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Reduce dangers of street crossings

On the very same day that The Outlook recently published an article about the high risk of crossing the street in East County, yet another pair of pedestrians was struck while walking across Southeast Division Street near 176th Avenue.

In that particular incident, which occurred March 22, the injured parties apparently weren't following the safest course - they were attempting to navigate the five lanes of Division at an unmarked crossing. But their misfortune serves to underscore just how dangerous the major East County thoroughfares have become for people on foot this year.

Whether a rash of 2008 pedestrian-vehicle accidents is due to driver inattention or to pedestrian recklessness is a matter of perspective. If you're behind the wheel, you probably have grown irritated at times when pedestrians step into the street without much regard for whether oncoming traffic has time to stop. And if you're a walker, you probably have ground-level experience with drivers who are oblivious to the presence of anything that's not encased in a few thousand pounds of metal.

False security for pedestrians?

This conflict between motorists and pedestrians seems to be worsening, and we're not convinced that the addition of mid-block crosswalks - without signals - on local boulevards has done much to help the situation. The city of Gresham has placed these crosswalks at spots on major roads where pedestrians have been known to make a dash across the street. Crosswalks have been added or already existed on Powell Boulevard, Division Street, Stark Street and Eastman Parkway.

Our observation is that crosswalks without signals provide a sense of security for pedestrians that isn't always accompanied with the appropriate level of respect and attention from drivers. But we are encouraged by the fact that the city of Gresham has a plan for evaluating whether these so-called 'uncontrolled' crosswalks are working and whether they have become too numerous.

Jay McCoy, city transportation engineer, says Gresham will hire summer interns this year to inventory all the uncontrolled crosswalks. The end result could be removal of some of those crosswalks.

One obvious problem with the no-signal crosswalks is that they can create a dangerous dynamic on streets with multiple lanes - a category that includes many east-west arterials in Gresham. On those roads, drivers in the right lane can easily see pedestrians as they enter a mid-block crosswalk, but when those drivers stop, they obscure vision for motorists in the left lane.

As McCoy says, 'The right lane stops. The left lane doesn't stop.'

The solution to this hazard is to have overhead devices at each crosswalk warning all lanes of traffic that a pedestrian is in the street. The obstacle, of course, is money. The preferred devices cost $75,000 apiece.

Better controls, school zone needed

Gresham lacks funds to erect overhead devices at every crosswalk that needs one, but we are pleased to see the city take a fresh look at the uncontrolled crosswalks to determine whether some should be upgraded and others removed.

Another positive development is the discussions between the city and the Gresham-Barlow School District over whether Northeast Division Street near Gresham High School ought to be marked as a school zone. The cost of a flashing light for that zone is $15,000 - and we encourage both the district and the city to dig for funding to create the school zone.

That stretch of Division is the scene of many near misses between cars and students on foot. A forced slowdown for traffic would reduce the dangers.

Providing better controls on Division and other major streets will increase safety. The major factor in pedestrian safety, however, will always be responsible behavior on the part of individuals. Pedestrians should take the time to make eye contact - and even signal to drivers if necessary - when entering a street at an uncontrolled crosswalk.

And drivers must keep in mind that they have a legal and certainly a moral obligation to stop whenever a pedestrian steps into a crosswalk - signal or not.