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PBOT splits with Portland Police Bureau on crosswalk law enforcement program

Posted by on July 22nd, 2020 at 12:12 pm

Former Portland Mayor Charlie Hales and a PBOT staffer stand with former PPB Traffic Division Captain David Hendrie at a crosswalk enforcement mission in 2013.
(Photo: J. Maus/BikePortland)

The Portland Bureau of Transportation has ended a 15-year partnership with the Portland Police Bureau that centered around the enforcement of Oregon’s crosswalk law.

Since 2005 PBOT has conducted “pedestrian crosswalk education and enforcement actions” with the PPB. But in recent years conversations around the enforcement of traffic laws and concerns about racial profiling by police officers have intensified.

At a meeting of the City of Portland Pedestrian Advisory Committee last night, PBOT Traffic Safety Section Manager Dana Dickman said City Commissioner Chloe Eudaly asked the bureau to stop working with police.

“There had been concerns about secondary violations,” Dickman told the committee. “People were being pulled over for failure-to-yield, but during the stop they are cited for lack of insurance or a suspended license. And then the citations rack up… There was a concern we are potentially bringing people into a much more serious situation, impacting them financially, and bringing them into a legal situation in a way we didn’t intend… Our commissioner and community members felt that was potentially punitive.”

Dickman said discussions with the PPB began in fall 2019 on how to change protocol during crosswalk enforcement missions to make them educational and without legal or other punitive consequences. Ideas included only citing for warnings or moving violations and ignoring those “secondary violations” like suspended licenses or other more serious infractions. But police didn’t feel comfortable with turning a blind eye to some offenses. “Police felt strongly that it was a huge liability for them… and that it would be abdicating their duty around public safety.”

Commissioner Eudaly’s office confirmed this morning that PBOT will no longer work with police on this program. References to crosswalk enforcement actions have been deleted from PBOT’s Traffic Safety Resources webpage.

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“Commissioner Eudaly decided that it was best to end these collaborations until we can establish a mutual agreement about the purpose and scope of these events that lead with equity.”
— Margaux Weeke, Commissioner Eudaly’s office

Eudaly’s Communications Director Margaux Weeke shared with us that the partnership between the PPB and PBOT came to light during an examination of how to make enforcement aspects of the City’s Vision Zero more equitable. “Commissioner Eudaly decided that it was best to end these collaborations until we can establish a mutual agreement about the purpose and scope of these events that lead with equity,” Weeke said. “There were several attempts to find equitable solutions that everyone could agree on, but those discussions are no longer taking place.”

This decision marks a shift for Eudaly, who has in the past been an advocate for more police funding of traffic enforcement over the objections of fellow Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty. Hardesty was the lone “no” vote on a Vision Zero report brought to council by Eudaly last year. “I continue to have the concern that we are over-criminalizing one segment of our community and using them as the reason why people are dying rather than the poor conditions of our roads,” Hardesty said before casting her vote.

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This renewed conversation between Portland’s transportation and police bureaus is ongoing and is sure to heat up in the months and years ahead. Calls for the end of racist policies and police brutality following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, fueled by persistent protests, have sparked a widespread re-examination of traffic law enforcement. Portland has already acted to remove police officers from schools and transit and Commissioner Hardesty is pushing for more reforms.

Sign in front of Vernon school on Northeast Killingsworth at a crosswalk enforcement action in 2014.
(Photo: J. Maus/BikePortland)

At the meeting last night, PBOT’s Dickman said, “I’d say the conversation isn’t over. I believe there is a way to have conversations with folks without citing them that could have an impact as well. There might be a way to do that without police, or maybe police need to be directed from their leadership to engage differently with the community.”

“It might be groundbreaking to assume there is no police force at this point,” Pedestrian Advisory Committee member Evelyn Amara added, while calling for stronger educational efforts instead of enforcement. “Thinking ahead it’s very important to assume that the police officers are not intended to do that job. And they may not be around in their current form much longer.”

The PPB is still conducting “pedestrian safety crossing missions” on their own. On May 13th a five-hour mission at NE Halsey and 106th resulted in 25 citations, 27 written warnings, and one arrest.

— Jonathan Maus: (503) 706-8804, @jonathan_maus on Twitter and jonathan@bikeportland.org
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Todd/Boulanger
Guest

These things need to be fully thought out…vs. muddling in the middle. (Even if it is done for all the right reasons.)

Bikeninja
Guest
Bikeninja

So now its a bad thing to find people who are driving around without insurance or a suspended license?

Jon
Guest
Jon

So you can’t punish someone that was going to run over a pedestrian? The driver just gets a stern “talking to” and drives away. I think that drivers will learn pretty quickly that there is not consequence for breaking the law and endangering the lives of pedestrians.

Eastsider
Guest
Eastsider

Driving a vehicle is a privilege not a right. Compliance with the law at crosswalks is already dangerously low and decreasing enforcement only makes it less safe for pedestrians. What is wrong with secondary violations? If someone is driving with a suspended license or does not carry insurance they absolutely should not be driving a vehicle. Vision Zero without enforcement is wishful thinking at best.

Hello, Kitty
Subscriber
Hello, Kitty

PBOT should do crosswalk actions on their own, focused on educating drivers. With unarmed employees and no enforcement powers, there would be little concern about the inequity of citing drivers for more serious offences.

David Hampsten
Guest
David Hampsten

From PBOT’s front page:
“The Portland Bureau of Transportation (PBOT) is a community partner in shaping a livable city. We plan, build, manage and maintain an effective and safe transportation system that provides people and businesses access and mobility. We keep Portland moving.”

But it should be:
The Portland Bureau of Transportation (PBOT) is a bureaucratic partner in shaping a city for gasoline-powered vehicles. We plan, design, manage and maintain an effective and safe automobile-oriented transportation system that provides access and mobility exclusively for people who drive cars and for businesses parking. We keep Portland moving by car.

https://www.portland.gov/transportation

Eastsider
Guest
Eastsider

Why have any laws at all of we aren’t going to enforce them? Everyone can drive a giant SUV as fast as they want and mow down pedestrians at crosswalks without consequence. Distracted driving (which is a huge part of crosswalk yield violations) is a problem that is only getting much worse and will continue leaving bodies in the streets of Portland unless we are willing to enforce it. Let’s be reasonable – we can find ways to make enforcement fair without abandoning it all together.

maxD
Guest
maxD

I am alarmed that they are treating driving without insurance as a an offense that can be overlooked.Being hit by an uninsured driver can ruin a life!I appreciate the sentiment behind not hassling people unnecessarily, but I do not think PBOT’s approach is quite right

Chris I
Guest
Chris I

This is insane. I guess licenses and insurance are no longer required to operate a 6000lb vehicle in Portland.

Ernie A
Guest
Ernie A

I get it. The enforcement is not equitable, so we need to find a better way forward. I don’t see this as a permanent waiver for drivers, but a shift in approach on how to achieve the goal of safely shared streets. It’s the action of being in a hole and stopping digging. This is the first step, not the final posture. Most of these comments seem very posturing to me, and miss the point.

SilkySlim
Guest
SilkySlim

Basically I’m the tenth person shaking my head at this… How about: “We will only do cross walk enforcement w/ a newly formed un-armed division of the police?” Win win right? Still enforce laws, reduce escalation that comes from weaponized cop/pigs.

PTB
Guest
PTB

Disarm the police that work in crosswalk enforcement operations. Call those officers something else, I dunno. But if you fail to yield to a ped, ticket. If you fail to yield to a ped and have no insurance, another ticket. If you fail to you yield to a ped and…

qqq
Guest
qqq

The only people being stopped are people who’ve already established that they don’t drive safely. Those are the people that it’s most important to make sure have insurance, for the protection of others, especially people walking across the street in front of them.

Hello, Kitty
Subscriber
Hello, Kitty

It’s probably worth examining Eudaly’s central thesis: Citing people for offences such as driving without insurance or not having a valid license when they’ve been stopped for failure to yield to a pedestrian is inequitable.

Discuss.

Kana O.
Guest
Kana O.

Coercion via enforcement and infrastructure have been our tools to control behavior because we’ve failed (did we try?) to create a healthy social conscience where our desires for rapid conveyance are tempered by an empathy and concern for one another’s well-being. Creating such a widespread social consciousness could fill holes in our safety system that even the most invasive and pervasive enforcement and design would never be able to fill.

We should be reminded that this is possible and is even frequently achieved (with our existing infrastructure and existing level of enforcement) every time we have a large Pedalpalooza ride or Sunday Parkways or even street fairs or street seats; while the last three examples usually involve some kind of signage or barriers or even enforcement, they still require substantial cooperation from people operating vehicles to behave differently than they normally do to be as successful as they are. In these instances, the culture of the space is temporarily transformed as are the expectations for how it is acceptable to use that space (though there are sometimes violators).

I elevate these examples to suggest there might be much more we can do (though I’m not sure precisely what) to move toward a city where different social expectations about how street space is to be used can be more in line with the goals we have for safety and multimodality; to suggest that there is a multivariate equation for safety with entries for design, enforcement, and culture and that leaning more heavily on culture change can make up for deficiency in design and enforcement; to suggest that enforcement and infrastructure don’t have to carry loads they never have been able to bear. Because without a cultural change, how do you stop pervasive distracted driving? DUI? Plowing into and killing legally crossing pedestrians?

We’ve changed street culture to both allow for and expect mass carnage in the course of traveling—and to be relatively indifferent about it—from Jaywalking to today’s design practices that are measured in their propensity to gain compliance from drivers for others to use the street who already have full legal and moral standing to do so, and so rely on increasingly expensive treatments, because full compliance is something that isn’t expected. Can’t we change that culture back?

I see the multiple contradictions in my reasoning above. But how can cultural change help us fill the gap that enforcement and design cannot (or are not because of official actions as mentioned in the article) right now?

Zach
Guest
Zach

Ah, so this is what PBOT will be working on instead of not building safe bike infrastructure.

dan
Guest
dan

I am with the crowd on this one – let’s take away the cop’s ability to exercise power abusively except for when it comes to traffic offenses: I want them to drop the hammer there. Of course, the one realm in which it might be welcomed is also the area in which they have the least interest in enforcing the law. Let’s just have signalized crosswalks with cameras everywhere then and mail offenders a ticket.

Ryan
Guest
Ryan

To me, this just highlights how far away we are from multi-modal equality. If there were good, consistent, reliable alternatives for the majority of people living/working in the area, this could be avoided.

Taks a person who’s already struggling financially. They go into debt to get a car that societal pressures deem “essential” for getting/keeping a job or having any type of life. They struggle to make regular payments and/or keep up with maintenance. So they miss insurance payments and it gets revoked. They get pulled over for expired tags (because they can’t afford to fix the issues that will get the car to pass DEQ), and get extra fines for no insurance. They can’t afford to pay the fines, but they see no other option than to keep driving, and so it continues to spiral.

I’m torn because I want bad drivers to get punished for not taking their responsibility seriously, but I can also see how it can disproportionately hurt those with less means/privilege. But if we had infrastructure designed to actually support multi-modal options and not create the pressure to drive everywhere, the person described above may have never felt the need to take on the debt of getting a car to begin with, freeing up the funds to cover things that actually are “essential” (food, housing, etc). At the very least, even if they got a car initially, having viable options would make the potential cost of continuing to drive with no insurance/license not seem worth it. The city is trying to deal with the symptoms while still largely ignoring the disease.

Amanda
Guest
Amanda

I will say that in my younger years. while making minimum wage, I was in the group referenced in the article. A lot of times I needed to put food on my table instead of paying my car insurance. I worked part time at $12/hr more than a 35 min drive (3 hours on a bus) from my grandma’s house. (where I was living with my young child) My insurance would lapse and cause I drove a crappy car I got pulled over often. I have no speeding or driving infractions on my record ever. I would get my car towed and loose my license. My aunt would bail my car out and I would pay LARGE fees to get my license back with HUGE insurance rates.
It finally came to an end for me when I drove a passable vehicle and without a license for 3 years. I could finally afford insurance again and have never had a lapse since. I now work a job full time and I’m paid a middle class wage.
The constant insurance/license battle helped keep me in poverty for an extra year than it should have. Insurance is very important and I know that, but those on housing and food instability don’t always have the choice you do riding your bike as we pay for your protected lanes.

James S
Guest
James S

My initial reaction was “this is dumb” but thinking it over, it makes sense.

So much of enforcement is left up to “officer discretion”. So if you’re a 19 year old blonde woman with a low-cut shirt, there’s a good chance the officer will “let you off with a warning hun” but if youre a 24 year old black male, well, laws are laws and you get the entire book thrown at you. So its not so much that multiple laws are being broken, its that the officer will only dig deep if they dont like how you look.

The best enforcement is with cameras. Driver doesnt stop for the ped? Photo of license plate and a ticket to the registered address. Only drivers who are acting especially aggressively (ie swerving towards a ped) would be pulled over.

Adam
Guest
Adam

What was the goal of these occasional enforcement events? Was it even accomplishing that result? Could there be a more efficacious solution with fewer collateral issues?

For all I know it could have been a very effective tool. Maybe just unaccountable theatrics? Certainly made for easy PR “Transportation Commissioner Tries To Cross An Actual Street, News at 11”. Was that the real goal?

Ricky Bruce
Guest
Ricky Bruce

Inequity touches every aspect of our society. Whether it is access to food, housing, healthcare, education, childcare, jobs, or transportation, all of these things depend on your social and economic situation. We strive to have laws that can balance out these inequalities, but they are not equally enforced. Our physical cities have inequality built into them by design or because of past errors. We lack a transportation infrastructure that serves all of us. That said, traffic violence is a very real concern that literally is a life or death issue. We do need some way to make people comply with the crosswalk laws, laws that try to protect those who are (in the immediate sense) most vulnerable- pedestrians, from those who are (in the immediate sense) more privileged- drivers. We need to do this while at the same time ensuring that those who are (in the general sense) most vulnerable/marginalized are protected from being further marginalized. Cars are not going away soon and careless drivers aren’t either. If we are not going to use the stick approach with things like income-based fines or stricter point systems, we need to find an efficient carrot that incentivizes safe driving. We might be able to do that if auto insurance were socialized or driving privileges were gradual and more safe driving came with greater ability. These are politically unfeasible and our justice system is based on punishment, not reward. All of this to say that I have no idea how we can have people stop killing people with their vehicles without some kind of enforcement.

Bike Guy
Guest
Bike Guy

I live on a residential street (speed limit 20 mph) with no speed bumps in E Portland.

A Black mother and her young daughter just peacefully pedaled by on their bike, taking in the fresh air or on a quick errand.

However, 4 minutes prior, some aggro driver in a BMW convertible zoomed past going at least 40 mph, turned around at the end of the street, and gunned back.

Thankfully, their paths did not cross.

Car violence can affect us all. Enforce the law. Punish scofflaws. End of story.