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Salem Watch: ‘Distracted pedestrians’ and crosswalk safety bill under fire – Updated

Posted by on May 31st, 2011 at 12:57 pm

“I gotta’ tell you, not only do we have impatient drivers, we have distracted pedestrians…. Up in Portland, there’s people up that just step right out saying, ‘I gotta’ right to step out in front of your truck.'”
— Rep. Michael Schaufler

Senate Bill 424, which would clarify and strengthen Oregon’s crosswalk law, is under fire in Salem as lawmakers in the House Judiciary Committee threaten to strip the safety provisions from it entirely.

Willamette Pedestrian Coalition executive director Steph Routh says some members of the committee have made it clear that instead of passing the bill with the new crosswalk safety language, they’d like to cut those provisions and leave only a firefighter fundraising provision that was added to the bill after it was introduced (that provision has to do with the annual “Fill the boot” fundraiser where firefighters stand on the side of the road and ask for donations).

Routh describes the safety language as, “Once any part of the pedestrian’s body, wheelchair, cane, or crutch moves onto the roadway with the intent to proceed, the responsibility for a motorist to stop would be triggered.” The goal of the bill is to clarify the existing law so that the person’s body itself doesn’t have to be placed in the roadway to trigger the law.

The bill got a hearing last week and is up for a possible vote in committee later today.

At the hearing last week, State Representative and committee member Michael Schaufler (D- Happy Valley) said he doesn’t oppose the bill, but he warned that it creates a false sense of security. At one point in the hearing, Rep. Schaufler shared animated and forceful comments about the behavior of “distracted pedestrians” in Portland.

Here’s the brief audio of his comments followed by the text:


“I gotta’ tell you, not only do we have impatient drivers, we have distracted pedestrians. We have pedestrians that aren’t using common sense, who use the crosswalk as some kind of false sense of security… Up in Portland, there’s people up that just step right out saying, ‘I gotta’ right to step out in front of your truck.’ Well, that’s just fine but gravity is not forgiving!… The false sense of security we’re giving people with this I think causes a lot of these accidents and then they blame it on an impatient driver… Sometimes it is and sometimes it isn’t… I think we need to stress that people have to look both ways and tons of metal won’t stop on a dime!”

It’s worth noting that Schaufler might have gotten his “distracted pedestrian” idea from some authoritative sources. Back in January, a group called the Governor’s Highway Safety Association (GHSA) said “aggressive pedestrians” that are, “stepping out in the street and getting hit” were in part to blame for a major uptick in fatal crashes involving people walking on roads. Even ODOT’s own chief of safety, Troy Costales said, “We are familiar with aggressive drivers; we now have aggressive pedestrians.”

SB 424 already passed the Senate and is up for a possible vote in the House Judiciary Committee today.

UPDATE, 1:15 pm: SB 424 has passed out of the House Judiciary with a “do pass” recommendation. It is now headed for full House vote. We’ll keep you posted.

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  • Dave May 31, 2011 at 1:08 pm

    I do think the law that “every corner is a crosswalk” is a bit of a false security, as honestly our infrastructure and other law (speed limits, etc) doesn’t support it in many places. I mean, it’s nice if a corner is technically a crosswalk, but if it’s not marked, or only has a zebra crossing, it’s obscured by parked cars or a bus stop, on a 4-5 lane road, with a 35-40mph speed limit, it honestly is unreasonable to expect a person driving, who is following the law, to always stop for a person walking at an intersection like that. They may not even be able to see them until they are just a few feet away.

    Not that I think that is an excuse to do nothing. What we need to do is think about re-designing our roads along with our laws, so that they support each other, and make it feasible for a person driving down a road in Portland to have the responsibility and to carry out the responsibility to stop for a person who is waiting to cross the road on foot.

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    • q`Tzal May 31, 2011 at 3:49 pm

      We need to redesign our public education system to teach the rules of the road as thoroughly as reading, `riting and `rithamatic.
      Too often we squeak by on the DMV test will poorly taught skills and a childhood full of road manners learned from over-stressed, impatient parents raging at other over-stressed, impatient parents; thus it is a social norm and deemed as acceptable.
      If road behavior skills are taught outside the house in a controlled environment there might just be a chance that, in a generation or two, we in `Murica might be polite safe road users.

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  • Next May 31, 2011 at 1:12 pm

    Drivers should be ready to yield at any time. They should be looking for pedestrians constantly, just as they keep an eye on a traffic light ahead or on cross street traffic at an intersection with no stop signs.

    Burden is on driver to be aware. Not on pedestrian to make sure car will stop.

    Obviously, if a pedestrian hid behind a bush and then sprinted into a crosswalk, they could catch a driver unaware. But I doubt many are doing that.

    By and large the claim that an aggressive pedestrian somehow caused an accident or surprised a car should be received the same as if someone claimed “That light just up and changed to red on me too aggressively.”

    It means the driver is not paying attention.

    In my experience, Portlanders are very timid about asserting their crosswalk rights.

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  • Marcus Griffith May 31, 2011 at 1:25 pm

    I can’t tell you have many collisions are caused by reckless walkers. Maybe its time we require a license to walk on public sidewalks. Tax those scofflaw pedestrians to pay for sidewalk improvements while we are at it.

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    • Paul Cone May 31, 2011 at 2:46 pm

      In Portland, property owners (and not the City) are responsible for maintaining sidewalks. Your tax idea is not such a bad idea. Now we just need property owners to vote to raise taxes on pedestrians.

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  • Chris I May 31, 2011 at 1:30 pm

    “Up in Portland, there’s people up that just step right out saying, ‘I gotta’ right to step out in front of your truck.’ Well, that’s just fine but gravity is not forgiving!…”

    Somebody get this man a physics book, stat!

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    • Mike Fish May 31, 2011 at 2:12 pm

      +1 !!

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    • q`Tzal May 31, 2011 at 3:50 pm

      He’s out of school: he doesn’t have to read or think anymore.

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    • MCM June 1, 2011 at 8:16 am


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  • canuck May 31, 2011 at 1:40 pm

    There’s responsibility on everyone’s part to be safe.

    Sure I can step into the road, but if a vehicle doing 25 mph is only 20 yards away, I’m taking my life in my hands because physics says they can’t stop in time to avoid hitting me even if they see me the second I step into the roadway.

    I guess I’m just too timid to take my life in my hands. Instead I make eye contact and indicate I want to cross the road.

    I don’t expect drivers to see me instantly. Nor do I expect them to lock up their brakes to let me cross.

    Much like a driver who follows to closely and rear ends the car in front is at fault, I feel someone stepping into traffic without consideration for the time it takes a car to stop is at fault.

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    • are May 31, 2011 at 3:27 pm

      and this bill would not change that. what this bill says is if you are making it clear that you want to cross, motorists are supposed to stop. right now the law says you have to actually step into the street to indicate you want to cross.

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      • Lazlo May 31, 2011 at 3:50 pm

        “Once any part of the pedestrian’s body, wheelchair, cane, or crutch moves onto the roadway with the intent to proceed, the responsibility for a motorist to stop would be triggered.” The goal of the bill is to clarify the existing law so that the person’s body itself doesn’t have to be placed in the roadway to trigger the law.

        The article says that you make your intention clear by stepping or otherwise entering in the street.

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  • Oliver May 31, 2011 at 1:47 pm

    I have a feeling that blaming aggressive pedestrians for fatalities is a lot like blaming people who run stop signs for cyclists who get hit from behind by inattentive motorists.

    It is annoying to be driving along and have a pedestrian walk up and step out into the roadway while purposely looking the other way especially to those of us who work in industries where it’s incessantly drilled that you make eye contact with heavy equipment operators, or that you know that if they check their pace by a half a step both car and pedestrian could continue through the intersection more or less unimpeded.


    Aggravating is mostly all that it is. The reasoning is in the subtext; it’s not how can I stop two tons of truck, it’s how dare you challenge my 2 tons of truck. It’s essentially the same argument people use against bikes on the road.

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    • Spencer Boomhower May 31, 2011 at 9:19 pm


      “The reasoning is in the subtext; it’s not how can I stop two tons of truck, it’s how dare you challenge my 2 tons of truck. It’s essentially the same argument people use against bikes on the road.”

      I think that’s a big part of it. There’s a might-makes-right power dynamic just beneath the surface of a lot of these kinds of discussions, and it doesn’t get examined often enough.

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  • 9watts May 31, 2011 at 2:00 pm

    Let me guess…. Rep. Schaufler doesn’t get around much on his feet. I bet he (and his peers in Portland scaring him with their stories) are more often than not inside a car; they identify with that role, perhaps they have even talked themselves into believing that their kind is under threat. Ha.

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  • Stan May 31, 2011 at 2:07 pm

    Another factor for this discussion is pedestrians talking and texting while crossing and tuning the traffic scene out. It is indeed a distraction for the pedestrian as well as to drivers using similar devices.

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    • Brad May 31, 2011 at 2:13 pm

      This is how I interpreted the situation. The ped that is zoned out staring into his iPhone that just keeps moving. I see that in The Pearl about a dozen times a day.

      As for aggressive pedestrians, many runners are just as bad as our beloved scofflaw cyclists. Can’t break that momentum and risk a personal best time!

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      • A.K. June 1, 2011 at 8:49 am

        Yes, it is increasingly bad with all the smart phones and iPods. I certainly think drivers need to be MUCH better about stopping for peds, but peds need to take responsibility as well – you’re walking fairly slow, how hard is it to actually look as you approach the intersection and check for close vehicles.

        I support jay-walking in the same way I support running stop signs on a bike – check and do it when no cars are around. But you need to be careful when doing so!

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      • was carless June 2, 2011 at 1:13 pm

        My favorite are the bums pushing shopping carts down I-5 through the Terwilliger curves. I used to see that daily about a year ago (when I was commuting way down south).

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    • michweek June 1, 2011 at 10:04 am

      But two distracted people walking and bumping into each othere isn’t nearly as dreadly as a motorist in a two ton vehicle. And at the point where you don’t have the faulse security of a metal cage around you, your probably a little more friendly and personable and much less likely to hit and run.

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  • 9watts May 31, 2011 at 2:07 pm

    I wonder how many laws will have been passed that, in the absence of the ubiquitous cars on our public roads, will cease to have any meaning? I wonder if anyone has or could do an inventory of these laws? How much public officials’ time has been spent on drafting, arguing over, amending, passing them… Only to be thrown out, or more likely ignored, once the overwhelming car presence has passed.

    Maybe we can bill Mayor Willey for the portion of public officials’ salaries they spent on laws necessitated by cars? Or maybe he will come to realize that bikes are cheaper, involve fewer costs, for everyone.

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  • Mike Fish May 31, 2011 at 2:19 pm

    I live by the SE Clay crosswalks that go over 11th and 12th. I use them a lot. Many drivers are friendly and stop, but many will stare you down with plenty of time to stop, but on 12th they’ll keep going if they see the light to cross Hawthorne is green. I usually step into the road so that my rights are ‘activated’ but I won’t get hit if they ignore me.

    I have yet to see any of this aggressive pedestrian behavior, but I’ll keep an eye out for it…. once I stop rolling them at this guys comments.

    Nice audio by the way!! I loved it!

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  • Michael M. May 31, 2011 at 2:59 pm

    Hmm, can we buy Rep. Schaufler a ticket to NYC? If he wants to see aggressive peds, that’d be a good place to send him. People in Portland are, in my experience anyway, comparatively timid, sometimes (in my more irritable moments, or when I’m really kinda in a hurry) frustratingly so.

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  • Spiffy May 31, 2011 at 3:16 pm

    drivers already don’t stop when you’ve already stepped out into the road and are already crossing… passing this law will do nothing more to get them to stop for pedestrians… it’s all a waste of resources…

    a better use of the money wasted would have been spent on crosswalk stings to let drivers know that they will be cited for breaking the law… they can pass as many laws as they want but until they start enforcing them and giving out real penalties then nobody will obey them…

    I like how in the audio for Michael Schaufler’s comments he says that people drive like maniacs where his daughter crosses the street… yet it’s the pedestrians that he’s complaining about… how about doing something to stop the people from driving like maniacs?

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  • mabsf May 31, 2011 at 3:43 pm

    Between these comments and a report in the Oregonian about a little boy being killed by an SUV and the resulting comments (http://www.oregonlive.com/hillsboro/index.ssf/2011/05/boy_3_hit_by_van_at_hillsboro_apartment_building_critically_injured_driver_cooperating_updated.html) I wonder if we use cars or cars use us…

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    • Dave May 31, 2011 at 3:45 pm

      We use cars, the people who make and sell cars use us 🙂

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  • Steph Routh, WPC May 31, 2011 at 4:47 pm

    On behalf of the WPC, I’d like to offer profound thanks to Reps. Schaufler, Barker, Krieger, Hicks, Nolan, Olson, Whisnant, Tomei, Garrett, and Wand for unanimously voting SB 424 out of Committee with a “do pass” recommendation. Huge thanks also to those who delivered testimony in person or via email and who showed up to silently voice your support. Your participation was respectful, polite, and came straight from the heart. I felt fortunate, indeed, to stand with you.

    Now on to the Ped Safety Summit in Eugene!

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    • mabsf May 31, 2011 at 5:17 pm

      I think I would also like to thank these reps…

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  • Jack May 31, 2011 at 7:36 pm

    I would definitely classify myself as an aggressive pedestrian these days. When I approach an intersection and have right of way, I will step out into the road with at least one hand up — sometimes 2, sometimes waving them — and make sure approaching drivers see me. I try to give the impression that whether or not they intend to stop, I’m going to cross.

    Of course that’s not the case. I always keep myself in a position to safely retreat. But, I find this method raises the compliance rate from about 5% to 50%.

    Many of those other 50% that have downright failed as drivers even make eye contact, staring at me with apparent bewilderment. I have to assume they aren’t even aware that they’re doing anything wrong.

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    • Mabsf June 1, 2011 at 7:53 am

      …and I think that’s the problem and the arrogance:”I don’t do anything wrong… Just driving along!”
      Expecting special rights, mainly the right of way because you have several tons more ‘weight’ to throw around is plain bullying!

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  • Dick Pilz May 31, 2011 at 7:53 pm

    My biggest problem, speaking as a driver, cyclist and pedestrian, is the situation where I am in the right lane of a four-lane street, approaching an uncontrolled intersection and the car to my left is stopped, without any signals. Are they trying to turn left and plan on using their signal after starting their turn? Are they stopped because a pedestrian is crossing but their large vehicle is blocking the view?

    My next problem is night time, in the rain, and everybody is wearing black, including me. At least I am wearing a light colored hat or helmet.

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  • Robin Canaday June 1, 2011 at 11:55 am

    There was this time that I was crossing in the crosswalk on my bike on the right side of the road, at maybe 4 or 5 mph. I was nearly halfway across, in front of the left-turn lane, when I looked up and saw a car approaching the intersection in the next lane over. It didn’t look like they were slowing for the light and I paused just a little more. Sure enough, this car came screeching into the middle of the intersection, right through where I would have been if I had not paused. His excuse? “My brakes aren’t working.” Too bad I was a little too shocked to insist that he pull into a nearby parking lot and call for a tow. Hindsight, etc.

    It doesn’t matter if you have the right of way or not. If you want to be safe, you can’t afford to make assumptions about whether or not a vehicle is going to stop for you, unless you make eye contact. Even then, you should be careful. This doesn’t excuse the behavior of motorists who break the rules, but ultimately your safety is in your own hands.

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  • Paul Johnson June 1, 2011 at 10:27 pm

    Not sure what the situation is…if you walk out into traffic, crosswalk or not, without checking the signal (if applicable) or for traffic first, you’re just asking to get hit. Likewise, if you’re driving along and can’t stop or maneuver around a kamikaze pedestrian, perhaps your avoidance skills or speed control needs some re-evaluation.

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