Evening ‘crosswalk mission’ demonstrates pedestrian danger

See the hazards they face, when walkers and bikers try to cross busy streets after the sun goes down …

East Portland resident Laura Harlow and her child wait for traffic to clear, before heading north on SE Powell Boulevard at the SE 54th Ave. crosswalk.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton
For East Portland resident Laura Harlow, getting across SE Powell Boulevard got a little easier – after a fully-marked crosswalk, with a pedestrian island, was installed recently. “But it still doesn’t make me feel safe, because Powell Boulevard is such a heavily-traveled main artery.”

As an area resident, Harlow watched with interest, as a decoy “designated walker” – Sharon White from the Portland Bureau of Transportation (PDOT) – hiked across the boulevard during a “Crosswalk Enforcement Mission” not long ago on SE Powell Boulevard.

“We’ve lived in the neighborhood since 2006,” Harlow continued. “A lot of new families have moved into the area like us. We have children, and we cross the street to go to the market or the nursery. Even though the crosswalk has been installed, I would never let my children use it without an adult with them.”

“Pedestrian decoy” Sharon White stops mid-street when the driver of this car lays on his horn and then zooms past her. A motorcycle-riding Traffic Division officer pulled out to make the traffic stop and issue a very expensive ticket.

Watching as a speeding car whizzed right past White in the crosswalk, Harlow added, “It’s good that the police are out here doing this. Maybe it will help people pay attention to pedestrians and crosswalks.”

While some people consider crosswalk missions to be a “gotcha game”, White – a program specialist with the Community and School Traffic Safety Partnership – doesn’t simply jump out into a steady stream of traffic. Instead, she waits for a break in traffic before starting to cross the street.

Whenever nearby motorcycle-mounted officers from the Portland Police Bureau Traffic Division saw a motorist “play chicken” with White, or endanger other pedestrians in this heavily-used crosswalk, one of seven motorcycle cops rolled out with lights flashing and sirens wailing to stop the vehicle.

Portland Police Bureau Traffic Division officers watch for drivers who refuse to let pedestrians cross SE Powell Boulevard.

“Crosswalk enforcement actions are an effective way to communicate pedestrian right-of-way laws to both drivers and those on foot,” stated PDOT spokesman Dan Anderson. “The Transportation Bureau and Police Bureau do enforcement actions in response to community requests, and to educate the general public on the rules at marked and unmarked crossings.”

Taking a brief break, White commented herself on the mission. “It’s interesting doing this in the evening hours. It’s a little harder to judge the speed of cars.  All you see is the headlights. And I’m sure it’s harder for drivers to see me, as well.”

A Traffic Division officer “lights up” another pedestrian-bullying driver.

Although the days will soon be getting longer again, White had these tips for “drive time” motorists traveling in near-darkness:

  • Always be scanning your environment, looking for pedestrians. This is especially important where there are crosswalk pavement markings. But, every intersection – marked or not – is considered a crosswalk.
  • Leave a little space between you and the driver in front of you. If the driver in front of you stops for a pedestrian, you’ll have more time to stop yourself, and avoid a rear-end collision.

Tips for pedestrians:

  • Wear reflective clothing, or light and bright clothing.
  • Put on a flashing strobe or bicycle-type light to be better seen.
  • It’s safer to wait for a break in traffic than to simply hope cars will stop for you.


After these tips, White returned to her mission. Astoundingly, as she crossed the street, one driver laid on his horn because the driver in front of him stopped – then hit the gas and swerved into the next lane, nearly hitting White – and tore off down the street – with a Traffic Division officer following closely behind to make the well-deserved traffic stop.

Not every driver who bullies pedestrians is ticked, White told us the following day. “Five drivers were issued ‘warnings’, but officers did write 40 citations during the mission.”

Stopping for a pedestrian slows a driver’s journey by only seconds. But, hitting a person crossing the street will surely haunt them for the rest of their lives.

PDOT’s pedestrian crossing decoy, Sharon White, steps back as this car zooms through the crosswalk near her.

© 2012 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News

Comments are closed.

© 2005-2021 David F. Ashton East PDX News™. All Rights Reserved.