Many times I’ve gently mentioned to the driver of a car I’m a passenger in that the pedestrian attempting to cross the street at the corner ahead of us, despite the lack of a marked crosswalk or stop sign, has the right of way. And almost as often time I’m scoffed at by the driver, who insists that my assertion is nonsense. Perhaps this makes me a self-righteous pedant and backseat driver, but it also demonstrates the ignorance of many drivers.
Sharon White, the Portland Office of Transportation‘s traffic safety program specialist, explains the crosswalk rules of the road in an article in the Tribune today:
- Every intersection is considered a crosswalk, White says, even those that are unmarked. Stoplights and stop signs take precedence. But if it’s an intersection with neither of those and a pedestrian steps into the street to cross, he or she has the right of way.
- Bicyclists are required to follow the same rules of the road as motorists, which means they need to yield the right of way to pedestrians at crosswalks just as automobile drivers do. And if they’re caught in one of the crosswalk enforcement operations, they do get ticketed.
- As for pedestrians, it isn’t enough to stand on the sidewalk looking longingly at the other side of the street. Pedestrians need to show intent to cross, White says. And they do that by taking at least one step into the crosswalk. Also, pedestrians must provide drivers adequate distance to stop, White says.
I’ve often wondered if ignorance of these laws might be partially remedied by an educational campaign like those used by the buckle-your-seatbelt and the anti-drunk-driving people; e.g. billboards, television commercials, and a back-to-school special.
I’m halfway on this one… I know that I’m supposed to stop and try to when I see them in time. But I consciously make the decision not to in some cases. If there is an intersection with a crosswalk a block in either direction, as there is on many pedestrian heavy streets like Hawthorne or Mississippi – I won’t stop. It would be very possible on streets like those to end up stopping at every single intersection. That’s just going to ’cause traffic issues, get people’s blood boiling and cause more problems. Stopping at the crosswalks only every third block or so – and requiring the peds to walk to those crosswalks makes more sense.
Not me driving!
divebarwife – I agree it’s not always clear cut. I think common courtesy should be exercised by both pedestrians and drivers. Often times drivers aren’t even thinking about courtesy because they think they have the right of way when they don’t. But I vaguely recall reading something once suggesting that pedestrians should use marked crosswalks when available within some number of yards. Or something. In any case I think both drivers and pedestrians are largely ignorant of the laws.
Heather – Not you of course! 😉
I love people like divebarwife who cruise around in their cars thinking 3 blocks is nothing. When you’re walking with a child or a load of groceries or just walking home at the end of a long day, having to walk up 3 blocks to cross and back 3 blocks to where you want to be is frigging far. So what if you, poor motorist, have to stop at every intersection? That’s what driving in the city is all about. No one enforces the damn laws, so you can get away with ignoring them, but one day you’ll be too old to drive and you’ll be dragging your little shopping cart along and ignorant motorists will make you walk 6 blocks in sweltering heat or freezing cold because they can’t be bothered to stop to let you cross.
XUP – Amen. On the rare occasions I drive a car, I’m especially conscious and careful of pedestrians and their rights of way in pedestrian-rich environments. Cars have freeways after all; all I want is my sidewalk and urban crosswalks!
I am constantly being hit on by guys on bikes.
Wait, that came out wrong.
You are spot on. I’m also someone that, when riding in the car, feels the need to call out when a pedestrian is up ahead, looking to cross the street. It’s sad really – I’m not a backseat driver, but I am a backseat pedestrian caller-outer.
Kiala – In the past year of walking to work every day when I’ve had the right of way in a crosswalk a grand total of two cyclists actually stopped for me, as opposed to swerving recklessly around me as if I’m an annoyance to them and have no right to the pavement. Both of those cyclists were guys. It is my hope that they we being considerate and law abiding, not hitting on me.
Christian – I’d rather be known as a “backseat pedestrian caller-outer” than a “self-righteous pedant and backseat driver.” I may use that! 😉
Every time a friend visits Portland they are astonished at how considerate the drivers are here compared to where they are from. Are the Portland more strict or is it the culture?
Speaking as a pedestrian, I do not cross in the middle of the block, always at the corner and wait to venture out until there are no cars coming in either direction . If it is a marked crosswalk or lighted crosswalk I am a little more trusting. Most cars will stop but I have never seen a bicyclist yield to a pedestrian. One of the most sensible things I ever saw was in Calgary on a street much like Division before 82nd. At designated crosswalks, if a pedestrian wanted to cross they could push a button which would start a large sign over the road flashing to warn drivers a pedestrian was crossing the street.
VF – I think the laws are similar in most places, but Portlanders in general are probably more conscious of pedestrians than people in more car-centric communities.
Sadie – Marking and lights are definitely good reminders to drivers that pedestrians are present. I wish, though, that drivers were more aware of the legal rights of pedestrians.
I walked to work–once–a couple weeks ago, and drivers were very polite. But this could be because I’m amazingly, shockingly, good looking.
But when I’m driving in my neighborhood, which is on many levels the most dense neighborhood in this city, I roll like I’m in a grocery store parking lot. People are drunk, or they are lugging 15 Pottery Barn shopping bags, or they are very busy putting their arms in the air and going “Wooo!” I wish I were kidding.
But it’s amazing how often I hear screeching tires and accidents from my apartment window.
Oh! I just remembered! And I promise this will be my last comment. Maybe.
I remember when I was living carfree in Boston ten years ago, I had my arms full of groceries and it was pouring rain. I crossed against a light, as ALL Bostonians do, and a cro-magnon in a truck nearly ran me down.
“You couldn’t wait 5 more seconds??” He yelled and sped off. I didn’t have time to respond, as I am not a quick wit. But if I had, I would have pointed out that it was raining, I was carrying heavy groceries, and anyone with common courtesy can lay off the gas pedal for 2 seconds for a ped standing in a monsoon. And also, I would have said, “You’re a douche.”
Heather – You should get your own blog!
Oh wait, you have a blog 😉
Jenni Simonis says
I wish more people would stop for peds. I always try to stop if at all possible, but sometimes they come up to the crosswalk when I’m too close to safely stop. And I always feel bad that I wasn’t able to stop.
What drives me crazy is right at my daughter’s elementary school, the cars will park right up to the crosswalk. So you can’t see if kids are waiting to cross. We’ve been considering doing a crossing guard, but I don’t know it would be safe for that person. I think we need to get a no parking zone right in that area first so that there’s enough room for the crossing guard to safely be there.
Just today I went to a meeting on NW 23rd and was at a marked crosswalk at Savier. I had to stand there partially out in the road as several cars passed. Every single one of them could have stopped.