles don’t have to yeild at crosswalks.

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  • John Mulvey February 9, 2011 at 2:51 pm

    matt picio
    John – the problem with enforcement is where do you stop? And how much are you willing to spend? To enforce the existing laws with any hope of modifying driver behavior, we need to either expand the police force drastically, or empower citizens with rights until now only held by police. Both options have unintended consequences, and both would need a substantial amount of money to be effective. If we truly want to enhance enforcement, then there are a number of discussions that need to happen first, especially who will pay for it, and how do we maintain adequate oversight?

    But that’s the case with any criminal law. Whether it’s a law against murder or a law against running through crosswalks without yielding to peds, the purpose is still to deter others from committing the same offense. You create police forces and courts to enforce the law in enough cases that everybody starts to modify their behavior.

    We all live here and pay taxes here, and every one of us has the right to say what behaviors we want to receive stepped-up attention from police.

    My preferences for the PPB? Cite more bad drivers, shoot fewer people. Do you really think that these things would be more expensive?

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  • naess February 9, 2011 at 5:04 pm

    regardless of this getting passed or not, they also need to alter the light schedules in most intersections. the way things are now, and during peak pedestrian periods, one is unable to turn at most intersections downtown legally (ie: with the green light,) as there are pedestrians crossing for the majority, if not all, of the light cycle.

    i realize a lot of people here will probably just say “good, let the cagers sit and stew.” but these are the kinds of things that help people act more aggresively when driving.

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  • RoadShare February 9, 2011 at 6:26 pm

    Hey All, I agree with much that has already been written. I would point out that it is not just automobiles that are a threat to pedestrians trying to cross the street. More often than not, cyclists too seem to be oblivious to me when attempting to cross. It is seemingly going to take quite some time before everyone sharing the road becomes more civil in their behavior.

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  • Peter Buck February 10, 2011 at 12:25 pm

    In my opinion the primary value of ORS811.028 is to limit how close to pedestrians a vehicle must be once the pedestrian has legally entered the roadway. It also explicitly defines a pedestrian’s legal right to be there. However, ORS814.040 confines pedestrians to essentially the same restrictions as vehicles for entering the roadway – you can’t do so if a vehicle with the right-of-way can’t safely slow or stop to let you in. Together, this means there’s few additional tools provided to allow pedestrians to enter the roadway. When traffic volume is sparse it’s easy to find a break in traffic to enter the roadway. When traffic is dense and fast you have to wait. When traffic is dense and slow you can step off the curb and vehicles should stop because their slow speed makes it possible. It is difficult to see how anything but a mechanical signal could solve the dense fast traffic situation, the only one that really doesn’t have a solution today.

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    • El Biciclero February 10, 2011 at 2:37 pm

      This is what I wanted to say–in the dense, fast traffic scenario, unless there is a traffic control device of some kind, the pedestrian is in a catch-22: can’t step into the roadway if cars can’t stop in time, but cars don’t have to stop until you step into the roadway…

      A hand signal indication of intent to cross could serve the same purpose as a yello–excuse me–AMBER signal phase. If a driver sees you signaling to cross but can’t stop before they get parallel to you, they can pass on by–but the next guy should be able to stop in time without you having to “dart” out into the street.

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      • Peter Buck February 11, 2011 at 8:39 am

        Even in semi-dense fast traffic where there is time for vehicles to stop, a prudent pedestrian will wait until a hole in traffic exists that’s large enough to avoid having to depend on a vehicle operator seeing and reacting appropriately – at high speeds the consequences are too dire to take the chance.

        I doubt most vehicle operators look ahead far enough to notice a pedestrian waving their hand.

        While I’m not opposed to clarifying the law, I think we need more emphasis on education. Pedestrians don’t know how to clearly signal intent. Is that person just talking on their cellphone while looking around 360 degrees or are they planning to cross the street? I suspect most people do not spend their free time reading ORS. Perhaps at license or vehicle registration renewal time there could be an on-line test to take and pass that covers changes in the ORS related to transportation. This is already required to get an Oregon Boater Education card, which is necessary to legally operate a boat in Oregon waters. The infrastructure exists. The testing methodology is not punitive – you can take the test as many times as it takes and you can look up answers as you go. I realize this only covers those who have motor vehicles, but since many (maybe most) cyclists and pedestrians also drive it could still be pretty effective.

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  • brian February 10, 2011 at 5:32 pm

    what happened to “look both ways before crossing”?
    All oregon has done is created confusion. Look both ways, and when it is safe to cross, cross. walk out into traffic, are you crazy? the only thing that protects somebody is common sense. which is obviously not so common anymore.

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    • Allan February 10, 2011 at 5:35 pm

      The problem is that if drivers don’t stop for you, on urban highways like Foster, 82nd, Sandy, etc there will never be a time when it is safe to cross.

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  • Eric Fair-Layman February 13, 2011 at 6:24 am

    I wonder if mandatory stopping laws keeps people from learning to cross safely. My intuition is to let people learn to be assertive (not aggressive). I’ve found since coming to Portland that people here sometimes expect too much niceness. People cross streets without looking for cars, don’t know how to make left turns at lights without a green left arrow, etc. I learned how to cross busy streets with my parents, how to assert yourself (which by the way, does not put you in danger if you are doing it right) as a pedestrian and all that. Also, I think Portlanders don’t know what aggressive driving is. And, I’m a full-time bicycle commuter, including getting both of my kids to school in the morning.

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