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As crosswalk enforcement decoy, Mayor Hales walks talk on traffic safety

Posted by Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) on May 16th, 2013 at 12:17 pm

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Portland Mayor Charlie Hales crossing E Burnside at 16th as a decoy in a police enforcement action this morning.
(Photos © J. Maus/BikePortland)

After playing the role of decoy in a crosswalk enforcement mission this morning, Portland Mayor Charlie Hales has firmly cemented safety as his top transportation priority. Under the watchful eye of about eight motorcycle officers with the Portland Police Bureau's Traffic Division and with several TV news cameras rolling, Hales put himself in the middle of morning rush hour traffic on East Burnside at 16th.

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Luckily for Hales, the intersection (a key north-south route for biking and walking traffic that's just a few blocks from a school) was recently upgraded with crosswalk striping, median islands, and caution signage.

Prior to these improvements, people trying to cross Burnside at 16th by bike or on foot took a significant risk. This morning, not only did Hales have engineering on his side, he also enjoyed nearly perfect behavior from road users due to the gaggle of onlookers, PBOT staff, police, and news media that had gathered on the corners. There were a few stops made by the officers, but not many. And for what it's worth, they were only issuing warnings today. One of the officers said they plan to return next week for another "enforcement mission" and they won't be so forgiving.

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This is less than half of the crowd that made this morning's event far from a surprise.

Between crossings, I asked Hales what he thought of the new crossing treatment. "I think this reinforces that a really clear and legible crossing really does make a difference," he said. "I think even after the show departs from this intersection, the clarity of what has been done here will help a lot."

"It's personal. It's a serious community problem, and I've become more fervent about it than I was even six months ago."
— Mayor Charlie Hales on traffic safety

It's important to note how Hales has evolved — politically and personally — on the transportation issue. He ran for Mayor by promising to make road maintenance his top priority. "Transportation choices and bikes and all the other things that we're doing might have to be deferred a bit while we catch up on maintenance," he told KATU after winning the election in November. Hales based this in part on the huge maintenance backlog we have; but it was also a way to draw a contrast to former mayor Sam Adams. Adams was arguably the most safety-oriented transportation bureau commissioner Portland has ever had. One high-level PBOT staffer once referred to him as "our transportation safety mayor." Adams took a political risk by spending money on traffic safety-related projects at the expense of more traditionally auto-centric paving and capacity-related projects.

Now, in light of a rash of fatal collisions, Hales talks a lot more about safety and a lot less about maintenance. In a PBOT press release about this morning's crosswalk action, Hales stated, "Safety is the top priority of our transportation system."

This morning during a short interview, I asked Hales about how he's evolved on the topic of traffic safety. He pointed out that Portland has suffered from 15 traffic deaths so far this year. "We're off to a really bad start... And a bunch of them were pedestrians." He mentioned Morgan Maynard-Cook, the five year-old girl from east Portland that died trying to cross a street at the end of April. And then he shared that a woman killed while walking on Beaverton Hillsdale-Highway back in December, 27 year-old Mara Rosanne Forsythe-Crane, was the daughter of a personal friend.

"So it's personal. It's a serious community problem, and I've become more fervent about it than I was even six months ago."

Hales' change of tune on this topic has already impacted city policy. Just over a month after Morgan Maynard-Cook died, he held a press conference to announce that he would restore funding to a sidewalk project on SE 136th (funding that was yanked by Hales' hand-picked, road maintenance-centric PBOT Director Toby Widmer).

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Hales with PPB Traffic Division Captain David Hendrie (and PBOT spokesman Dylan Rivera).

Asked about the policy implications of his safety focus, Hales said, "It reinforces the importance of traffic enforcement in the Police Bureau." When it comes to the ongoing city budget negotiations, Hales said he's "Trying to maintain a level of enforcement effort in the Traffic Division so they can be out here educating and penalizing as appropriate."

"And obviously," he continued, "we want to make sure PBOT continues to invest in these type of improvements systematically around the city. We've got hundreds of intersections that still need this kind of treatment."

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Learn more about PBOT's traffic safety programs at their Traffic Safety Resources page. You can also read past coverage of crosswalk enforcement actions

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Comments
  • Brandon Van Buskirk May 16, 2013 at 12:41 pm

    I think including curb extensions in all updated intersections would lead to a more effective resolution of increased safety and friendliness.

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    • davemess May 16, 2013 at 12:45 pm

      Except for bikes. Curb extensions create choke points that sometimes lead to decreased safety for bikes. We need road diets, reduced speed limits, and more enforcement (where they actually give someone a REAL ticket).

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      • Spiffy May 16, 2013 at 1:19 pm

        curb extensions are never in the path of a bicyclist unless you're riding where you shouldn't be (in the parking buffer)...

        all roads with curbside parking should have curb extensions...

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        • Miss Forpe Stubb May 16, 2013 at 5:51 pm

          On some streets, the choice is between riding in an un-parked parking buffer or taking the lane with traffic that is moving faster than you. I like to avoid having a line of death-machines backed up behind me, so the parking buffer can be a good option. But then sometimes those curb extensions get in the way.

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          • Miss Forpe Stubb May 16, 2013 at 5:54 pm

            ... and on the other hand, sometimes we need to get AROUND those death-machines by using the parking buffer (I'm thinking of north-bound interstate on a weekday evening).

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        • davemess May 16, 2013 at 6:42 pm

          Huh? There are places where bike lanes disappear and all of a sudden you're into the curb extension. There are also places (have you ever ridden on Foster?) where you don't really want to be in the lane, so you're kind of straddling the lane/parking area.

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      • ScottB May 17, 2013 at 10:50 am

        Curb extensions make future expansion of bike lanes to buffered bike lanes by removal of parking very expensive. If the curb extension also serves as a bioswale, then the loss of that facility must also be mitigated. We won't be able to always remove auto lanes to buffer bike lanes.

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        • 9watts May 17, 2013 at 10:53 am

          "If the curb extension also serves as a bioswale, then the loss of that facility must also be mitigated."

          Put a grate on the bioswale and call it a cyclepath. Ride right over the top. This stuff doesn't have to be zero-sum. Some day we won't be fighting over the crumbs but all walking and bicycling in the street like we did 100 years ago.

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          • longgone May 18, 2013 at 9:33 am

            100 years ago, cyclists had the road mostly to themselves, as the car was still a luxury purchase.
            Now 60 years ago, that is something else.. :)

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  • Indy May 16, 2013 at 12:58 pm

    Do come to this location:
    http://goo.gl/maps/0Rj9O

    Because I'm nearly hit on it walking North every...damn...time. Cars just look to their left and rarely for pedestrians.

    Recommended Thumb up 1

  • Joe May 16, 2013 at 1:36 pm

    How about cell phone and texting enforcement next! OMG the number of scofflaws is truly outrageous.

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  • 9watts May 16, 2013 at 1:59 pm

    "One of the officers said they plan to return next week for another 'enforcement mission' and they won't be so forgiving."

    Is that how it works at Ladd's Circle? :-)

    I love the last photo, Jonathan.

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  • Jayson May 16, 2013 at 3:08 pm

    A woman was killed crossing at NE 78th and Glisan earlier this year and PBOT has put this section of Glisan on a road diet this summer. Pretty quick work! Unfortunately, they only have enough funding to install one median refuge (site of the most recent fatality) and that's because TriMet kicked in some funds to make it happen. How is PBOT so cash-strapped that basic safety improvements can't be provided? I keep asking for a stop sign at an unsigned intersection and they can't even do that.

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    • bjorn May 17, 2013 at 8:39 am

      stop signs aren't safety improvements.

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    • ScottB May 17, 2013 at 10:54 am

      Stop signs assign right of way and are installed to correct very specific errors or problems. Stop signs can reduce right-angle crashes, but often increase rear-end collisions. If your intersection has not had any right-angle crashes for years, it's unlikely there is a need. Portland has thousands of uncontrolled intersections what operate quite well every day of the year.

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  • rider May 16, 2013 at 3:12 pm

    I wish they would do an enforcement sting on a non-zebra marked crosswalk. I don't think many people know they are supposed to yield to pedestrians at every intersection. It's barely covered in the driver's manual and I know it wasn't on my driver's exam. That's where people really need education. Everyone already knows they need to yield at the major crosswalks, even if they don't.

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    • ScottB May 17, 2013 at 10:54 am

      PBOT does do such enforcement at unmarked crosswalks.

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  • Todd Hudson May 16, 2013 at 3:45 pm

    Watch out for Jefferson Smith!

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • longgone May 16, 2013 at 5:30 pm

    uh,.... didn't Sam do this too?
    Is this "new Mayor, springtime checklist" item number three, or something?

    Recommended Thumb up 1

  • fredlf May 16, 2013 at 6:19 pm

    I wish Charlie would come up here to NE and try crossing MLK a few times. They'd need a high-speed printer to write all the citations.

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    • Peter Michaelson May 17, 2013 at 7:34 am

      Indeed. However since the majority of voting citizens drive automobiles as their primary mode of transportation, the political will to enforce existing laws is insufficient.

      I suppose that the more we get people on foot and bikes, the greater the pressure will be to enforce the law. Meanwhile, feel free to speed.

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    • Ron May 17, 2013 at 11:31 am

      Yes! Same as on Fremont in Beaumont-Wilshire. They could fund a dozen more officer with adequate (or even sporadic) enforcement.

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  • Kevin Wagoner May 16, 2013 at 7:32 pm

    Jonathan this seems way to generous, "has firmly cemented safety as his top transportation priority". I'm very excited that he did this, but I don't see how this cements anything. Lots of us would be more than happy to volunteer in this aera. What makes Charlie's position unique is the enormous influence and power to make things happen as mayor. I'm glad he did this and I am glad he is talking about safety. He decided not to DEFUND a perviously committed sidewalk, that is nice. I am hopeful that over time his actions through the mayors office will impress me enough to someday canvas for him for re-election. For me the jury is still out and safety as top transportation priority is not proven.

    PS: Good article.

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    • Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) May 17, 2013 at 8:47 am

      Hi Kevin,

      too generous? I understand your critique... But my main point is that from a political/rhetoric/messaging perspective that's an entirely accurate thing for me to write. You are absolutely correct that Hales could do a lot more to back up his recent shift in perspective.

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      • Kevin Wagoner June 14, 2013 at 8:34 pm

        Hey Jonathan,

        Since you wrote this I've seen several very positive articles about Mayor Hales. I think I might be stuck back in the time around the election where I didn't feel comfortable about him in relation to transportation. The recent interview by Steve in the Mercury is yet another example of a positive interpretation of Mayor Hales. This is good. Looks like your original assessment above was right. Now let's raise that revenue!

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  • Mike Fish May 16, 2013 at 10:27 pm

    OK, so don't pedestrians have the right of way at almost all intersections that aren't controlled by walk/don't walk sings? Like in that one video you posted from PBOT? When are police going to do stings on unmarked crosswalk crossings and try to get people driving cars to comply with THAT?

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    • ScottB May 17, 2013 at 10:56 am

      The police already do stings at unmarked crossings. Pedestrians don't have the right to step out into oncoming traffic that does not have time to stop.

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  • Ted Buehler May 16, 2013 at 10:59 pm

    I'm liking the change of tune. Thanks for promoting crosswalk safety, Charlie, PBOT and PPB. Keep up the good work.

    Ted Buehler

    Recommended Thumb up 2

    • ScottB May 17, 2013 at 10:57 am

      Who's tune changed? PBOT has been doing these enforcement actions with PPB for years.

      Recommended Thumb up 0

  • Hart Noecker May 17, 2013 at 1:23 am

    When Hales starts standing up to the PBA's bike-blocking I'll be impressed. This photo-op does not impress me.

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  • gutterbunny May 17, 2013 at 7:44 am

    I don't understand why we can't use the money generated from tickets to get more traffic officers and enforcement. most tickets average $100+ a ticket, each officer would only need one ticket per hour to more than pay for themselves (that includes all the perks, comp, and equipment too).

    If they started ticketing for cel phones and crossing violations, it could easily be 4 tickets an hour with really trying.

    Heck use half the money from generated from tickets for more enforcement and road safety improvements.

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    • ScottB May 17, 2013 at 11:04 am

      Portand is not allowed to have it's own court system without a change in the constitution. Also, the cost of setting up and running a separate court from Multco would be very very expensive.
      PBOT only gets 25%-50% of the citation paid after court costs. Even though the ability of judges to reduce fines has been scaled back, PBOT's attempts to get the incremental increase from that change have been limited. The funds they do get go to the traffic safety fund.
      http://tinyurl.com/a2552pe

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  • drew May 17, 2013 at 9:47 am

    Yesterday, I was in the crosswalk at bidwell and Milwaukie (sellwood) trying to cross. A dozen people driving cars acted like they had no peripheral vision and refused to yield. A few had to go swerve a bit to avoid me as I was standing 1/3 the way into the crossing.

    If there were random enforcement actions all over town, unannounced and resulting in actual citations, there would be a lot less of this. I wonder why the police are reluctant to enforce the law. Why would they think a licensed driver could be reasonably expected to not know what a crosswalk is for, and that a bit of education (warning) is appropriate?

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    • 9watts May 17, 2013 at 9:54 am

      "Why would they think a licensed driver could be reasonably expected to not know what a crosswalk is for"

      One word: Carhead.

      I almost never drive, love the fact that I don't need to. But when I do I find myself instantly transported back to a time/inside that insulated metal box where it seems my actions are guided by the logic of the machine, not my own muscles. I find myself wishing pedestrians would make their intentions clearer, step off the curb already, take up some space so I can act accordingly. But in reality I am now not very confident in the driver's seat; I worry that if I stop suddenly (having been lulled into a stupor simply by being in the damn car) that someone will rear-end me and it isn't even my car. I worry that if I stop the car one lane over will not and the pedestrian may get crushed. And on and on. I hate being in a car and finding myself so bad at deferring to pedestrians at intersections. For whatever odd reason that I can't explain if they've stepped off the curb it is easy for me to stop.

      Recommended Thumb up 1

  • AndyC of Linnton May 17, 2013 at 10:08 am

    Ha! This is hilarious! "Mayor walkin' here!" Holy crap politicians are incredible.

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  • Joe May 17, 2013 at 10:45 am

    Thanks Mr Mayor :)

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  • Todd Boulanger May 17, 2013 at 2:09 pm

    ...I wonder if the press (and the PPB report) would have reported that the pedestrian was wearing dark clothes... if Mayor Hales had been struck by a driver during this important pedestrian enforcement action...such as they seem to do often.

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  • Erik May 17, 2013 at 6:05 pm

    Seems like they could take several of these officers and put them on Barbur for speed enforcement.

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  • Robert Burchett May 19, 2013 at 1:10 pm

    Mayor Hales has a kinda haggard, 'run with the hunted' expression in some of those shots. Even with all the cops, that's a hard gig.

    Lots of respect for people crossing that intersection on Barbur, and anybody who lives east of 72nd (60th?). It's hard enough to get across 42nd sometimes. Strike a blow for pedestrian rights--go outside and cross the street!

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