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Risky crossings?

Four people are hit by vehicles at East County crosswalks in the last three months
by: John Klicker, staff photo by JOHN KLICKER
The new crosswalks along Division Street in Gresham give students at Gresham High School a designated spot to cross the busy street. Several recent accidents have raised concerns about whether the signs and road stripes provide a safe crossing.

Four pedestrians were struck in Gresham-area crosswalks in the past three months - the same number as in all of 2007.

• On March 11, a motorist hit two pedestrians, Nicole Matthews, 19, and Natasha Lisher, 18, as they crossed at Meinig Avenue and Pioneer Boulevard.

• On Feb. 22, a driver hit a woman with a toddler crossing at Southeast Stark Street and 179th Avenue.

• On Dec. 21, Troutdale resident Charn Saechao, 46, was run over by a truck at the Interstate 84/Exit 17 crosswalk.

Saechao was seriously injured, while the victims in the other two accidents received non-life-threatening injuries.

Crosswalk safety - particularly at mid-block crosswalks - is an important issue, say pedestrians as well as motorists who have their own stories of not seeing pedestrians.

Last summer, Gresham police officers conducted a sort of sting operation, using decoy pedestrians at a crosswalk at the corner of Proctor Boulevard and Strauss Avenue. In three hours, they stopped 27 vehicles for crosswalk violations.

The city of Gresham has been adding marked mid-block crosswalks - those with white striping - as part of boulevard improvement programs. Recent crossing improvements include:

• Powell Boulevard, west of city limits to Burnside Road.

• Gresham Fairview Trail, from Burnside to Halsey Street.

• Division Street, from Wallula to Kelly avenues.

• Stark Street, from 181st to 190th avenues.

• Eastman Parkway, from Burnside to Towle Avenue.

Some crosswalks - such as the one on Stark Street between Burnside and 223rd - were constructed by Multnomah County.

'We have increased the number of crosswalks,' said Sandra Doubleday, associate planner. 'We've put them on Stark, and we're putting in more mid-block crosswalks than we have in the past.'

Doubleday said city employees install marked crosswalks after a resident or business-owner approaches them. They then do a study of the crossing area in order to determine the need.

'We do a study as to finding out how many people were actually crossing the area,' Doubleday said. 'Because if we had a crosswalk at every intersection it wouldn't do any good. So what we are trying to do is make sure that we cover everybody's needs.'

The pedestrian accidents raise questions of safety.

'Mid-block crossings are not as safe as intersection crosswalks,' said Jonathan David, Gresham senior planner, environmental services. 'If you do an improved mid-block crossing, it is five to seven times more dangerous than an unmarked mid-block crossing.'

That's because the pedestrian is more aware when he's crossing the street at an unmarked, mid-block crossing, David said.

The city is looking into adding additional safety features to crosswalks, including pedestrian-activated lighting and overhead lighting.

'You have to have a balance; if there is a large pedestrian usage, you have to make sure they are safe,' he said. 'There has to be a need.'

Doubleday says it's also the pedestrian's responsibility to be safe.

'It's partly the pedestrian's responsibility to actually be as safe as possible,' she said. 'They can't just walk out in front of cars, either.'