(Photos © J. Maus)
Advocates who want to make it safer to walk are leading a charge to revise Oregon’s crossing law. This will be the third consecutive legislative session that advocates have attempted to change ORS 811.208 (“Failure to stop and remain stopped for pedestrian”); but with the non-profit Willamette Pedestrian Coalition (WPC) finally coming into its own as an advocacy group, this could be the year something gets passed.
The problem with the current law is that a person must “proceed” or “cross” the street before their right to cross is activated. The thinking is that once you’ve begun to cross, traffic will stop. But many people recognize that the law is not clear and that subjecting yourself to physical harm just to activate your legal right to cross a street is more than a bit absurd.
“I feel current Oregon law all but requires people to act as “aggressive pedestrians” in order to cross the street, while caution is met with apathy. We need to do better.”
— Stephanie Routh, Willamette Pedestrian Coalition
In 2007, the Bicycle Transportation Alliance (contracted by the WPC to lobby in Salem) tried to pass a “hand signal bill” that would have had people raise their hand to signal their intention cross the street (and activate their legal right-of-way). That bill passed the Senate but failed to make it out of the House.
Stephanie Routh, the executive director of the WPC, says they’ve moved beyond the hand signal idea.
Calling the current law, “An issue that everyone agrees is a problem,” Routh tells BikePortland that, “We need a crosswalk law that includes important wording like “Intent to proceed” and a clarified description of how that intent is demonstrated by the person wishing to cross.”
right of way after they physically
step into the roadway.
Here’s how local lawyer Ray Thomas describes the problem with the existing law:
“No one feels safe walking out in front of speeding traffic, so the pedestrians stand at the curb, often looking forlorn, wistful or angry as they watch cars approach and pass. If the pedestrians could only exercise their legal right of way without having to step in front of speeding traffic, then pedestrians could signal their intent to cross, watch as approaching traffic slows and stops for them, and then continue.”
Below is the current language Routh, the WPC, and Thomas are working to form into a bill that would amend ORS 811.208:
“For the purposes of this section, a pedestrian is crossing the roadway when any part or extension of the pedestrian, including but not limited to any part of the pedestrian’s body, wheelchair, cane, crutch, bicycle or leashed animal moves onto the roadway with the intent to proceed.”
The WPC identified safe crossings as one of their top priorities in their Getting Around on Foot Action Plan released last year. Routh says both national and local statistics show that failure of vehicles to yield the right of way to people crossing the street on foot is a major problem.
Oregon had a record number of walking deaths in 2010 and some felt that sad statistic highlighted the need for more caution while walking on our roads. Troy Costales, Transportation Safety Division Manager for the Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT), even went so far as to say that “aggressive pedestrians” have become a part of the problem.
Routh disagrees. “Personally, I feel current Oregon law all but requires people to act as “aggressive pedestrians” in order to cross the street, while caution is met with apathy. We need to do better.”
Stay tuned for more coverage of this legislation as it moves through the system down in Salem.