Crosswalks: It’s Culture, not Engineering

Finishing up a visit to the East Coast, I’m reminded again about my strong feelings about the way we treat crosswalks in Portland.

We’re told by the engineers that adding crosswalks gives pedestrians a false sense of security. As an engineering principle, that may have some validity (although new studies question it).

But it’s simply the wrong frame. This is not about engineering. It’s about instilling a culture among drivers that you stop as soon as a pedestrian puts a foot in the crosswalk.

It’s not hard. You just have to keep reinforcing the point. This series of photos from New Hampshire makes it clear:

  • Tell drivers a crosswalk is coming
  • Make the crosswalks distinctive, using either different materials or clear color differences. White stripes are not enough
  • Popup signs are a great additional element. I’m SURE we could talk the business districts in any number of Portland neighborhoods to fund these.

And it works! Drivers really do behave differently around these crosswalks.

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