Crosswalk ‘enforcement missions’ aim to save lives

Some people call it a “sting” operation. But, discover why we agree with the Portland Bureau of Transportation and Portland Police Bureau that these missions are useful and necessary …

Sharon White, from the Portland Bureau of Transportation’s Community and School Traffic Safety Partnership, sets out to cross SE Foster Boulevard during a “crosswalk enforcement action”.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton
No one thinks they’ll be behind the wheel when a pedestrian-versus-vehicle accident occurs. But, as any Portland Police Bureau Traffic Division officer will tell you, drivers’ lives are forever changed – and not for the better – when they maim or kill someone on foot, or riding a bike.

“Even if they’re not at fault,” Traffic Division Sgt. Robert Voepel once told us, “the image of that person hitting their windshield always stays with a driver.”

That’s why police work with the Portland Bureau of Transportation (PBOT) on “crosswalk enforcement actions”, such as the one we observed on outer SE Foster Road on the afternoon of March 5.

With signs – and red flags – like these, posted by the roadside well ahead of the enforcement area in all directions, these missions can hardly be called a “sting”.

A couple of neighbors in the area took exception to the mission, calling it a “sting”. However, A-frame signs – topped with a red flag on a pole – clearly point , to even- semi-alert drivers, that a crossing mission is taking place ahead.

Taking a break from being the “designated crosser” in the marked crosswalk on SE Foster Road at SE 120th Avenue, PBOT’s pedestrian safety outreach and education coordinator, Sharon White, talked about the missions.

“The city takes a three-pronged approach to traffic education safety: Enforcement, engineering, and education. I primarily do the education portion,” White said, adding that SE Foster Road is considered a “high-crash corridor.”

Even though this driver is on the other side of the pedestrian refuge, White pays close attention to all traffic, as she works the mission.

The concept is simple, White said. She looks for a break in traffic, and steps out into the crosswalk. “Police stationed nearby look for drivers who don’t stop for people, including myself, in the crosswalk. They also look for pedestrians who jaywalk or cross unsafely. Violators are issued a warning or ticket or citation, depending upon each situation.”

White says they carry out the missions monthly at locations noted for higher numbers of pedestrian-vs.-car incidents.

Law review
“The law is, drivers must stop and stay stopped when the pedestrian is in the motor lane, in the lane before it, and in the lane after it,” White explained. “In an intersection such as this one – where there is a pedestrian island – the pedestrian island divides the roadway in half.”

But, many people incorrectly believe only a “white-striped” lane across a street is a pedestrian crosswalk. “Every street intersection is a legal pedestrian crossing, whether marked or not,” White reminded.

A Portland Police Bureau Traffic Division officer rolls out to stop an errant driver, and deliver a brief refresher course on pedestrian crossing safety.

“But pedestrians have responsibilities as well! First, they can’t just jump out in front of a vehicle; they have to allow a driver the time and distance to safely stop – or wait. Secondly, they have to show their intent to cross.”

So, if the pedestrian standing on the curb, or at a corner – while it might be courteous for a driver to stop for him or her to cross, the driver is not legally bound to stop. “But once the pedestrian puts a foot into the crossing, it shows their intent to cross, and drivers need to stop.”

Some missions are more challenging than others, White admitted. “From what I’ve seen today, drivers have been very observant of the laws, and are driving well. There have been a couple of drivers who looked like they violated. The police officers will give out warnings or citations – or perhaps a two-hour pedestrian safety class, in lieu of a citation.”

Waiting for a break in traffic, White again resumed her mission.

As fast as our camera can rapid-fire shoot, these four sequential images show how a driver blows past White as she attempts to cross the street.

We watched as the driver of a white Toyota Siena minivan stepped on the accelerator instead of the brake pedal and whizzed past her. Exercising common sense, White stopped and let the speeding vehicle pass.

After the mission, White tallied up the results of the day’s crosswalk enforcement action:

  • 3 tickets for crosswalk violations
  • 2 warnings for crosswalk violations
  • 2 tickets for cell phone violations
  • 1 ticket for DWS
  • 2 warnings for other things not crosswalk related

On both motorcycle and in car, two traffic cops head off to speak with another crosswalk-violating driver.

While we’re not enthusiastic supporters of the police radar speed “gotcha” van, we cover and endorse these missions for several reasons.

  1. It’s the law.
  2. It’s the right thing to do; nobody should be in such a hurry to endanger someone else.
  3. No driver – even in they’re “in the right” – wants to be the one who struck and injured or killed a pedestrian.

Finally, be it raining or sunny, those in a vehicle get to sit in relative comfort while the pedestrian or bicyclist is out braving the elements. And careless motorists.

You’ve been warned …

© 2011 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News

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