Comment of the Week: Origin of ODOT’s crosswalk closure rationale

Welcome to the Comment of the Week, where we highlight good comments in order to inspire more of them. You can help us choose our next one by replying with “comment of the week” to any comment you think deserves recognition. Please note: These selections are not endorsements.


The comment we’ve selected this week was buried deep in the 100+ comments of our story about ODOT’s decision to close 181 crosswalks in the Portland area.

But first lets talk about nominating comments to be a “Comment of the Week.” Do it! It is really helpful to us to have those suggestions. Here’s how I work: I keep an open file of what I think are good comments as the week proceeds. But if I push a comment through from the phone, I might forget to put it on my list. That’s what happened here.

Luckily, someone nominated Todd/Boulanger’s excellent comment to be “Comment of the Week,” and it has lived to see another day. Thank you.

This comment is a good example of an informative comment from a pro. We get a fair number of those, and it’s part of why people read the BikePortland comment section: Because you learn stuff.

In this example, Todd/Boulanger helps us understand where the idea of a “false sense of security” originated. He writes in reply to another commenter, “JP,” who labelled the ODOT decision “Orwellian.”

Here’s what Todd/Boulanger wrote:

JP, … it is actually “Hermsian”…

“In 1972, a researcher named Bruce Herms conducted a study of crosswalk safety in San Diego. He found that intersections with marked crosswalks had higher injury rates than ones with unmarked crosswalks. He concluded that marked crosswalks should only be installed where they are ‘warranted’ because they can give pedestrians a ‘false sense of security,’ encouraging risky behavior.” – Streetsblog 2016

Well educated North American traffic engineers and transportation planners stopped relying on this study as far back as in the 1990s (my experience)…when follow-up research found additional methodological shortcomings (not brought up by Streetsblog)…like the pedestrians typically seeking out crosswalks were the very old or infirm…while most other adult pedestrians crossed anywhere that they could in addition to marked crosswalks. He did not control for this and other confounding issues.

“Since the Herms study, other studies have refuted his conclusions, including work produced by the FHWA. Nevertheless, the influence of his research from [50] years ago persists. As backward as it seems, engineers still refuse to install crosswalks on the grounds that it would harm pedestrian safety.” – Streetsblog 2016

Thank you , Todd/Boulanger! And thank you for the links. You can find Todd’s comment, and the 106 other things people had to say, under the original post.

Lisa Caballero (Assistant Editor)

Lisa Caballero (Assistant Editor)

Lisa Caballero is on the board of SWTrails PDX, and was the chair of her neighborhood association's transportation committee. A proud graduate of the PBOT/PSU transportation class, she got interested in local transportation issues because of service cuts to her bus, the 51. Lisa has lived in Portland for 23 years and can be reached at lisacaballero853@gmail.com.

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Atreus
Atreus
1 year ago

It’s a good comment, but not really relevant to the ODOT announcement. They are not closing any marked crosswalks. All they are doing is formally closing legal unmarked crosswalks that are functionally closed, due to the presence of a median, lack of pedestrian signal-heads, offset intersections, etc.

Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor)
Admin
Reply to  Atreus

Yes. True. We thought it was a good comment nonetheless.

I am working on a follow-up post today that will help clarify what is going on (I hope).

Robert Wallis
Robert Wallis
1 year ago

Yes, it was good. Like every comment I have read from Boulanger, it was very informative and made complete sense.

David Hampsten
David Hampsten
1 year ago

It’s the same rationale with painted bike lanes – a painted bike lane even when buffered isn’t going to stop a car from hitting you – and I have in fact witnessed many engineers deciding to not add painted bike lanes on city streets where traffic is exceeding 30 mph even when the city bike plan calls for them. The city engineers feel it is far better to provide no facilities at all than to provide substandard facilities. Meanwhile they keep adding car lanes even when there’s no demand for them.

Watts
Watts
1 year ago

Midblock is often the safest place to cross; there are no turning vehicles to contend with, and there’s usually a clear view of who or what is coming.

X
X
1 year ago
Reply to  Watts

At present I’m able enough to cross most streets in a matter of seconds and my senses are good enough that I can usually hear or see approaching dangers. Mid block crossing often works well for me.

I empathize with people who are not quite in the same situation and also with future me after age or injury inevitably slow me down. At that point I’ll have to travel further to signed or signaled crosswalks. People who can’t move as fast have to travel a longer distance. That’s a feature of our surface transportation. We are also required to trust unreliable players.

I’m extremely frustrated by the number of people who think of themselves as citizens but routinely, always, trample crosswalks in spite of existing traffic control devices. Those red octagonal things are meant to limit our freedom.