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PDOT employee gets a scare during crosswalk safety event

Posted by on December 2nd, 2008 at 9:24 am

I Share the Road Rally

PDOT’s Sharon White, shown here
at a Share the Road rally in 2006.
(Photo © J. Maus)

Sharon White is PDOT’s pedestrian safety chief. One of the many programs she oversees is an ongoing “crosswalk enforcement action” campaign. Working with the Portland Police Bureau, White and staff at PDOT identify high-risk intersections and then employ decoys to walk across them while officers stand by.

White is so committed to her work that often, she herself takes on the role of crosswalk guinea pig. A few weeks ago, during one of the enforcement actions, she got more than she bargained for.

In an email update about pedestrian and bike safety efforts, White told a harrowing story that took place at a SE Portland intersection (Division at 35th). At that event, the police handed out 10 warnings and 5 citations. As White explains below, 4 of those citations were given to one unruly vehicle operator (emphasis mine):

It is rare that I get scared during a Crosswalk Enforcement Action because I an generally very cautious and very alert. However, the last portion of this Crosswalk Enforcement Action did frighten me.

Story continues below

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As usual, I proceeded into the crossing area as a pedestrian showing intent to cross and provided adequate time for the approaching eastbound vehicle to stop. I worked to make eye contact with the driver and when I finally got a clear view of the driver’s face could tell that he was looking at the storefront of the adjacent building and did not appear to be aware of me in the crossing. At about the same time, the driver’s vehicle veered a little to the north and then a little to the south pointing right at me. Since I had no indication that the driver was going to slow down or stop, I jumped out of the crossing and back onto the sidewalk.

“Instead of slowing down, the driver increased his speed.”

The police officer working on the Crosswalk Enforcement Action with us, put on his siren and headed onto Division to stop the driver and initiate a conversation about Oregon crosswalk laws. Instead of slowing down, the driver increased his speed, took the first right turn and then an immediate left into a dead end driveway where the police officer caught up with him.

As it ended up, there was a warrant out for his arrest for hit and run of a pedestrian! In addition to receiving 4 tickets, he was sent to jail.

Thanks Portland Police Traffic Division for a job well done!

And thanks to you Ms. White, for your dedication to making our streets safer.

For more on PDOT’s pedestrian and traffic safety programs, visit this page on PortlandOnline.com.

NOTE: We love your comments and work hard to ensure they are productive, considerate, and welcoming of all perspectives. Disagreements are encouraged, but only if done with tact and respect. If you see a mean or inappropriate comment, please contact us and we'll take a look at it right away. Also, if you comment frequently, please consider holding your thoughts so that others can step forward. Thank you — Jonathan

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bjorn
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bjorn

It is stories like these that make me a supporter of the pedestrian hand signal law. I shouldn’t have to put my body in front of a driver like this in order to try to signal to them that I intend to cross. Learn more about the PHS by reading Ray Thomas’s recent article in Oregon Cycling:

http://www.oregoncycling.org/2008/10/pedestrian-crossing-hand-signals/

Hart
Guest
Hart

I was almost hit by a woman in a late 80’s burgundy Olds the other day on Ankney. She blew(not rolled through, but flat out blew( a stop sign and we both braked/skidded to a halt with me about two feet in front of her grill. The car had about four kids crammed into the back. She shrugged and mouthed “I’m sorry”, so I could tell she would feel bad for a minute. People like this are out there driving every minute of every day.

Zaphod
Guest
Zaphod

Thank you Sharon for the dangerous and valuable work that you do. I’m glad that your reflexes and intuition were on-task.

TonyT
Guest
tonyt

I’m with you Bjorn. It also would help eliminate confusion when people are standing at corners waiting for buses.

And it’s good to see that they’re doing enforcements at non-marked crosswalks.

Now if we could only get more cops to lead by example at unmarked crosswalks/intersections.

velo
Guest
velo

That is scary, as a pedestrian, cyclist and occasional driver I have to say some of the cross walks in this town are unsafe for all. You add drivers like that and there is bound to be trouble. This is the kind of enforcement I am happy to have the traffic division doing.

I’m always appalled by the crosswalks on Powell and other busy streets. As a ped they are scary, as a driver you have poor sight-lines at night and as a bike, wait I’ll never ride down Powell! It just seems like there must be a better and safer way to have crossings.

Brian
Guest
Brian

I wish I had a cop following me around to chase down every bad driver who endangers my life. He would be a busy guys. It seems like 80% or 90% of drivers don’t know or care about crosswalk laws.

This type of encounter at a crosswalk is not uncommon in my experience.

Craig Giffen
Guest

I like the hand signal law too. Unfortunately it still wouldn’t do much at those death-trap crosswalks like at SE 12th and Powell that cross three lanes of major traffic.

Anonymous
Guest
Anonymous

Not a fan of this style of enforcement.

Unless the pedestrian/guinea pig can judge the speed of the oncoming traffic correctly and then step out knowing that they are giving the driver ample time to stop safely, this could be considered a sting operation.

Much the way red light cameras are used on intersections where the yellow light is too short to allow a vehicle traveling at the posted limit to stop safely or negotiate the intersection before the light turns red.

There’s a responsibility on the part of pedestrian to make the correct call on when it is safe to step out into traffic, cross walk or not.

Duncan Watson
Guest

I am glad the driver was arrested and that Sharon is safe. I run into situations like this with reasonable frequency in the Greater Seattle area. It gets bad enough that I am strongly considering mounting a camera to my helmet that has a 2 minute loop feature. One button press will save the last 2 minutes to storage.

btodd
Guest
btodd

How the hell have we managed to erase decades of safe street crossing rules with this nonsense. we used to teach kids to look both ways before crossing the street. Now people, kids and adults, just walk right out into traffic with the arrogance of these silly crosswalks laws. People should show an interest in their own safety, and actually make sure it is safe before crossing the street. I am a cyclist, runner, walker, and I have never seen sillier behavior than watching people walking out into the street without making sure the way is clear.

Jonathan Maus (Editor)
Guest

btodd,

another way to look at it is that we all need to begin to re-assert our rights to use our public roads without having to constantly cower down in fear of our lives.

I’m one of those people who will enter into the roadway aggressively (and safely of course) as a pedestrian because I refuse to sit back and wait for the perfectly safe opening.

I expect my fellow citizens to recognize my presence and to be courteous and law-abiding enough to give heed. I don’t think that’s asking too much, not do I consider that “silly behavior”.

yarrrum
Guest
yarrrum

Hey folks. A question: Is a person on a bike (on the seat, riding) waiting to cross in a marked, white-striped pedestrian crossing considered a pedestrian??? I always stop for people walking and usually for a bike RIDER waiting to cross, but what does the law say or infer about cyclist waiting to cross in a pedestrian crossing while sitting on a bike. PLEASE, cyclist hot heads, be kind to me. This is a legit question. I’ll check back this afternoon and see if anybody has a response.

btodd
Guest
btodd

It is silly because the car will win everytime. i have been hit by a car before, giving me intimate knowledge. i love giving rights to pedestrians, cars are coffins. I have just seen too many people cross the street without even looking to see if I am coming.

please take of yourselves out there

Hart
Guest
Hart

“The car will win”? Yeah, talk about victory.

tr
Guest

Ha! try crossing any of the “marked” crosswalks on MLK aggressively. I dare you… Ironically “rush” hour is the safest because all lanes are turned into a parking lot.

Martha R
Guest
Martha R

yarrum (#11) – A person walking along pushing a bicycle is a pedestrian, and a person riding a bicycle on the roadway is a vehicle operator. A person riding/sitting on a bike at a crosswalk, who intends to use the pedestrian crossing signals, is a wierd hybrid. If they want to use pedestrian facilities, they’re required to act like a pedestrian (wait for the walk signal, move at no faster than a pedestrian speed, and so forth). However, some signals are not easily triggered by bikes, so bicyclists (the “vehicle operator” sort and not the “pseudo-pedestrian”) hit the pedestrian crossing button in order to activate the light, even though they intend to cross as a vehicle.

What does this mean for drivers? If the bicyclist is acting like a vehicle operator (i.e. in the street, stopped at a stop sign, waiting until it’s safe to proceed), treat them like a vehicle (i.e. don’t arbitrarily stop if you have the right-of-way and they don’t — that confuses people). If they’re acting like a pedestrian (i.e. on the sidewalk, waiting at a crosswalk), treat them like a pedestrian. Yes, there’s a huge grey area, but the bottom line is that the best thing we can all do is to communicate our intentions to other road users as clearly as possible and act predictably.

jrep
Guest
jrep

When I walk to the grocery store, I always check to see if there is an abandoned shopping cart at the nearby bus stop. If there is, I walk it back to the store. At the marked crosswalk near my neighborhood grocery store, I make certain the on-coming driver has plenty of time to stop, but I find that when assert myself while pushing a cart, the drivers always stop. Not so when I’m not pushing one.

When I drive to the store, I regularly grab a cart in the lot and push it down the middle of the aisle (assuming there are not sidewalks) and into the store. Again, motorists tend to give me a wide berth and slow down. I suppose they fear damage to their cars if they hit a cart rather than a pedestrian.

Try it and see if it produces the same reaction for you. Plus, you’re doing a good deed by returning the cart to the store with virtually no inconvenience to you.

Stephanie
Guest
Stephanie

It’s one thing if drivers aren’t paying attention, please stay alert! However, it’s another thing if a pedestrian is dumb enough to cross a street in front of moving traffic thinking the law is going to help them. What happened to looking before you cross the street? Unmarked crosswalks also cause more car accidents. Why don’t both parties just practice more common sense and be a little more alert? I also don’t like the idea of your entrapment game. It’s a waste of time.

RyNO Dan
Guest
RyNO Dan

There is a ped/bike overpass at 9th and SE Powell. No need to cross terrible Powell again in that area. Try it, your mind will feel free.

The hand signal rule would have been a HUGE boon to cyclists. Just pop off your bike, put your hand out, and (magically) the car will stop (most of the time). Cant quite understand why cyclists didn’t support that in force.

toddistic
Guest
toddistic

This is my biggest irritation with drivers. I’m walking with my wife and we are trying to cross the street only to have a car fail to yield. Could we start filing citizen initated traffic citations for people that do not yeild? I’d start filling them out by the handful if it was possible.

Ali
Guest
Ali

yarrrum,
Legally, a cyclist using a crosswalk is treated as a pedestrian, and has the right of way over cars (or bikes) traveling on the roadway.

beth h
Guest

Brian (#6) wrote: “I wish I had a cop following me around to chase down every bad driver who endangers my life.”

I concur, and I have to add that I have little faith in a hand signal actually saving my life in such a situation. What if the police hadn’t been there?

I maintain that the only way to make the streets safer for peopls is to make it harder — less attractive and more expensive — to drive cars on them.

yarrrum
Guest
yarrrum

Thanks Martha and Ali.

Ali – I can’t seem to find the legal ORS “jargon” to support stopping for bike riders in the pedes crossing. I was just going though the ORS pages looking for this. What do you base your opinion upon? I’m still digging. THANKS!!!

Malex
Guest
Malex

When walking my bike, I use it as an impromptu replacement for a hand signal by putting it out in the crosswalk ahead of me. A hand signal would be far better.

yarrrum
Guest
yarrrum

Found it!!! Or found it???

814.410 Unsafe operation of bicycle on sidewalk; penalty. (1) A person commits the offense of unsafe operation of a bicycle on a sidewalk if the person does any of the following:

—skipped (a) thru (c)

(d) Operates the bicycle at a speed greater than an ordinary walk when approaching or entering a crosswalk, approaching or crossing a driveway or crossing a curb cut or pedestrian ramp and a motor vehicle is approaching the crosswalk, driveway, curb cut or pedestrian ramp. This paragraph does not require reduced speeds for bicycles at places on sidewalks or other pedestrian ways other than places where the path for pedestrians or bicycle traffic approaches or crosses that for motor vehicle traffic.

—- skipped some here—

(2) Except as otherwise specifically provided by law, a bicyclist on a sidewalk or in a crosswalk has the same rights and duties as a pedestrian on a sidewalk or in a crosswalk.

OK, so, what does this say? I need another coffee… I think it says if you are safe crossing on a bike in a marked crosswalk you have the right of way. So cars should stop for prudent cyclists at a cross walk. Whatta ya think?

E
Guest
E

Regardless of how you feel about “stings” of this nature, the fact is THEY WORK. I used to live near a road very like Powell, with many lanes of oblivious fast-moving cars. It was almost impossible to cross without a light, and the lights were very far apart. A few weeks of crosswalk stings, and now cars ALWAYS stop for you. The threat of a $300+ ticket got drivers’ attention.

Jonathan Maus (Editor)
Guest

folks,

the basic rule now is that bicycle operators have the same rights as pedestrians in marked crosswalks…but bike operators must only move at “pedestrian speed”.

i just got off the phone with Ray Thomas with more information on the upcoming ped. hand signal bill. It’s very interesting. watch for the story soon.

Aaron
Guest
Aaron

Jonathan I completely agree with you. I walk aggressively and ‘stare down’ the drivers (depending on speed). There’s an interesting phenomenon that when someone looks at you, you become aware of them. Only the most horrid driver will continue driving right towards a person in front of them. I hear lots of drivers say that it’s hard for them to see pedestrians. However I can see pedestrians (and pets as well) on even dark nights. I also want to repeat that we bike riders should always show respect to pedestrians.

Aaron
Guest
Aaron

AND
while I’m no saint about stop signs. I would support a sidewalk enforcement in Ladd’s Circle. Most of the complaints about cyclists at the stop signs here aren’t about stop signs at all. It’s about giving pedestrians the crosswalk both entering and leaving the circle. I’ve seen and heard lots about pedestrians being afraid to cross at the circle

Shawna
Guest
Shawna

There are a few good reasons the hand signal isn’t a great option. What is the pedestrian who is carrying two bags of groceries supposed to do? What about people who don’t have hands? I don’t mean that as a joke … we’re not all upright, easily mobile, two-hand-having people. What about someone who is paralyzed in a wheelchair with no functional hand use to speak of? Or a young mother carrying an infant in one arm and trying to hold her toddler’s hand with the other? Should she drop the toddler’s hand as they wait on Powell for cars to stop? I wouldn’t. There are far too many realistic examples of ways that law would fail some of the people who would otherwise benefit from it most. I honestly don’t believe it’s asking too much of drivers to stop whenever they see a pedestrian at a crosswalk. There are traffic-calming benefits even just from drivers slowing down to see if that person on the corner is waiting to cross.

Sarah O
Guest
Sarah O

I’ve waited at crosswalks for up to a minute and a half while car after car after car trains through, DOZENS of people ignoring the law. And this is as a pedestrian! While I’m on my bike, I assume others are viewing me as operating a vehicle, and if I want to be seen as a pedestrian I hop off and push my bike so as to offer no uncertainty. It’s nice that for once the cops make a sting on drivers failing to stop or yield, and not just us cyclists.

bjorn
Guest
bjorn

#30 The Pedestrian hand signal would not eliminate stepping into the crosswalk as a method of asserting your right to cross, it would simply add a second option of raising a hand while still standing safely out of the traffic lane. So those people, along with anyone else who wasn’t familiar with or didn’t want to use the PHS option would just keep doing what they are doing now.

Bjorn

PoPo
Guest
PoPo

Thanks Martha R (#16) for your excellent response.

Fredlf
Guest
Fredlf

I was struck a few weeks back crossing MLK. I had a green light and a Walk signal. He was turning left onto MLK with the green. It was daylight, not raining, and I had my dog with me. The guy flat out looked through me until I threw my coffee at his windshield. He stopped when I had my hand on his hood getting ready to (try to) vault it and had thrown the dog leash free so she could try and evade him too. He wasn’t on the phone, he wasn’t high, he just wasn’t seeing me. Now I cross “illegally” down the street where I can stand safely (ish) on the raised median in the middle of MLK if I have to and where I don’t have to worry about traffic coming at me in 4 directions instead of 2. No hand signal or law would have helped me. Keeping your head on swivel is your best defense against idiocy.

Shawna
Guest
Shawna

Hi Bjorn (#31),

I understand that, but I also see that as being a slippery-slope toward drivers completely IGNORING the presence of crosswalks and feeling justified in doing so if a law like this is passed. “Well, I didn’t see a hand up, so I’m going …”, regardless of the abilities or situation of the person waiting to cross. How many drivers running in a pack on Powell would look up for a second, see no hand, then just keep going? Who would be driving carefully enough to notice that the figure standing at the crosswalk is a little old lady who is using both hands to grip her walker? Probably very very few.

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.

I would guess that a small percentage of all pedestrian/car collisions are the fault of the pedestrian, and I would bet a great majority of them are due to driver error and/or speeding. Assuming my guess is at least somewhat correct, the rational way to fix a problem like this is to fix it where the problem lies … with drivers.

I was all for the hand signal when I first heard about it, but after a number of interesting conversations with other people, I changed my mind. I have yet to hear anything compelling enough to change it back. 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.”

Even if we passed THAT law and pedestrians everywhere did all of those things, I think most drivers would still ignore crosswalks.

This is not the fix we are looking for.

Jonathan Maus (Editor)
Guest

hey folks,

i’ve just posted another story with more details on the effort to pass a pedestrian hand signal bill in 2009.

check it out here.

garodgers
Guest
garodgers

The hand signal will be a much better option at crosswalks that are located at a city bus stop. There is one in particular on Barbur that causes problems for drivers who can’t quite tell who is just waiting for the bus and who is trying to cross the street.

RyNO Dan
Guest
RyNO Dan

…which is why bus stops should never be placed at the corner. Why does TriMet continue this practice ? It’s a pain for all involved.

Tasha
Guest
Tasha

I have to say that the crosswalks here are sometimes very confusing. They are very often near bus stops (like mentioned above), so it is hard to know whether someone is sticking their head out, waiting for the bus or waiting to walk across the street. I am a big fan of the hand signal, as this makes people’s intentions clear. Obviously, when I am cycling, it is much easier to slow down and figure out people’s intentions than when I am driving, but it is still sometimes confusing. And on Williams, I’ve had cyclists almost slam into the back of my bike when I slow down for a pedestrian to cross (and even when the cars to their left have been good and stopped as well!).

When I was in England, I was shocked at how cars just automatically slowed down at the “Zebra crossings” and no one even really looked before they stepped out onto the street, as it was expected cars would slow down. Peopoe are much more aware and conscious of the crossings there. I had to warn my husband to NOT do that here, especially at busy intersections like MLK. The flashing lights DO help, but I know that is expensive to have at every crosswalk.

Like everything else, awareness on BOTH parties is helpful. Most cars are not going to run you down if you step out slowly and signal that you are about to cross.

Opus the Poet
Guest

Back when I was bike commuting I would ride through 4 police jurisdictions, one of which I was out of almost as soon as I started riding. Two of the other three the police would shadow me as I went through because as one officer put it when I asked him why he was following me “Dude, you are like an idiot magnet, everybody wants to have this beat.” Unfortunately the place I was hit was not in either of the two jurisdictions that the cops treated me as idiot bait. I think if the cops in my town had been like the cops in the other two towns I rode through I would not have been hit.

Graham
Guest
Graham

As has been mentioned here, a great source of bike law info is Ray Thomas, and there’s multiple interviews with him here in the KBOO bike show archives: http://www.bikeshow.portlandtransport.com/. I was digging through these shows (all the way back to 2001! It’s like a Portland bike culture time machine) and heard at least one spot featuring Ray that was so information-rich, it was like having knowledge downloaded into my brain, Matrix-style. Much of which has been related here already, especially the sort of gray area in which bicycles operate as pedestrian-vehicle hybrids, using both the street and crosswalks.

El Biciclero
Guest
El Biciclero

Wouldn’t we be overloading a signal that is already used to hail cabs, tell bus drivers that you want to get on the bus, and wave to friends down the block? Who is to know what the true intent of raising a hand is? I guess if it gets drivers to stop, it doesn’t matter what you meant…

BURR
Guest
BURR

still waiting for them to put plainclothes officers on bikes in bike lanes to conduct similar ‘stings’ on motorists violating the cyclist’s right of way…it’s been promised before by PDOT and PPB, but AFAIK it still hasn’t happened…

Joe
Guest
Joe

Awesome that the d-bag was locked up, at least temporarily. I wish there were laws that prevently people like that from ever driving again. There’s no excuse for not paying attention. Driving a car is like aiming a loaded gun at someone. If you shoot someone, it’s no one but you that pulls the trigger.

pdxrunner
Guest
pdxrunner

Nice to see a token effort by the PPB to do something about the blatant disregard for pedestrian’s rights.
There has been way too little enforcement of the law. Instead of using Sharon, some Portland cops should be the “guinea PIGS”. Maybe then it’ll be safe to cross Hawthorne at 38th.

just an ordinary joe
Guest
just an ordinary joe

Remembering that both cyclists and peds are the ‘vulerable users’ of roadways/paths/sidewalks.

Pedestrians are often intimidated by cyclists overtaking, out of nowhere. It is not to be forgotten we have more in common with pedestrians than car drivers, and need to make sure we deal with pedestrians with courtesy and caution.

I find it unconscionable that we need to have ‘stings’ to protect pedestrian rights. It should be a no brainer.

At the same time,lets be careful to announce ourselfs before we overtake a ped. And remember a ped in a crosswalk needs stopping for, just like a driver should. We are in this together.

John Mulvey
Guest
John Mulvey

It’s great that there’s a crosswalk enforcement action. Meanwhile, all day long every PPB officer everywhere else in the city continues to do nothing when these violations happen 2 feet in front of their faces.

-John

jim
Guest
jim

I have stopped and waited more than once for people walking out into the intersection and then turning around and going back up on the sidewalk because their bus isn’t coming up the street yet. Fooled me- I thought they were trying to cross

TonyT
Guest
tonyt

Hey btodd,

Here’s my question for you. When you’re driving and you come across a situation where you are required to yield to a pedestrian, do you do so even if it’s “silly” or do you go along your merry way because you (in a car) will win every time?

How is this not simply a threat of violence?

So often it seems to me that when drivers insist that bikers and peds defer because they are at a disadvantage (duh), they do so in order to justify their own anti-social behavior.

It’s not unlike that bike thief who claimed that he was stealing a bike to make people aware that their bikes can get stolen.

“I don’t yield to peds or watch for bikes because I want them to know that there are people who don’t yield or watch out for them and they can get hurt.”

What a bunch of self-centered cr*p.

Anonymous
Guest
Anonymous

Here’s another question.

When you’re riding and you come across a situation where you are required to stop for a traffic control device, do you do so even if it’s “silly” or do you go along your merry way because you think that you can run that traffic control device safely?

I find it interesting that many on this site scream law enforcement one second then claim they know better than the laws the next. Or even better point out the lack of adherence to the law by one group to justify their lack of adherence to the same law.

Don’t expect much in the way of respect on the road from the other users, pedestrians included with this type of attitude.