PDOT Devalues Crosswalks

Following a tragic pedestrian death in January, the NW District Association asked PDOT to implement a number of safety improvements, including striping crosswalks at all intersections on NW 21st and NW 23rd.

PDOT has issued a draft report in response to this request. While the report does recommend a number of safety improvements, most importantly posting the streets for 20 miles-per-hour, it recommends against marking additional crosswalks.

While it’s clear to me that the speed limit is going to have much more impact on safety than the crosswalks, I am nonetheless extraordinarily frustrated by the crosswalk recommendation. NWDA had a fallback request, to just stripe the intersections where curb extensions have been installed to make pedestrian (and bicycle) crossings easier. PDOT also recommends against this. In essence PDOT’s position seems to be that crosswalks are a nice tool to show the pedestrians where to walk, but we don’t want to train drivers to respond to them, since we’d be training drivers to ignore their duty to yield to pedestrians at all intersections.

The are several very good reasons to maintain the status quo practice of marking uncontrolled intersections only when special circumstances exist. First, drivers must recognize that pedestrians can legally cross (and will) at unmarked crosswalks. No matter how aggressive a practice we pursue for marking crosswalks in high activity areas, there will still be thousands of unmarked crosswalks in the City. We do not want drivers to infer that marked crossings are the only locations where they need to be alert for pedestrians crossing the street.

Even more infuriating is a cost argument:

Secondly, our maintenance resources are very constrained and service levels have already been reduced as system growth has outpaced maintenance resources. Without an increase in resources for pavement marking maintenance, a more aggressive practice for marking crosswalks is not sustainable. It is questionable to consider expanding our pavement marking assets significantly if the resources are not available to maintain these assets in acceptable condition. Finally, the safety benefits of the alternatives are very marginal and the benefits would probably fall short of break-even in a benefit/cost test.

The estimate to stripe crosswalks in business districts similar to NW 23rd across the city is $300K, with $85K in annual maintenance. Having just served on the PDOT Budget Advisory Committee, where we found more than $6M in savings, I am confident that finding $85K annually is not beyond the ingenuity of PDOT’s management team.

What frustrates me is that we’re creating a culture of ignoring pedestrians. I’ve collected photos around the country and around the world of pedestrian crossing treatments. Other jurisdictions don’t appear to be afraid to call out pedestrian crossing sites, and I think we’re absolutely blowing it by failing to emphasis places where we want pedestrians to have priority.

Commissioner Adams is meeting with the neighborhood next week, and I hope our Commissioner of Transportation can start changing this culture.

On the upside the report does point out that new signage has recently been approved that can be placed on the center-line in pedestrian crossings. I hope we’ll start seeing these pop up all over the city. It would be a good step in changing the culture.


11 responses to “PDOT Devalues Crosswalks”

  1. Maybe NWDA should put up a large white cross in the middle of 23rd where the pedestrian was recently killed. Time for some nighttime striping parties as well.
    The object needs to be to make clear to motorists that when they enter commercial zones, they are leaving territory where business as usual prevails. Paint, pavements, curb extensions, signs all need to shout…”you will slow down, stop, wait, yield, share, just plain behave!”
    Someone recently characterized the pavement markings that PDOT has for bikeroutes as “timid,” and I think the same applies to pedestrian markings. Time for PDOT to shed its timidity about sharing the road.

  2. Chris, I share your frustration with a culture of seeing pedestrian improvements as accomodations rather than imperatives.

    In the words of former Mayor of Bogota Colombia Enrique Penalosa – “The essence of the conflict today is cars versus people. We can have a city that is friendly for cars or friendly for people, but we cannot have both.”

    We can make Portland a city for people, but we first have to make people the priority.

    For a great video interview with Penalosa watch this 12 min. movie by BikeTV:

  3. I think its clear that drivers can’t possibly ignore unmarked crosswalks any more than they already do. So if they aren’t going to train drivers to stop/slow for pedestrians by actually enforcing the law on a regular basis[1], they need at least make it clear with signs and markings.

    >> “The are several very good reasons to maintain the status quo practice of marking uncontrolled intersections only when special circumstances exist.”

    How many people have to be injured or killed before “special circumstances” exist? I guess in our car world, pedestrians being killed by cars is the acceptable status quo.

    1: If only they would crack down on breaking the law while driving like they do with Meth!

  4. The Federal Highway Administration Report “The Effect of Crosswalk Markings on Vehicle Speeds in Maryland, Virginia, and Arizona” concludes: “Overall, there was a significant reduction in speed under both the no pedestrian and the pedestrian not looking conditions. It appears that crosswalk markings make drivers on relatively low-speed arterials more cautious and more aware of pedestrians.”

    “…And that is a good thing.” the report concludes. Except for PDOT, not so much a good thing.

    I’m always amused when I hear PDOT defend not marking crosswalks because somehow that would challenge the idea that all these intersections already have crosswalks. Invisible though they may be to the driving public who would be shocked, shocked to realize they are speeding through invisible crosswalks…and the consequences of that is killing people.

    I’ve crossed SE Hawthorne at 23rd for over 15 years to catch the bus. My invisible crosswalk usually has a car parked across it…who knew? I suppose if I weave out of the “crosswalk” to get around the parked car, and I’m hit, PDOT will call it a “pedestrian error, crossing midblock.”

    The dollars involved in doing what needs to be done to mark our crosswalks –so drivers actually slow down, and don’t just have more speed limit signs to ignore– is pretty inconsequential in the overall scheme of PDOT’s budget. They need to find the money, and do what’s right, and stop pretending we’re not running across our own streets in a pathetic quest for “gaps” in speeding traffic; that PDOT needs to provide real solutions to provide safe crossings for pedestrians.

    The folks in NW should recognize they have allies all over the City, and that PDOT’s abject failure to protect its pedestrians is a city-wide issue. Sorry if my tone’s a little harsh, but my wife crosses at that intersection where Sara Cogan was killed, and fifteen years of drivers screaming at me “there’s no crosswalk there” is getting old.

  5. There is a reason they are called “traffic” engineers. There goal is make traffic move smoothly. I think the traffic engineers, and its not just PDOT, objection to marked crosswalks is that they slow down traffic.

    If adding crosswalks will cause traffic to slow down, that is more important than changing the posted speed. We know from experience that changing speed limits has a minimal impact on how fast people drive. Its how you engineer the street that determines speed.

    But I think it is a mistake to focus solely on NW 23rd. There needs to be a citywide effort to force crosswalks to be marked. Un-marked crosswalk is an oxymoron, you are safer crossing mid-block where you don’t have to worry about the cars turning the corner running you over.

    Perhaps that is the answer, have PDOT add more crosswalks on NW 23rd by striping a bunch of mid-block crosswalks. It would slow traffic and improve the pedestrian environment.

  6. I’m outraged by this as well. I don’t think there is one street in the city that has a higher ped-to-car ratio than NW 23rd.

    The crosswalks would be great, but what about a plan that goes further?

    Narrowing the roadway and widening the sidewalks would slow traffic down and dictate a pedestrian-dominated atmosphere on the street. Keep the parking (of course) but not the tru-traffic. Take out the center line.
    Big sidewalks, plenty of parking, very little traffic and heavy ped activity would make 23rd into a shopping district rivaling just about any other.

  7. Yesterday I crossed SE Division at 51st. Traffic was stopped at both 50 and 52. A driver turned onto Division and accellerated towards me. He was waving his middle finger at me and clearly had no intention of yielding.

    Some (many?) drivers have little regard for pedestrians as little more than large road kill targets. Why should they? There is an apparent lack of concern on the part of the police, district attorneys, and the public at large.

    Part of the answer would be much more vigorous enforcement of the laws we have in place.

    If the local news reported the next couple motorist killers as having been sentenced to many years in prison, then we might get some improvement.

  8. “But I think it is a mistake to focus solely on NW 23rd. There needs to be a citywide effort to force crosswalks to be marked. Un-marked crosswalk is an oxymoron, you are safer crossing mid-block where you don’t have to worry about the cars turning the corner running you over.”

    But if you can’t even convince the city to put in (state mandated law here!) crosswalks on every intersection along the MOST pedestrian-friendly and used street in the entire state of oregon…

    then fat chance you’ll get them anywhere else.

  9. Anyone ever do an analysis of the overtime that is spent on road work in the city? I often see city workers out on the weekends and have to wonder how this is scheduled. I have heard different stories over the years, but nothing that gives me a straight answer either way.
    The reason I ask is that some years ago a city crew was repaving a downtown street on Sunday and some interesting shenanigans were going on.

  10. I don’t know about any specific project to which you are referring, but I do know that in numerous cases work has been specifically scheduled for evenings and/or weekends on projects so as to cause the least delay for motorists and the least disruption to businesses.

    – Bob R.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *