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Highway group: Walkable communities, “aggressive pedestrians” to blame for road deaths

Posted by on January 20th, 2011 at 11:01 am

Actually, people in cars should stop and look
(not to mention, that’s the law).
Photo taken on Sunday in Portland’s Pearl District.
(Photo © J. Maus)

My friend (and Streetsblog founding editor) Aaron Naparstek sent along an unbelievable story that ran in the Washington Examiner today with the headline — Exercise, iPods could be causing pedestrian deaths.

The story is based on a new study by the Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA) that tries to make sense of an uptick in the amount of people killed while walking in 2010.

Here’s an excerpt from the story (emphasis mine):

“GHSA executive director Barbara Harsha said her organization doesn’t know why there were more deaths… But the “get moving” movement, led by Obama’s “Let’s Move” campaign to eliminate childhood obesity, could be to blame, Harsha told The Washington Examiner…

There’s an emphasis these days to getting fit, and I think people doing that are more exposed to risk [of getting hit by a vehicle],” said Harsha, who conceded to having no scientific evidence that the Let’s Move campaign has led to an increase in walkers and runners, or deaths.

People are using more and more electronic devices — iPods and cell phones,” Harsha said. “They’re distracted and not paying attention to traffic and traffic signals, they’re stepping out in the street and getting hit.”

After several years of decline, the number of fatalities to people walking on our roads is on the way up. Here’s a snip from the GHSA press release that led to the Washington Examiner headline:

“While the slight increase may not seem particularly alarming, it is a concern given that during this same period overall traffic fatalities declined eight percent, according to the preliminary estimate from the NHTSA.”

That’s definitely a problem that merits concern. Here’s one of the culprits, according to the GHSA statement:

A growing national focus on walkable communities and “get moving” health and fitness efforts may cause pedestrian exposur e, and thus risk, to increase.

Here in Oregon, 2010 was the deadliest year in over half a century. 60 people were killed while walking on Oregon roads last year — after a low of 37 in 2009.

Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) Traffic Safety Division manager Troy Costales is Vice Chairman of the GHSA (we did a Q & A with him back in November). He offered this statement in their press release:

“It is definitely a concern. Looking at our data, we are seeing pedestrians crossing mid-block instead of at crosswalks, pedestrians walking in the roadway, and even some walking in the travel lanes of the interstate. We are familiar with aggressive drivers; we now have aggressive pedestrians.

Everyone who uses our roads has a responsibility to use caution and follow the laws, but there’s clearly a narrative from some corners of the transportation world that seems to be oblivious to one of the main contributing factors to these deaths — roads engineered to move the most motor vehicles at the highest speeds possible no matter the cost to human life or livability in general. And it is not a coincidence that those who hold this view tend to work at agencies that place the highest priority on the dominant transportation paradigm of more cars, wider roads, and higher speeds.

Let’s not forget: Our roads are not owned by any one mode of travel; and if anyone has priority on them it should be those who are most vulnerable.

Given our recent battles with bad ideas making headlines, one quote from the GHSA spokesperson in the Examiner story stood out. “This is all speculative… Obviously, further study is needed.” Let’s see those studies and then let’s talk about sensible policy to address the issues.

The last thing a group truly concerned about traffic safety should do is take part in a PR campaign that blames victims, garners headlines that discourages the type of activity (walking) that we should all embrace, and that spreads completely speculative and dangerous ideas that clearly reinforce their own perspectives.

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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

  • Mike Quigley January 20, 2011 at 11:08 am

    Probably onto something here particularly with cellphone users who seem to be oblivious to everything going on around them.

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    • spare_wheel January 20, 2011 at 11:54 am

      I agree. Drivers yabbering on their cell phones are a real threat.

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      • rigormrtis January 20, 2011 at 2:59 pm

        Ditto for cyclists with headphone on.

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        • Jackattak January 20, 2011 at 3:07 pm

          To whom, exactly?

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          • spare_wheel January 21, 2011 at 3:02 pm

            *sound of crickets chirping*

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    • OuterToob January 20, 2011 at 12:13 pm

      Here’s an interesting clip of a woman who’s texting walks directly into a fountain b/c she’s not paying attention to where she’s going – cellphones are distracting (in general and) regardless of mode of transportation.

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      • Spiffy January 20, 2011 at 1:04 pm

        talking to somebody is a distraction… plenty of people have run into poles mid-conversation long before cell phones were around…

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        • Michweek January 20, 2011 at 2:33 pm

          Yup, pulled that one off in middle school! And the group of girls I was yabbering with didn’t even notice! It was embarrassing then, laughable now!!

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  • Jackattak January 20, 2011 at 11:11 am

    I’m so mad after reading this I have to take a break. Absolutely enraged.

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  • Steve January 20, 2011 at 11:12 am

    Wow. What strange, weird world. I just got out of a meeting led by the CEO of Kaiser Permanente during which they announced the launching if a bold plan to get the country walking (again). Evidence is showing what a huge impact walking 30 mins. a day can have on chronic diseases (diabetes, obesity, even depression!).

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    • Spiffy January 20, 2011 at 1:10 pm

      I question why they would want to put themselves out of business by making people healthy… I’ll never trust KP, even though they’re my provider…

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      • ME 2 January 20, 2011 at 1:25 pm

        Healthier people actually increases profits. At my job our per person premiums are the same. Those premiums are paid every month regardless of how many times I go to the doctor. The less times I have a medical visit the higher the margin a health care insurer can capture on the premium.

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      • Steve January 20, 2011 at 1:32 pm

        Little paranoid? I am a health care worker, and hospitals and health care organizations will not put themselves out of business by encouraging wellness. [Over] simply put, healthier customers actually keep costs down and improve bottom lines.

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      • esther c January 4, 2012 at 7:37 pm

        Kaiser is an HMO. They charge you a flat rate for health care. The less you use their services the more money you make.

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  • Jason S. January 20, 2011 at 11:15 am

    Great post. Well said.

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  • kj January 20, 2011 at 11:26 am

    So “where were they walking” is the new “What was she wearing” I guess?

    I am getting really tired of claims without studies to back them up. Give me data, then we can talk.

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  • Angelika January 20, 2011 at 11:27 am

    This is outrageous. I walk for my primary means of transportation. Last Saturday, I was nearly hit 8 different times. None of these were my fault or the result of being an aggressive pedestrian and in every case I had the right away. In all of these cases the drivers were either on their cell phone, driving aggressively, or oblivious to my presence.

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  • Hart Noecker January 20, 2011 at 11:27 am

    If you’re the military, blame the civilian you just shot. If you’re a bank, blame the family you just foreclosed on. If you’re a rapist, blame person you just raped. If you’re a motorist, blame the pedestrian you just ran over.

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    • HuRa January 20, 2011 at 11:58 am

      If you’re a cyclist, blame “them” for everything “wrong” with the world.

      Everyone wants to pass judgment and deny responsibility to get the brain drug I refer to as ‘justice’ or “I’m right and now I have a team who agrees with me and condemns you”.

      Not saying your comment does this. Just goin with your flow and gesturing that the blame game happens in every human. Watch yourself for the best examples.

      A great bike/web example is
      He at first titled it ‘blame yourself’ and then came to this same awareness I’m gesturing towards. He grew up and took the on the blame himself.

      Responsibility’s a heavy burden.

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      • sabernar January 20, 2011 at 1:34 pm


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      • Hart Noecker January 20, 2011 at 5:28 pm

        This article isn’t about cyclists, it’s about pedestrians being killed by giant machines too dangerous to be operated safely. My comment illustrates how common it is in our culture for the aggressor to blame the victim. And nowhere can you claim that cyclists or pedestrians are the aggressor in any transportation scenario.

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  • BURR January 20, 2011 at 11:31 am

    that sign in the Pearl is complete BS, it’s at an intersection and there are crosswalks there whether they are marked or not, and whether the motor traffic has a stop sign or not.

    whoever put that up should take it down, it’s misleading and possibly illegal.

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    • Jackattak January 20, 2011 at 11:41 am

      I work quite to close to there and if I ever saw that posted there, I would absolutely get a police officer involved in helping me find who placed it.

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    • HuRa January 20, 2011 at 11:49 am

      So take it down! Don’t wait for permission. If it’s illegal a “concerned citizen” probably bought it and put it there. Remove it!

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    • Spiffy January 20, 2011 at 1:16 pm

      since it’s a portable sign on a city sidewalk there should be a permit sticker on it… read it, find out who owns it, and take it back to them…

      if there’s no permit then it’s illegally placed and I would just take it with me…

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    • Seth January 20, 2011 at 1:26 pm

      This sign is outside the front door of my office. The reason that they put it there is b/c there used to be a stop sign on NW 10th as it crosses NW Marshall. With the recent work in that area for the street car changes, they decided to take away the stop sign. That was a bad move in my opinion.

      Anyway, lots of people were accustomed to rolling through the stop on Marshall as it crosses 10th (both cars and bikes) and peds usually didn’t stop. So there were a LOT of close calls and every single day I still hear horns blaring about right of way and near misses.

      So those little signs were put up mainly to protect peds. Yes there is a cross-walk, and yes cars should stop, but they are there mainly to make people more aware as everybody gets used to the traffic pattern change.

      I wish they would put the stop sign back up – way too many people like to accelerate hard after the stop on Lovejoy and fly by there now.

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      • Jackattak January 20, 2011 at 2:16 pm

        Thanks for clarifying that, Seth. 🙂

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      • BURR January 20, 2011 at 4:50 pm

        so it’s basically a band aid solution for another problem created by the streetcar.

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      • esther c January 4, 2012 at 7:40 pm

        Sounds like the best solution would be a “Watch for pedestrians” sign for the traffic.

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    • Paul January 20, 2011 at 3:31 pm

      I believe the City had it placed there due to some near misses after removing that stop sign a few months ago. It’s hard to see around the streetcar and busses when they stop and peds didn’t realize the stop sign was removed. Cars almost NEVER stop for peds there and it’s pretty irritating too.

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      • Paul January 20, 2011 at 3:32 pm

        Seth beat me to it 🙂

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    • Adron @ Transit Sleuth October 27, 2014 at 7:42 pm

      seriously, and somebody needs to inform them that it is completely out of line, with fervor. That’s some seriously disrespectful BS. Even fi they thought they were “making people safer”… the drivers need informed of their place when operating a vehicle. I get sick and tired of the disregard of responsibility and encouragement of negligent behavior by our refusal to persecute that behavior.

      …as another commenter said, I gotta go take a break. This rather enrages me. It’s another one of those “well they got in the way of my bullets when I was shooting off some rounds across the street, I don’t know why they didn’t just stay out of the way…” type of BS.

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  • Tony H January 20, 2011 at 11:32 am

    If this group studied homicides, they may conclude that victims are to blame for being in the way of speeding bullets.

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  • Esther January 20, 2011 at 11:33 am

    Thank you for this well reasoned response, Jonathan. I find it interesting the article calls out pedestrians for using distracting devices; but not drivers?

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    • BURR January 20, 2011 at 11:35 am

      Because the underlying assumption is that it is the pedestrians that are supposed to watch out for motorists and not the other way around.

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      • El Biciclero January 20, 2011 at 1:09 pm

        This is the fundamental flaw in most people’s reasoning. The time I got knocked by a Mercedes while walking across a driveway on the sidewalk, the driver’s first question to me was an annoyed, “Didn’t you see me coming?!” To which the correct answer was any number of things along the lines of “Didn’t you read your driver’s manual?”, or “Didn’t you realize this is a sidewalk?”, or “Didn’t you see ME coming?”…

        Like a mirror, Car-Head makes everything backwards.

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  • John Landolfe January 20, 2011 at 11:37 am

    It’s the prison mentality. We used to hide in our homes and cars. Now that we’re back out in the world, moving around as humans always have, they want to go back to that weird moment in history when walking seemed somehow unnatural. They’re frightened by the world.

    It’s like seeing that air pollution causes asthma and then blaming people for breathing. It’s hard to rationalize with such deep psychosis.

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  • Joe January 20, 2011 at 11:39 am

    JUST CRAZY.. wow ! lets keep the roads safe
    so autos can speed around to the next stop light. lol

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  • Noah Brimhall January 20, 2011 at 11:45 am

    I’m wondering if the reason we are seeing more pedestrian fatalities could be linked to the down-turn in the economy. If you have less money, you are less likely to want to pay for the gas needed to jaunt down to the corner store. More people walking means more pedestrian fatalities. I’m sure I’m not the first to suggest this, but I’d be surprised is there haven’t been similar increases in pedestrian fatalities in previous recessions.

    That said, it is one thing to say, “I wonder if x is causing y, we should study it”, but what the GHSA and other car advocates are essentially saying is “Pedestrians are to blame for increased fatalities, now lets get someone to create a study to prove it”

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    • spare_wheel January 20, 2011 at 11:57 am

      Or perhaps it could be the recent proliferation of electronics devices in cars that were not present in vehicles during those other recessions.

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    • Spencer Boomhower January 20, 2011 at 1:32 pm

      I’ve wondered if the downturn in the economy had something to do with it as well, but from a different direction: could it lead to more aggression and less patience on the road? If the economy has you feeling stressed-out and beaten down to the point of feeling defeated, could it feel empowering to get behind the wheel and slam down the gas pedal? Similarly, if you feel like the world is out to get you, could driving aggressively feel like a way of striking back? Personally, I know the last place I need to be if I’m in a bad mood is behind the wheel. Are there more bad moods out there these days?

      This kind of thing has been crossing my mind not only while reading about the uptick in pedestrian fatalities, but also in reading stories of non-fatal hit-and-runs, and of drivers giving fake contact info to injured parties. Like there’s a breakdown of some basic watching-out-for-the-other-person impulse, the empathy that helps civilized society stay civilized.

      Of course, I could just be noticing stories like that more with all the doom-and-gloom talk, but it does seem likely that empathy could take a hit in a down economy.

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      • Jackattak January 20, 2011 at 2:21 pm

        I’ve definitely noticed more aggressive drivers/driving since the recession.

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  • Andrew January 20, 2011 at 11:45 am

    Wow. What terribly destructive words. Thanks for covering this, Jonathan. Reminds us all that there are not just more minds to open, but there are also active forces trying to close them.

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  • 9watts January 20, 2011 at 11:47 am

    While we’re speculating what might be causing the uptick, what about the fact that millions of people are out of work, stressed, no longer commuting to the jobs they lost, etc.? Maybe the social upheaval, disruption of routines, general anxiety that accompanies the economic collapse we’re in the midst of has a measurable effect on civility on the road (and here I am thinking of those inside of cars, though it needn’t be limited to them certainly). I believe this change has been shown to register as increased domestic violence.

    Just a thought.

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  • HuRa January 20, 2011 at 11:47 am

    This reeks of all the same transpo nonsense being handled by bureaucrats. They’ve taken their turn to subversively promote driving and condemn health & “alternative” living.

    Thank You, Jonathan, for providing a place for awareness to grow and a community to learn. The cycling community’s growing skills in safe cycling, road awareness and self-control can only gain from your reporting.


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  • Mike Fish January 20, 2011 at 11:52 am

    That’s amazing. Isn’t the Pearl being touted as an ideal ‘livable’ community? I would like to hear more about this sign. Has it been removed? Was it placed by a public agency or just a fed up private one like the sign put up on Caruthers by the construction crews a few years ago.

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  • Brad January 20, 2011 at 11:55 am

    Most of the article’s assertions are pretty ridiculous but there is a kernal of truth enclosed. A study should be commissioned on pedestrian deaths/injuries to determine where and how they took place. I’m inclined to believe that a greater share than we would like are at least partly due to oblivious or intoxicated behavior by the pedestrian, crossing in the middle of the block, running across a high speed highway, ignoring crossing signals, and the like. We seldom hear that a half dozen people were mowed down in a crosswalk while they had the light but we too often hear about someone getting hit crossing a freeway, unexpectedly darting across a busy street from between parked cars, or running across a high speed arterial trying to catch a bus.

    If it were purely bad drivers causing all of the harm then we should be far seeing more runners and power walkers getting run over each year as they are the exercisers that log the most on foot miles on the roads and PBOT would be trying to coax the “interested but concerned” joggers out of their homes. Go downtown at lunchtime to see what I am speaking of. Lots of impatient peds trying to save a few seconds and taking dumb risks to do so. Couple that with heavily bunched traffic moving quickly – high potential for disaster.

    Both the Examiner article and many of the posts here jump to the wrong conclusion while the truth of the matter is somewhere in between.

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    • Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) January 20, 2011 at 12:01 pm

      Most of the article’s assertions are pretty ridiculous but there is a kernal of truth enclosed.

      I agree that it’d be great to see more data and studies on how people are getting killed. However, there’s a way to go about addressing this problem and using a PR campaign that blames victims and makes outlandish statements is the absolute wrong way to deal with it.

      I would love to see ODOT’s Costales back up his concerns and statements by putting some real funding behind getting to the bottom of this issue. We’ll see if he does that.

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      • Biased a bit January 21, 2011 at 7:33 am

        The blame the victim mentality is the problem you have.

        If you read the study without prejudice it does make sense. More people walking increases exposure to risk. More people walking who are novices, inexperienced with interacting with traffic, increases risk.

        It’s a contributing factor to the increase in fatalities not the sole cause.

        To paraphrase Norm Abrams, read twice post once.

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        • Tacoma January 21, 2011 at 3:25 pm

          I’ve read your post three times and I still can’t make sense of your first sentence in context with Jonathan’s comment.

          “The blame the victim mentality is the problem you have.” Is Jonathan the one with the problem? Or is the problem with the Washington Examiner reporting? Your other comments make sense to me. It’s just that first sentence.

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      • JRB January 5, 2012 at 12:36 pm

        The choice of words used by the people quote is terrible, but it may be empirically accurate that there are more pedestrian accidents because there are more pedestrians. That doesn’t say anything regarding who is at fault, however. I assume, as most posters do here, that the people responsible are inattentive drivers. Their numbers and habits have not changed and they are hitting more pedestrians because there are more pedestrians.

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  • jacob January 20, 2011 at 11:58 am

    W. T. F. !!!? this is madness.

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  • Bjorn January 20, 2011 at 11:59 am

    It seems like with such small numbers outliers could easily occur and last year may have been just such an outlier. Any idea if serious injury reports tracked with the increase in deaths? Generally there are so many more injuries that it is easier to draw statistically significant conclusions.

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  • Dave January 20, 2011 at 12:00 pm

    Agreed, people entering the roads *should* look where they are going before going, but at the same time, simply doing something like crossing mid-block should not be a crime. For that matter, except maybe on Interstates, it shouldn’t be a crime to walk in the road. Highways (in the modern sense of the word) and main arterial streets and some of the more heavily-trafficked smaller roads should provide safe facilities for non-motorized users, and neighborhood roads, and those small roads in high-density areas like downtown and the pearl district should just be mixed use (if anything, excluding automobile traffic), with restrictions on auto traffic that allows people to use the roads responsibly, but freely. It’s entirely possible to have cars, bikes and people on foot all using the same road safely and calmly, all you have to do is make it so cars go the same speed as bikes and the people driving them have legal responsibility for their actions (I know, good luck with that).

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  • Sean G January 20, 2011 at 12:09 pm

    I’m surprised they didn’t make some claim about car-to-pedestrian injuries and how those will cost the taxpayer under the Health Care Reform Act.

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    • Jackattak January 20, 2011 at 12:29 pm

      Totally. And I just love how they put blame on Obama and his healthy living agenda. This is all like something out of the Twilight Zone…or Arizona.

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  • spare_wheel January 20, 2011 at 12:09 pm

    If you are upset by his statement, please call or email Troy:

    Troy E. Costales
    (503) 986-4192

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  • jim January 20, 2011 at 12:17 pm

    On my street there has been an increesing number of joggers and walkers using the road instead of the sidewalk. they are coming straight at you so you have to pass them right away, there is no waiting for a good time to pass like when you are following a bike. Passing right away puts your vehicle on the wrong side of the road and maybe face to face with another vehicle coming around a corner or out of a driveway. If they want to do this they should go to a path with no cars.

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  • lisa January 20, 2011 at 12:17 pm

    Here’s that pesky equivalency argument again that drives me bonkers. Distracted pedestrians DO NOT menace and threaten those around them. Distracted drivers DO. Argh.

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  • OLD&SLOW January 20, 2011 at 12:24 pm

    The Washington Examiner is a right wing rag so don’t get too upset considering the source. Of course, this was flagged on Drudge and all the other nutcase sites. Any excuse to tie anything bad to Obama (Michele this time), is what the agenda is. They just look for crap to write, Drudge picks it up, Limbaugh blathers and it becomes a story.
    Just Ignore.

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    • Perry Hunter January 20, 2011 at 12:34 pm

      I agree. Interesting, but this position of the executive director seems to be at odds with the GHSA’a own “Policies and Priorities” document. Makes me wonder which Republican Senator’s office she’s trying to get a job in…

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  • jim January 20, 2011 at 12:25 pm

    2 people killed today crossing the freeway. cars fault? they shouldn’t be trying to cross the freeway

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  • Babygorilla January 20, 2011 at 12:25 pm

    There is nothing inappropriate about the sign whatsoever. As a pedestrian, I cannot simply walk out into the middle of an intersection wihtout looking to see if there is a car traveling through the intersection. A pedestrian does not have the right of way if it is impossible for a driver to safely come to a stop.

    I keep hearing all about eductaion, education, education as a key to all modes co-existing peacefully. That is precisely what the sign is trying to do – educate pedestrians that at this interesection, cars do not have a stop sign, so you should look before entering. And yet, its cr*pped on.

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    • Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) January 20, 2011 at 12:42 pm

      You’re correct Babygorilla… there is nothing incorrect about that sign and I agree with you that education is needed (especially about the crosswalk law which I know, does not say motor vehicles need to stop at the mere sight of someone at a corner).. but in my opinion, this sign sends the wrong message and I don’t think it’s befitting of the type of city our leaders tell us they want to build. Perhaps I’m just getting emotional about the verbage on the sign. The “traffic does not stop” part really bugs me. The idea that a person would approach this sign and think they have to wait meekly until no cars are coming bugs me. I don’t think it does a good job educating the public on this important issue and I feel it should be taken down and replaced with one that does.

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      • Alan January 20, 2011 at 1:42 pm

        “The idea that a person would approach this sign and think they have to wait meekly…”

        Maybe that corner is popular with Costales’ “aggressive pedestrians.” 🙂

        Seriously, while GHSA’s press release, which is where the link in the above article points, does have some silly spin which the Examiner exagerates even further, their report itself is much more even-handed, even it it does have some auto-oriented bias. Its conclusions (p12) seem to me like common sense, not terribly controversial and even a nod toward pedestrian interests:

        While there are no specific pedestrian safety measures that address a substantial number of crashes and fatalities – no silver bullets – there are well-established general principles that states should follow if pedestrian safety is a priority. For details, see NHTSA’s Countermeasures That Work, Chapter 8 (NHTSA, 2010b), NCHRP’s Guide for Reducing Collisions Involving Pedestrians (Zegeer and Stutts, 2004), and the Pedestrian and Bicycle Information Center at

        The conclusion goes on to itemize Priority, Data, Engineering, Laws and enforcement and Education as categories where changes can be made. What are the arguments against those, or the report’s conclusions in general?

        BTW, for a perspective on the ~4-5,000 annual pedestrian deaths, they are probably lumped in with ~124,000 “Accidental Deaths” amidst the 1,846,531 deaths in the CDC’s Top Ten list.

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      • Spiffy January 20, 2011 at 1:58 pm

        keep in mind that “traffic does not stop” is not specific about what traffic it refers to… people on foot are also traffic… so the sign is not just misleading, it’s horribly misleading…

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    • OuterToob January 20, 2011 at 1:01 pm

      I think I have to agree w/ you – the sign appears to be stating the obvious in order to provide ped awareness – I don’t know if it’s the law, but should be common sense for a ped to ‘look both ways before crossing the street’ and if there are cars coming they have to be allowed to stop before walking out into the road.

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      • Spiffy January 20, 2011 at 1:59 pm

        exactly… stating the obvious is a waste of time and money… if you have lived long enough to learn to read the sign then you already know how to safely cross a street…

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        • OuterToob January 21, 2011 at 12:33 am

          apparently not.

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    • BURR January 20, 2011 at 1:05 pm

      Yeah, and it will only get better for pedestrians there when they build the west side Burnside-Couch couplet.


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    • eli bishop January 20, 2011 at 1:18 pm

      “every corner is a crosswalk.” pedestrians have right of way in a crosswalk. traffic SHOULD stop!

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  • Jayson L January 20, 2011 at 12:26 pm

    It’s ridiculous to blame pedestrians for crossing mid-block when proper crossing opportunities aren’t made at intersections by the engineers that design the road (with only one transportation mode in mind).

    It’s a self-fulfilling prophesy.. traffic engineers make it difficult and cumbersome for pedestrians to get around, forcing more people to drive, and creating more traffic than is necessary, then arguing to expand those facilities, which are even more difficult for pedestrians to maneuver. Now they want to blame those few pedestrians brave enough to “exercise” their rights to travel using their own legs.

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    • Opus the Poet January 20, 2011 at 7:25 pm

      I believe the term you’re looking for is “vicious circle”, where one bad thing drives another which in turn drives the first bad thing making it even worse, ad infinitum. The converse would be the “virtuous circle” where something good drives something else good which in turn reinforces the first good thing, like bicycle facilities drive speeds down which reduces pedestrian death which increases pedestrians, which increases cycling and further reduces traffic speeds, which unfortunately only works asymptotically, there being a bottom limit to the speed traffic can move and still be called “traffic”.

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  • Rob January 20, 2011 at 12:28 pm

    “Costales also notes that more than half of the pedestrians killed in 2010 were under the influence of intoxicants.”

    I’m deeply skeptical of your numbers, Mr. Costales. Please show your work and cite your sources to receive full credit for this statement. Thanks.

    [A “positive blood-alcohol concentration” does necessarily equal being impaired. I’m perfectly capable of walking home safely after two beers.]

    Of course, it’s also possible that Costales didn’t even bother to read the GHSA’s report or critically examine the data. Which would be ironic in the extreme, given that he’s the Vice Chairman and holds a high-ranking position at ODOT. I quote:

    “The role of alcohol in pedestrian fatalities has not changed over the past ten years. In both 1998 and 2008, 42% of fatally-injured pedestrians had a positive
    blood alcohol concentration (BAC) (NHTSA, 2009b, Table 4). Sixteen states believe that drunk or impaired pedestrians are not an increasing problem while
    only three states believe that they are.”

    The study cited here (NHTSA, 2009b, Table 4) actually doesn’t say that at all.

    The table cites 4,030 pedestrian fatalities in 2008.

    Of those, 58% had no BAC, 4% had a BAC of .01-.07%, 38% had a BAC greater than .08%, and 42% had a BAC greater than .01%. (that’s 142% of all fatalities!)*

    38% would be the the number for those fatalities that meet the threshold for impairment given the data.

    Not “over half”, as Costales claims.

    Also, there’s no data in the NHTSA study for 2010 (given that it was published in 2009, I’m not suprised by that). So I have no idea where he’s getting his numbers for 2010.

    Until Costales wants to clear this up and back his claims with real data, he’s a big fat liar.

    *(that’s a statistics joke, by the way.)

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    • Rob January 20, 2011 at 12:37 pm

      Link to the NHTSA study citied above:

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      • Rob January 20, 2011 at 12:53 pm

        Also, Table 4 makes it a point to specifically exclude pedestrian fatalities for those under 16 years of age, so the actual numbers are even lower than 38% when those are added in and taken into account.

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  • Annoyed January 20, 2011 at 12:30 pm

    Sooo…people shouldn’t “Get Moving”? And just continue on their road to obesity.

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  • wsbob January 20, 2011 at 12:35 pm

    Any increase in pedestrian deaths related to an increase in numbers of people that have decided to walk and run more, is probably a temporary, transitional thing. For decades, except for city downtowns, many streets and roads have been largely devoid of pedestrians due to the predominant use of motor vehicles…for everything. Fortunately, this seems to be changing; more people seem less averse to walking their streets. Road users will gradually get used to anticipating that the presence of pedestrians will be more common.

    Personal, portable sound systems accessed through headphones, probably aren’t helping pedestrians with survivability on the street though. Despite the testimony of some people, that they can hear external noise information outside of their headphone source, and concentrate on what’s going on around them, many people wearing this equipment don’t seem to be able to. Walking and running along, it’s as if they’re largely deaf and dumb to most of the world around them.

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  • GlowBoy January 20, 2011 at 12:45 pm

    Portable sound systems with headphones are NOTHING NEW. The same prophecies of doom (distracted pedestrians, folks tuning out socially) which are now attributed to the iPod were attributed to the Walkman back when I was in high school. Nothing has changed here.

    What has changed is the drivers. Drivers are MUCH more distracted and less attentive than even a few years ago (let alone back when the Walkman came out, at which time cars were widely understood to be dangerous and safety was considered more the responsibility of the driver than the vehicle).

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    • wsbob January 20, 2011 at 2:40 pm

      GlowBoy, your comment seems to relate to my earlier one.

      Pedestrians and cyclists need to be able to be aware of their surroundings. If they can do this and still listen to their personal stereo, play video games, check their cell for calls, etc. …fine; but the number of such people on the street that aren’t being aware of their surroundings seem to be increasing in number. These physically active, mental couch potatoes are canceling out their ability to be self aware of their surroundings.

      The numbers of motor vehicle operators that are distracted while driving may be increasing. Of course they should not be allowing themselves to be distracted, but pedestrians and cyclists can’t forsake self defensive self awareness of their surroundings, waiting around for all motor vehicle operators to become perfectly alert road users.

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  • Donald Baxter, Iowa City, IA January 20, 2011 at 12:46 pm

    we need *more* aggressive pedestrians, not fewer.

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  • sarah gilbert January 20, 2011 at 12:49 pm

    There’s another piece I saw just before the Examiner one that criticizes reactions to those ‘bike boulevards’ in Brooklyn like ours on Broadway as inexplicable; asking, how can creating incentives for faster traffic, and more of it too, on urban streets be in any way livable? and yet that seems to be what a large number of public figures, elected officials and influential citizens are calling for. how has it come too pass that walking, biking and running are seen as both elite and impossibly blue collar? no quiet streets in my neighborhood?

    A few years back, there was a proposal by PDOT to reduce the lanes on 39th Ave between Powell and Holgate, where I live and where the space between sidewalk and a bus or truck’s wheels is about 12 inches, to three. One northbound and two southbound. A study PDOT conducted indicated that traffic wait times would not be affected. I supported this, as my small children must walk along this sidewalk and I often fear for one trip-and-fall resulting in death. Too many in the neighborhood opposed it, because they worried that people would not be able to get through this stretch of street fast enough, and it wasn’t approved; even though it would have been a costless re-striping in conjunction with a repaving project.

    this is sadly proof that traffic deaths — even of people who are not driving those awful bikes — do not in any way quell our societal belief that fast traffic is the only route to happiness. if actual dead people don’t move public opinion, what will? blaming the iPods?

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  • Tourbiker January 20, 2011 at 12:50 pm

    next on the list of Excuses…”Suicide by Car”.

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    • Opus the Poet January 20, 2011 at 7:30 pm

      Already in use see SWSS, Single Witness Suicidal Swerve…

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  • Tim January 20, 2011 at 1:33 pm

    Looking at the data, I think we could blame global warming. Note the higher fatality rate in warmer states, then conclude that warmer weather is killing pedestrians. I can make statistics say whatever I want, without even making things up.

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  • El Biciclero January 20, 2011 at 1:45 pm

    This just in:

    Minority Group Responsible for All of Society’s Troubles!

    It appears that The Minority is at it again! Causing trouble and threatening our way of life! If it were not for The Minority and all of their clever scheming to take away our rights as The Majority, we might have a more pleasant and prosperous life. Who among us hasn’t seen and been angered by the ostentatious arrogance of Those People who seek to expand their own rights at the expense of Ours! Well I, for one, am putting Them on notice. You People had better watch out–stop messing with My way of life, or I’ll start messing with You!

    Good People of The Majority, I implore you! Seek out examples of the deplorable behavior of The Minority and call them out as anecdotal, yet irrefutable evidence of the detriment They are to Society! Those who would seek “alternatives” to the status quo must be shown that such boldness in the face of the strength of The Majority will only get Them knocked back into Their place–and it will be Their own doing! Oh, They will make their dishonorable attempts at blaming Us, calling Us names like “Bully”, or “Anti-Progress”, pointing to trumped-up “statistics” that claim Ours is the dysfunctional behavior–this is the way of the small-minded Minority, who have Their eyes closed to reality! I say again, We must show Them the error of Their ways–by force if necessary!

    We of The Majority cannot and should not be expected to change Our way of life, adopting additional burdens into Our already-hectic lives, simply because The Minority claims “You’re killing Us!” What is really happening is that They are killing Themselves and blaming Us for it! I will not be framed and made to take the blame for something that is not My fault. If We do not stand up to this Minority menace now, I fear we shall be overrun–not by sheer numbers, but by clever scheming and subversive criminal activities that seek to turn Society upside-down!

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  • todd January 20, 2011 at 1:52 pm

    I can’t stop laughing a sick, crying laugh that it’s Obama’s fault, and “pedestrian exposure” is a “risk factor.” Is “alimentary exposure” the cause of being fat? Most humans begin being exposed to pedestrianism around 12 months; it’s a cause of celebration generally. The state-backed corporate fabrication of the concept of jaywalking was the first stab: now any use of legs in public is “pedestrian exposure.”

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  • Jay R. January 20, 2011 at 2:06 pm

    As a walker, biker, and driver, I have to agree. Pedestrians ARE getting more and more aggressive and oblivious at the same time. Within the last week I had to deal with a cyclist who was riding dead center of the lane AGAINST TRAFFIC. He was completely oblivious to oncoming cars, wearing dark clothes, without lights, in a poorly lit section of street.

    Many times I’ve had to deal with pedestrians doing similar or worse, stepping out directly in front of moving traffic without any warning.

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  • tim January 20, 2011 at 2:22 pm

    Lies, damn lies, and statistics.

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  • Stig January 20, 2011 at 2:28 pm

    The Sony Walkman first retailed in 1979. It’s 2011 and pedestrians are just now catching on?

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  • Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) January 20, 2011 at 2:37 pm

    As a follow-up about that sign in the photo at top of this story… Here’s an explanation from PBOT streetcar project manager Jamie Jeffrey

    This sign is temporary (as noted by the orange, and the barricade). The traffic pattern was changed at this intersection with the removal of the stop signs on 10th. We installed this sign in response to concerns/complaints that pedestrians were just walking out in front of cars on 10th, assuming they would stop every time. The message on the sign is intended to communicate that the traffic on 10th no longer has a stop sign, and that peds should stop and look before crossing the street. You may have also noticed the signs below the stop signs on Marshall that say “Cross Traffic Does Not Stop”.

    I believe the law does still require pedestrians to stop and look before entering a crossing. So this was an added piece of information to alert pedestrians that they should step out safely, when there was an adequate gap. They should also make sure the driver sees them and is indeed slowing down to stop for them.

    There is no sign on 10th that tells drivers they do not have to stop for pedestrians. In fact, we also added “Ped/Bike Crossing” warning signs to alert the drivers that they needed to watch for the ped/bike cross traffic.

    I hope that helps to clarify things.

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    • Jackattak January 20, 2011 at 2:55 pm

      Why do I detect a “tone” with his response? How was this response solicited? 😉

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      • Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) January 20, 2011 at 3:43 pm

        It’s from a she – Jamie Jeffrey. She’s a real pro and a very sincere and capable city employee who’s in charge of the Eastside Streetcar Loop project for PBOT. I don’t sense any tone.

        As for how it was solicited… In a bit of an overly-emotional state, I fired off an email with the photo to Jeffrey, Geller, Burchfield, and another streetcar contact asking why the sign was erected and saying I think it should be removed. After calming down a bit and reading the response above and a few comments here, I’m not as peeved by it as I was at first.

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        • BURR January 20, 2011 at 4:55 pm

          I’d actually like to know how they made the decision to remove that stop sign, there’s a lot of conflicting traffic there and it seems like it might have been a good thing to leave it in place.

          Remember how hard it was to get the stop sign removed on the Springwater Trail by the Portland Opera on Caruthers where there is barely any traffic at all?

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          • Seth January 20, 2011 at 9:13 pm

            Yes please put the stop sign back! As I stated in my prior posting, my office is on that corner so I’ve seen all the effects of the construction, traffic, etc. There has been a HUGE increase in speeding traffic, near misses of all kinds, and general traffic unpleasantness. That stop sign should go back up for sure, things were much more calm before. Any ideas of who to talk to about that?

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        • Jackattak January 20, 2011 at 7:01 pm

          That makes sense. Thanks for setting me straight on Ms. Jeffrey as well. 😉

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        • Biased a bit January 21, 2011 at 2:43 pm

          “In a bit of an overly-emotional state,”

          A sure sign that you have lost your objectivity on the subject.

          Once again read twice, post (email) once.

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      • PDXCyclist January 21, 2011 at 6:11 am

        I think the tone comes from this line: “I believe the law does still require pedestrians to stop and look before entering a crossing. “

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    • Spiffy January 20, 2011 at 3:58 pm

      it still seems offensive without something like “traffic control change” on it to alert that it’s something new and not something they think we’re stupidly not doing all the time…

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  • Michweek January 20, 2011 at 2:40 pm

    This really annoys me! When I go out to walk, I shouldn’t have to be at risk for anything but maybe the odd crack and tree branches. I don’t need to be lead to think that every time I’m outside of a steel cage that I am at risk! For all that is right, why is this upside down? I may also be one of those aggressive peds because them darn cars never stop at marked cross walks, let alone unmarked cross walks and then they honk at me to cross more quickly? Some day you might see a news article about a young girl attacking a motorist because he tried to rush her along. I’m not out jogging you stupid heads, I’m walking and I’ll walk at my own darn comfortable gate!!! Gah!

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    • K'Tesh January 20, 2011 at 4:14 pm

      This really annoys me! When I go out to walk, I shouldn’t have to be at risk for anything but maybe the odd crack and tree branches.

      When I encounter the odd crack or tree branch, I remember that not everybody who is sharing that route with me can go around it, over it, or necessarily see it. I’ve seen wheelchairists forced into the road by heaved sidewalks. I have blind friends with a number of scars on their foreheads because of branches.

      When you encounter obstacles, I encourage you to think about people in wheelchairs or the blind. With them in mind, take a few moments to track down the responsible agency, and lodge a complaint (and follow up if nothing happens). Then again, you can take matters into your own hands, and clear the obstacle yourself.

      (BTW, I did complain about the sidewalk where the wheelchairist was forced into the roadway, and the city (in this case Beaverton) did react. The sidewalks on SW Butte Lane, now don’t have 4″+ steps from tree roots.)

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  • Spiffy January 20, 2011 at 3:59 pm

    in other bike-centric countries automobile drivers are required to expect erratic pedestrian behavior and still avoid hitting people or it’s their fault… except when the vehicle had absolutely no way to avoid them… driver inattention is never a valid excuse to release them from any fault and only makes it worse for them…

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  • deborah January 20, 2011 at 4:18 pm

    Isn’t it the law that a pedestrian can cross a street at ANY corner, and automatically has the right of way when crossing the street? If there’s a crosswalk there it does not matter if there is a stop sign or not. I really believe driver’s need to be ticketed into submission on this point.

    The Examiner article is an outrage – we should ALL write the editor and author to let them know how egregious their story was.

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    • Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) January 20, 2011 at 4:29 pm


      Isn’t it the law that a pedestrian can cross a street at ANY corner, and automatically has the right of way when crossing the street?

      No. Not exactly. It’s important to remember that the law says if you’re driving a car, you must have adequate time to respond to someone entering the street on foot… and that the person wanting to cross the street must actually be in the street and showing an intention to cross before their right-of-way is triggered.

      So.. you can’t just step into traffic and have legal protection/right-of-way.

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      • Bjorn January 20, 2011 at 11:34 pm

        Sure would be nice if we had some way to let drivers know we wanted to cross without actually having to step out in front of them…

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        • El Biciclero January 21, 2011 at 9:17 am

          If you want to be safe crossing the street, wait for cars to stop. If you want cars to stop, start crossing the street while they are still coming at you… This reminds me of a certain novel by Joseph Heller

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      • esther c January 21, 2011 at 11:51 pm

        YOur right to cross the street doesn’t supercede the laws of physics basically.

        You can’t walk out in front of a car going the speed limit and expect it to stop in less time than the braking speed.

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        • spare_wheel January 23, 2011 at 12:08 pm

          if this kind of car-centric reasoning was applied to school speed zones drivers would not have to slow down until they pass the sign. drivers have no special right to always drive the speed limit!

          imo, drivers should be prepared to stop *well before* they reach a crosswalk.

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      • spare_wheel January 22, 2011 at 11:36 am

        “and that the person wanting to cross the street must actually be in the street and showing an intention to cross before their right-of-way is triggered”

        I cannot find a single statute that supports this statement. Regardless, I find this idea to be wrong-headed and car-centric. Drivers should be prepared to stop on a dime if there is a pedestrian (or cyclist) anywhere near a crosswalk.

        AFAIK, the only applicable law is the “due care” statute which applies equally to drivers and pedestrians. IMO, a minimal definition of due care would require a driver to be prepared to stop when there is a pedestrian *near* a marked crosswalk. The problem is that drivers drive too fast, are too distracted, and/or cannot not be bothered.

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        • Jackattak January 24, 2011 at 12:45 pm

          That’s because there is no statute. Those are the “recommendations” from the PPB, IIRC. They were released to the public while Mayor Potter was still in office, and I lived Downtown at the time, so had to be between 2005-2007.

          That being said, I follow their recommendations and find that drivers do stop for me when I put a foot out in the road (no more than 6″ from the curb so I won’t get hit) around 75% of the time. It works. If you’re brave (and we’re all brave cuz we ride with cars, right? 😉

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  • spare_wheel January 20, 2011 at 4:26 pm

    ” I believe the law does still require pedestrians to stop and look before entering a crossing.”

    Umm…no. There is absolutely nothing in OR law about requiring a pedestrian to stop before entering a crosswalk. Pedestrians are quite capable of looking and proceeding without a stop.

    (There is a “due care” stature statute but this in no way requires a stop by a pedestrian at a crosswalk.)

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  • Joe January 20, 2011 at 7:41 pm

    wft is with ppl that just rip around towns/citys and get away with it daily.. cars r coffins. I have 1 near miss a day sick.. but I bet they will blame me for my riding.. but deep inside I know who is right and making a diffrence.. heat sinking missles

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  • Opus the Poet January 20, 2011 at 7:47 pm

    I have a suggestion, just a guess mind you, that the reason more pedestrians died during the first 6 months of 2010 than the same period in 2009 is because people driving cars hit them. Let’s make hitting pedestrians with cars against the law. That will fix things. Ow, I just bit my tongue!

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  • Kevin Wagoner January 20, 2011 at 7:55 pm

    It is too bad that the people in charge of the Governors Highway Safety Association allow this kind of drama about something they define as “speculative”.

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  • Donald Baxter January 20, 2011 at 7:56 pm

    person after my own heart, Opus. This was largely what was done in Holland. Make drivers so fearful of hitting pedestrians that the score evens out–they have girth and metal, but pedestrians and cyclists get the law. As it stands now the drivers have the girth, the metal, the engineers and the police. That needs to change!

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  • was carless January 20, 2011 at 8:35 pm

    I’d say about half the time I drive south on I-5 I see at least 1-2 pedestrians walking along the freeway. When it isn’t raining, at least.

    This is pretty scary, as I’ve never seen people walking along a freeway before – besides the random person with a broken down car. Some people look like they are hitchhiking, or even have grocery carts they are pushing.

    I’m dead serious about this. Usually see them near the Terwilliger Curves > SW Capitol Highway/Barbur overpass.

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  • Stig10 January 20, 2011 at 9:44 pm

    It’s only going to get worse. The more congested the roads get, the less likely motorists will be to stop at crosswalks as it gets more expensive and time consuming to drive about.

    I normally cycle and it’s frustrating that only about 1 in 5 drivers stop for me at marked crosswalks. Many will slow down, but with with no intention of stopping to make sure I’m not going to dart out. Crossing the 4 lanes of Division takes me through this crazy ritual. Is the driver slowing to stop or with no intention of stopping? Will other traffic speed around in the far lane?

    As a pedestrian today, same result as on a bike. Motorists slow down after seeing me with my bright clothing, but will not stop at the marked crosswalk. And I can definitely vouch for the ‘Mary Poppins Effect’ from another story. The more sporty I dress on a bike, I definitely observe fewer drivers comply at crosswalks. ‘He’s just out for a ride and I’m going home from work’. No, actually I’m commuting and legally of course it doesn’t matter. /end rant

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  • Joe January 21, 2011 at 9:21 am

    EX: today near PGE Park, near MAX, guy in a truck no signal turning into the cross walk and me on a bike
    bright front light didnt stop him, but I did use my voice, yelling use a signal please.. he could careless
    windows rolled up radion blasting. but hey lets go after ppl outside the box. ahhhhh sorry for the rant

    be safe out there.

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  • Donald Baxter, Iowa City, IA January 21, 2011 at 9:24 am

    as a pedestrian and a cyclist I’m not for giving up this battle to drivers and their cars. The rights you don’t enforce are the ones lost and ceding the right of way to drivers when it clearly doesn’t belong to them will make being a pedestrian and cyclist even harder than it now is. Fight back! We need more fearless pedestrians and cyclists and more frightened drivers–not the other way around.

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  • El Biciclero January 21, 2011 at 11:05 am

    I can’t cite any studies to back this up, but it is apparent that I.Q. affects driving performance. I notice that with more and more stupid drivers on the road, crash rates tend to go up. It seems pretty common-sense to me: Driving safely takes brain power; if your I.Q. is below 105, you should not be allowed to obtain a driver’s license.


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  • esther c January 21, 2011 at 11:44 pm

    Before the authorities make statements it would be an easy matter for them to do a simple survey and find out what was causing the increase in pedestrian deaths. Speculation isn’t necessary. It is probably less than a hundred people per state a year. Have someone count, were they in walkways? Were the drivers or the pedestrians at fault?

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  • Will Radik October 25, 2011 at 9:24 am

    The burden of safety is on the motorist, no matter what or who they run into, because, ultimately, they are the ones operating the big, deadly machines. Period.

    If the environment around the motorist is a difficult one, they should slow down. We need to move past this idea of motorist entitlement. It’s backwards as hell.

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    • Adron @ Transit Sleuth October 27, 2014 at 8:04 pm

      Seriously our legal system needs to get a grip, and the populace needs to be better informed about responsibility and negligent behavior, as Radik stated… “The burden of safety is on the motorist, no matter what or who they run into, because, ultimately, they are the ones operating the big, deadly machines. Period.”

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  • esther c January 4, 2012 at 7:44 pm

    Wouldn’t it have been easy for whomever wrote the article blaming the pedestrians to do a simple bit of research and figure out if the additional deaths were due to driver error or pedestrian “aggression” or error? All she would have had to do was look up a few accident reports. But that would have been too much trouble. Much easier to blame it on Michelle Obama for encouraging people to exercise.

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  • esther2 October 27, 2014 at 10:29 pm

    yes, its Michelle Obama’s fault. These people and the reporting newspaper are obviously crackpots

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  • Lars Skaug August 17, 2017 at 2:01 pm

    Why do we need a study to determine the culprit for the rise in pedestrian casualties? It’s already clear what action needs to be taken: Roads must be made safer for people who choose not to drive! It’s as simple as that. Enforcement of pedestrian traffic violations is not a practical plan of action.

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  • Donald Baxter August 18, 2017 at 6:49 am

    Driver Privilege Runs Amok.

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