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Clearing up confusion around Oregon’s crosswalk law

Posted by on January 4th, 2013 at 12:45 pm

Crosswalks in action-4

(Photo © J. Maus/BikePortland)

Last month I shared the story of a reader who admitted that he doesn’t always stop for people on foot waiting to cross the road in front of him. In that story I mentioned Oregon’s crosswalk law; but I mistakenly left out a key part of it. After hearing from several readers who were concerned about what I wrote, I want to clear up any confusion about the law. Here’s what I wrote:

Oregon law (ORS 811.028) clearly states that if you see a person waiting to cross an intersection at a corner, and you’re able to do so in time, you must stop and let them cross.

What I failed to mention is that you are only required to stop if the person has made some effort to demonstrate their desire to cross. My memory of recent legislation changes to the crosswalk laws was faulty and I regret the error. Thankfully, I’ve heard from Oregon Walk Executive Director Steph Routh and she has helped sort out my misunderstandings.

In my defense however, the law is anything but clear.

For years, Routh says, advocates tried to amend 811.028 before finally succeeding in 2011. Here’s why Routh says they wanted to change it:

“Before the Crosswalk Safety Bill passed in 2011, a person activated their right to cross by ‘crossing,’ which law enforcement agents correctly interpreted as putting one’s whole body into the street and moving forward (the pre-2011 legal language is also how some people describe “aggressive pedestrian” behavior; ironic that it was also the only sure-fire way to activate the right to cross). The statutory language for right to cross gave us the shivers, frankly: it was at best vague and at worst a dangerous tautology, a call to engage in a leap of faith with oncoming traffic.”

At first, advocates tried to fix the law by pushing for the “hand signal bill.” That change would have allowed someone to simply raise their hand from the safety of the curb in order to trigger cars to stop. Routh and other advocates tried twice for the hand signal provision (in 2007 and 2009), but it never passed. They did, however, succeed in amending the law in 2011. Here’s what they got added to the law:

“… a pedestrian is crossing the roadway in a crosswalk when any part or extension of the pedestrian, including but not limited to any part of the pedestrians body, wheelchair, cane, crutch or bicycle, moves onto the roadway in a crosswalk with the intent to proceed.”

So, as of 2011, you no longer have to be actively “crossing” to trigger your right to cross. You only need to “dip a toe” (or a bike wheel or a cane, etc…) says Routh. “It is not a revolutionary change, but it is definitely better.”

I hope this clears things up. I definitely learned something new. And, did you know you could trigger the crosswalk law by dipping your bike’s wheel into the road?

— For more background on Oregon crosswalk laws, I strongly recommend the definitive source: A Legal Guide for Persons on Foot by Ray Thomas. It’s available as a free PDF here (*note that it’s a 2008 version).

UPDATE: We’ve been seeking further clarification in the comments and on Twitter about a particular issue with this law. My question was this: If I’m on my bike on the sidewalk and want to cross at an unsignalized intersection, can I still get the same rights as someone walking? Oregon law defines a “pedestrian” only as a “person afoot”. But ORS 814.410 also has this key provision: “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.”

I asked lawyer Ray Thomas about this. He said that yes, the law allows someone on a bicycle to have the same crossing rights as someone walking. You do not have to dismount to exercise your right to cross. You could even be doing a trackstand, as long as you dip your front wheel into the roadway.

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K'Tesh
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K'Tesh

So, how does that affect me when I’m at a signalized intersection with a part of my wheel in the crosswalk just so I can put my foot down on the sidewalk height part of the ramp?

(btw.. I still wait for the signal to go into my favor)

Natalie
Guest
Natalie

Portland, where bumper sticker-laden Subarus with a clear right of way stubbornly usher me and my bike through 4-way stops while cars on Burnside zip by carelessly as I take my fourth timid step into the pedestrian crossing zone.

That said, I do appreciate the legal clarification. The first step to having these laws matter is to get Oregon drivers actually familiar with the laws of the road, rather than the local mythology of street etiquette.

Will
Guest

Thanks for explaining the details of the law Jonathan!

People might also want to check out Pedal Power: a Legal Guide for Oregon Bicyclists which has a section on bicycles and crosswalks. There’s a link to the latest (2012) edition on our resources page:
http://btaoregon.org/resources/

RWL1776
Guest

(of course, you have to be walking the bike in order to qualify as a “pedestrian”): some cyclist is going to get creamed at the crosswalk in front of the Rose Festival office on Naito Pkwy. I drive thru this every day, and I constantly see cyclists waiting there to cross while ON their bikes. It’s a CrossWALK, not a CrossRIDE. Get off the bike if you want cars to stop!

Aaron
Guest
Aaron

The crosswalk in the middle of the bridge that takes 60th over 84 used to be the worst. Visibility was okay, but since there’s a very busy bus stop right there you’d frequently see people craning their necks to watch traffic- looking for the bus. However, this looks a hell of a lot like “intent to cross,” making things very difficult for an approaching cyclist or driver. Fortunately they cured this with some pedestrian-operated flashers, if only it wasn’t such an expensive solution it would be great to see everywhere.

Nick Falbo
Guest
Nick Falbo

I’ve always had mixed thoughts about our current laws with pedestrian crossings. The burden to “see and stop” functions well on slower streets in neighborhoods and congested urban areas, but it really doesn’t work well on fast streets, particularly those with multiple lanes.

At 30 mph it takes up to 625 ft to notice and stop for a pedestrian, which is about 3 Portland blocks in advance of the crossing. Add another block for every 10 mph increase in driver speed.

The physics and behavior of driving quickly isn’t compatible with the pedestrian crossing law. Because of this, physics wins out, and pedestrians are left out to dry.

daisy
Guest
daisy

“And, did you know you could trigger the crosswalk law by dipping your bike’s wheel into the road?”

I knew this, but only because I attended one of the bicycling law talks with Ray Thomas. But drivers seem especially blind to cyclists on foot. Folks who will screech to a dangerous stop for pedestrians can’t even seem to recognize those same pedestrians who happen to be walking with a bike.

Sean G
Guest

As a pedestrian commuter, learning the language of this law has really accelerated my daily commute. Unfortunately most people are not aware of the “every intersection is a crosswalk unless marked otherwise” concept, so care must be taken when crossing at W Burnside and 17th, for example. However knowing I can cross there, and confidently doing so when there’s a car well within safe slowing distance, that has really made life easier.

Nikos Tzetos
Guest
Nikos Tzetos

Jonathan,

How about explaining what constitutes a crosswalk in Portland? I don’t know if things have changed, but all intersections contain crosswalks: the 10 feet closest to the intersection on each street, whether they are marked or unmarked.

Sunny
Guest
Sunny

moonwalk

q`Tzal
Guest
q`Tzal

If our community’s hyper-involved knowledge base is this confused imagine how little the average automotive driver knows.

Multiply that level of unintentional ignorance by all your non-biking family, friends and acquaintances.
Shudder and whimper for your fate.

dwainedibbly
Guest
dwainedibbly

Mrs Dibbly & I have had 2 sets of visitors recently: Mom Dibbly in August and a friend from north Florida with her husband & 17 year-old daughter in early Oct. They were all amazed about how polite Portland drivers are, generally, about about stopping for pedestrians. (We do live downtown where drivers are more accustomed to behaving like human beings.) Thinking about it, I have to agree that it is remarkably different than how people drive there.

Ted Buehler
Guest

When you’re on foot — know your rights. Use them or loose them. Help little old ladies and gents exercise theirs by crossing with them. If you’re an able-bodied youngish person with good reaction times, help calm the streets of Portland by exercising your rights on a regular basis — cross arterials on foot at unsignalized intersections just to help calm the streets.

When you’re on your bike — know pedestrians’ rights, & help familiarize other peds and bikes by stopping for pedestrians while yelling out “PEDESTRIAN!” so other bikes behind you stop too. & turn your front wheel (or whole bike) a bit sideways so pedestrians and bikes behind you know you’re not going to commence forward movement without straightening your wheel first.

Thanks for covering this, Jonathan, and thanks to all who got the law rewritten a couple years ago.

My $0.02
Ted Buehler

Doug
Guest
Doug

And it should be noted that drivers (and riders) are required to stop for all pedestrians, not just those wearing reflective clothing or blinking lights. To do this requires drivers at night to proceed slower than the speed limit on some streets (like Powell), especially if they’re not lit well enough to notice pedestrians until the driver’s headlights illuminate them. Drivers should not be driving “beyond their lights”.

Bill Stites
Guest

For safety’s sake, I hope folks will consider dismounting from their bikes when wanting to exercise crosswalk rights, esp. at unmarked crosswalks.
Consider that some of the most dangerous situations arise when both parties think they have the right of way: a cyclist rolls into the street in an unmarked crosswalk feeling empowered by the law, and a motorist is cruising along also feeling the right of way by interpreting the cyclist as a vehicle which has to wait to cross. It’s a formula for disaster. We all can be stubborn at times about exerting [what we believe is] our right of way … it’s a game of chicken.
Dismounting gets you to look and behave like a pedestrian, and motorists will be much more amenable to respecting the crosswalk laws for you.
It’s one of those odd scenarios where, as a cyclist, you are safer by shapeshifting into a royal pedestrian.

Mabsf
Guest
Mabsf

I am confused about the crosswalk/bike thing: At Belmont and 33rd, 33rd has a “Stop” sign, but there is a (much abused) marked cross walk on Belmont…So if I would be on the cross walk with my bike the cars would have to stop, if I am on the street, I would have to wait?

jim
Guest
jim

If a bike is at an intersection they have to wait for traffic to clear before they cross if they are in the traffic lane. If they come to an intersection and move over to the crosswalk the cars should have to stop for them. Some of the crossings like where Going street bike path crosses MLK is not a crosswalk so cars do not have to stop for those, unless the bike is in the crosswalk.

jim
Guest
jim

Bikes have to enter the crosswalk at a walking speed also. If they roll out at a biking speed it is not fair to the driver to stop for something happening too fast.

Craig Harlow
Guest
Craig Harlow

Whatever the hell the law is for crossing at the corner (or crosswalk), motorists simply do not know it. Having the law on the books will help a creamed crosswalker recover damages in court, but it does jack-squat to change motorist behavior. When will the state, or this city for that matter, inform its citizens of changes in the law–particularly those changes that have critical safety impact? I’m feel I should start “extending into the roadway” my freaking baseball bat. Not joking.

Craig Harlow
Guest
Craig Harlow

El Biciclero
Actually, when using a crosswalk on your bike, you are only required to enter the crosswalk at no greater than an ordinary walking pace–and only if motor vehicles are approaching. Once in the crosswalk there is no speed requirement, only the requirement to audibly warn pedestrians before passing them.
Recommended 5

Right: the primary issue being not to “constitute an immediate hazard” upon entering the crosswalk from the sidewalk.

dwainedibbly
Guest
dwainedibbly

The closest I’ve come to getting hit was crossing SW Market at Park, northbound, returning home from the PSU Farmers’ Market, by a streetcar. It was at least a block away when I started and I swear it accelerated. I understand that those things can’t stop quickly but it would have been nice if the driver (pilot? captain? helmsman?) had at least let off the pedal. I had enough time to get across the street, but it was close enough that one stumble and Mrs Dibbly would be retiring on a big legal payout.

Don R
Guest
Don R

So bicyclists can use crosswalks with out waiting their turn? That’s ridiculous.

dano
Guest
dano

I was crossing a signalized crosswalk across 3 lanes of stopped traffic with a green light riding my bike at walking speed.Before I got to the end of the crosswalk. An older gentleman darted out without looking and knocked me 20 ft through the air.I went to emergency.But no broken bones.To add insult to injury I was ticketed by police for riding my bike through the crosswalk!…I couldn’t sit down for a month.