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Powell 'Crosswalk Mission' done to protect pedestrians

Even though the crosswalk is clearly marked at S.E. Powell Boulevard at 31st Avenue, pedestrians crossing there continue to be narrowly missed by vehicles – and, more than occasionally, are struck – as happened most recently on the evening of January 9th.

by: DAVID F. ASHTON - A PPB Traffic Division officer heads out to have a talk with, and possibly write a citation for, yet another driver who violated the crosswalk safety law on S.E. Powell Boulevard at 31st Street.Consequently, the Portland Police Bureau (PPB) Traffic Division and Portland Bureau of Transportation (PBOT) again joined forces from 1 to 2:30 pm on January 23, to conduct a “crosswalk enforcement action”, again intended to raise awareness of pedestrian safety and traffic law in the area.

PPB Traffic Division Sergeant Robert Voepel was mounted on his idling police motorcycle watching from the nearby Motel 6 parking lot as PBOT staffer Sharon White, as usual the “designated crosser”, repeatedly made her way across Powell Boulevard during the mission.

“This is a busy crosswalk,” Voepel remarked. “There have been several fatalities in this area during the last couple years.”

It’s the Traffic Division officers who are called to investigate all “pedestrian struck” accidents; and Voepel told THE BEE that he’s seen his share of them. “It’s always sad to be called to the scene of a struck-pedestrian accident. We know that, most likely, the result will be someone either seriously injured, or dead.”

At the posted speed at this point on Powell, 35 mph, “The potential of a pedestrian-struck fatality sharply increases. It takes a lot out of each of the officers who has to come out to investigate them. It is a sad, but necessary, function that we have to do.”

Having police officers out and visible during these missions briefly changes many drivers’ behaviors, Voepel commented. “I see drivers correcting their actions. They put down their cell phones, they pull on their seat belts, and they tend to stop for pedestrians.

“We’d like to help orient people to doing that all the time, even when we’re not out here doing this.”

Many of these accidents happen because of “distracted driving”, Voepel said. Beyond driving sober, not using a cell phone – or even eating while behind the wheel – it’s really important just to be patient, he advised. “If you see a pedestrian waiting to cross the road, take the time to let them cross. And, if you see a car stopping in the next lane, really slow down to figure out why they're stopping; it could be for a pedestrian.”

By the way, it’s not just a good idea – it’s the law! It is illegal for a vehicle to pass a stopped vehicle at a crosswalk (ORS 811.020).

Officers also have advice for pedestrians. Even though they may have the right-of-way, don’t enter a lane of traffic without “clearing it” first. “If there are multiple lanes, look at each lane before you walk into it. Treat each lane separately, as its own threat. If pedestrians simply do that, they’ll increase their safety by a great margin.”

After this traffic mission, White tallied up the statistics of her 90-minutes of crossing and re-crossing the street: Traffic Division officers wrote twenty-one Citations and gave eight Warning Citations; twenty-two motorists were cited for pedestrian-related violations – Failure to Stop, or Passing Stopped Vehicle; there were seven cell-phone violations; and there was one seatbelt violation cited.

Both the Police Bureau and PBOT consider crosswalk enforcement actions to be an effective way to communicate pedestrian right of way laws to both drivers and pedestrians. A similar action, held at this intersection on June 29, 2011 resulted in thirty-two violations and eight warnings. Why does THE BEE regularly report on all these “crosswalk missions” in Inner Southeast Portland…? To raise driver and pedestrian awareness and, we hope, perhaps to save a life or two.