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.

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