Back Seat [Scary] Ignorance

OK, I will cop to a guilty pleasure. On Mondays I read the “Back Seat” (commuting) column in the Oregonian.

Not because I expect to learn anything about transportation policy, but because I sometimes enjoy the sophomoric wit. But mainly because I get to see what people are asking about. Monday’s letter was very scary:

Stop signs: At downtown intersections, should drivers stop to allow pedestrians to cross?

My wife says that drivers are obligated only if there is a marked crosswalk. I say that pedestrians at any intersection should be given the right of way.

R.L. West Linn

Our intrepid columnist quotes ORS correctly that crosswalks exist at all intersections, whether marked or unmarked.

But I’m not sure I’ll be strolling around West Linn anytime soon. A good argument for refresher tests when renewing your driver’s license.


10 responses to “Back Seat [Scary] Ignorance”

  1. As someone who has been using the “crosswalk” (aka “unmarked crosswalk”) at SE 23rd & Hawtorne for better than 17 years…from the reactions I get from drivers, it is clear the vast majority do not understand that crosswalks exist, marked or not. (Subtly nuanced comments like: “That’s not a f**kin’ crosswalk, a**hole!)

    I think it’s sorta cute we say nearly all intersections –including T-intersections– have crosswalks (invisible or not) but the reality is it’s a fantasy role-playing game we force on pedestrians and drivers both. As the most recent crosswalk stings show, too many car don’t even stop for pedestrians in MARKED crosswalks…at least not here.

    In Paris, on the other hand, it takes getting used to that when you step off the curb, all those racing little cars actually STOP. So consistently it is unnerving.

    The difference is enforcement.

    Nearly every morning, when bus-riders –and school-kids are running across Hawtghorne to avoid rush hour cars, the police cars and motorcycles are lined up at the Starbucks on SE 19th & Hawthorne. The police like to take their morning breaks during rush hour because, y’know, it’s a jungle out there.

  2. It is also important to note that crosswalks exist at intersections regardless of a traffic control device (sign or signal).
    As gleaned from ORS 801.220 An unmarked crosswalk is the imagined extension of a sidewalk or shoulder across a street at an intersection. An unmarked crosswalk exists at all intersections unless specifically marked otherwise.

  3. Look drivers in the eyes. Make them know you are about to walk. If they fuss, tell em’ to settle down and get their “undergarment” out of their a$$.

    I mean seriously, it really isn’t a big problem in Portland at all. In the rest of the country (i.e. almost every other city this size) pedestrians might have a written law on their side, but that doesn’t mean a damn when a 1-3 ton vehicle is bearing down on one’s mortal flesh bound body.

    So take control of the situation, and enjoy that eye to eye contact one can actually have in Portland.

  4. Look drivers in the eyes.

    I use the contrary, make sure they see you but avoid letting them know you see them. Many drivers figure if the pedestrian sees them its a game of chicken and they have several tons of steel around them and you don’t.

  5. (Regardless of the fact that people should know the laws,) I really think that they should paint crosswalks on busy intersections, there are a lot of intersections downtown that see thousands of pedestrians a day that don’t have crosswalks, and this seems like a fairly cheap way to make pedestrians safer.

    A couple years ago they did a sting where they’d have non-uniformed police officers cross the street, and then have [uniformed] police officers write tickets to the people that didn’t stop… People complained loudly, saying that it was entrapment, and that the police obviously didn’t have anything more important to do. So they haven’t done one recently. :-(

  6. It’s also worth noting that, even when a pedestrian violates the law and crosses against a signal light or jaywalks (crosses mid-block or otherwise outside of a crosswalk), the scofflaw does not suddenly acquire a bullseye for any driver who isn’t worried about the finish on the front of his car. A driver who hits a crossing law violator simply has a better legal defense than one who hits someone in a crosswalk and may escape charges. The guilt one feels for wiping out a life or crippling a child is not much alleviated by saying, “Hey, she wasn’t in the crosswalk!”

    Drivers are legally required to be alert for road hazards at all times. Hazards include drunks, fools, small children, people having momentary lapses of common sense, etc.

    It’s, I believe, legal to flip off or verbally abuse a jaywalker but it’s a better idea to keep both hands on the wheel and your eyes on the road.

  7. Po-po did a crosswalk sting just this week over by Creston Park/School.

    Interesting to note that the City is removing striped crosswalks in some evolving commercial areas, e.g. the one at 45th and Division (by Stumptown) because they don’t want pedestrians to get a false sense of security.

  8. “Look drivers in the eyes.

    I use the contrary, make sure they see you but avoid letting them know you see them. Many drivers figure if the pedestrian sees them its a game of chicken and they have several tons of steel around them and you don’t.”

    This is the biggest complaint I hear motorists complain to each about, ie: “I was driving the other day, and a pedestrian stepped out right in front of me into a crosswalk without even looking! That’s so dangerous, I could have hit him!”

    This, unfortunately, from my own family. Of course, the minute you bring up how stupidly people drive, they get all uppity about how people shouldn’t be walking anywhere.

    I have found it much better to look at each car very, very carefully, and give ’em the look like, “if you run me over, I’m gonna sue your ass, moron. I ain’t gonna trust you to stop because you probably aren’t paying any attention to the road.” Works quite well.

  9. I had a crazy idea a few months back, when I saw some guy in an SUV with his cell phone at his ear, honk and blow by a stopped school bus with the flashing red lights on and the “STOP” sign out, and children were getting off the bus:
    what if, instead of fining motorists for moving violations, they were instead subject to a 7 day license suspension? If they contested the suspension in court and lost, the judge is required to add another 7 days to the suspension! And, if they’re caught driving while suspended, they forfeit their vehicle?
    That would level the playing field a bit.

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