Clearing up confusion around Oregon’s crosswalk law

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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