Posted by Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) on September 5th, 2014 at 2:28 pm
(Photos J. Maus/BikePortland)
How do you get people to slow down and drive safely near school zones? Infrastructure and good street design can do a lot; but like most U.S. cities, we haven’t invested as much as we should in that regard.
On the other end of the solution spectrum is figuring out how to balance punishment for breaking laws while education the public at the same time. And for the Portland Bureau of Transportation, “crosswalk enforcement actions” hit that sweet spot.
For about 10 years now, Sharon White from PBOT’s Community and Schools Traffic Safety Parntership, has been organizing an average of about one of these actions per month. And they’re quite effective. In 2011 we reported that the Portland Police Bureau wrote 904 citations in the program’s first five years. Beyond punishment though, the success of the program is measured in how far word spreads about crosswalk and speeding laws.
White works with the community and the PPB Traffic Division to determine where to have the actions and then puts herself in harm’s way as a crosswalk decoy. This morning out at NE 22nd and Killingsworth, she was joined by PBOT Director Leah Treat at a marked crosswalk just steps from the main entrance to Vernon elementary school. The two women walked across the street dozens of times while Traffic Division officers waited on side streets for speeders, crosswalk law violators, and cell phone users.
For people traveling on Killingsworth, the school zone signs themselves should be enough of a warning to drive safely; but during these actions the city adds signs that read: “Pedestrian Crosswalk Enforcement Ahead.” While some people say that takes away the element of surprise and defeats the purpose of the mission, the PPB and PBOT see it differently.
“This is all about education,” said Sgt. Robert Voepel as he peered through his radar gun while seated on his motorcycle. Another benefit of the sign, according to PBOT spokesman Dylan Rivera, is that it makes it easier for the police to defend tickets if they are taken to traffic court. Sgt. Voepel said these enforcement actions don’t usually result in any contested tickets, mostly because he offers everyone the option to take the Share the Road Safety Class in lieu of a ticket.
But for one women stopped by Sgt. Voepel this morning, that class won’t be an option. She was doing 34 in a 20 mile per zone, which amounts to a $360 ticket. “The class isn’t an option for speeders,” he pointed out, “And she also didn’t stop for the pedestrians.”
Vernon School principal Tina Acker, who joined White and Treat out at the intersection this morning, said she was “thrilled” to have the city’s attention on traffic safety around her school. “We’ve only been in school for three days, and look, they’ve already stopped lots of people.” Acker said one of her teachers was almost hit in the crosswalk yesterday. She and other staff take down license plate numbers and tally traffic safety complaints from the school community. They then give those complaints to their assigned School Resource Officer who runs them up the flagpole at the PPB and eventually onto PBOT.
As I chatted with Acker, she became distracted. “Right there! She’s speeding!” she yelled as she pointed to a dangerous driver that had just passed by her school’s front door. Hoping one of the three police officers on the scene saw the violation, we waited. Then we saw the sirens and the stop was made. “He got her!” Acker said, smiling.