Reasserting pedestrian rights in Portland
The influx of out-of-staters is making the streets more dangerous
I gotta say, crossing the street as a pedestrian in Portland is much more of a challenge than it used to be! Fortunately for me, I learned how to be assertively safe as a pedestrian when I lived in Boston where the drivers are actively aggressive, so there’s nothing that a driver in Portland (or indeed anywhere on the West Coast) can bring that I can’t handle.
But it’s not me that I’m worried about. It’s the other pedestrians. First because the streets are less safe, but secondly because I am observing that in general pedestrians are becoming more timid, and while I understand that reaction, it’s making the streets more dangerous, not less. A right is being chipped away because it’s not being used.
For those who don’t know, drivers in Oregon are required to stop at any crosswalk as soon as a pedestrian steps off the curb, and remain stopped until they are six feet out of their lane. A crosswalk legally exists at every intersection WHETHER MARKED OR UNMARKED. [link] Basically, a pedestrian in Oregon should barely have to break stride. It’s one of the best aspects of Oregon driving law.
But over the last few years, as the population has increased, and people from other states with less restrictive laws have arrived, they are not stopping when a pedestrian steps off the curb, and not waiting til they’re on the other side. Clearly the trend has been for drivers to seize the right of way when it’s not theirs and for pedestrians to cede it. This will only get worse over time without pushback. There’s a role here for public education and enforcement (the only time I ever cheer for cops is when they do sting operations at crosswalks), but pedestrians can also — must also, I would say — play a part.
I believe that it’s the duty of some pedestrians to help reverse this trend. No, this isn’t for everyone, but for those with the confidence and skill, it’s important to start making the drivers stop. More and more often, what I’ve been doing is holding my palm out, in the universal “stop” gesture, when I step off from the curb looking directly at the driver until the cars actually come to a stop. One can do…