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Cop repeatedly endangered in Powell crosswalk mission

by: DAVID F. ASHTON - As Officer Goodrich courageously continues to risk his life crossing Powell Boulevard in the background, a Traffic Division Officer takes off to stop and cite a driver who narrowly missed him in the crosswalk during the Powell Boulevard pedestrian mission - a mission clearly announced on sandwich-board signs in advance of the mission location, for those keeping their eyes on the road. On the morning of June 27, it became clear to Portland Police Traffic Division Officer Joe Goodrich why so many pedestrians find S.E. Powell Boulevard so scary to cross.

From 8 am to noon that day, Portland Police officers were working a Crosswalk Enforcement Action mission, in conjunction with the Portland Bureau of Transportation (PBOT), on Powell at the S.E. 31st Avenue crosswalk.

PBOT High Crash Corridor Safety Program Specialist Sharon White, whose nerves of steel have made her the usual “designated crosser” in these missions, started the morning in that role. White always waits for a break in traffic before she steps cautiously into the crosswalk. Even with A-frame signs, decorated with a red flag on a pole, and big red traffic cone marking off the boundary of the Crosswalk Enforcement Action, several motorists always drive past White as she tries to cross the street.

After Sharon braved traffic and oblivious drivers for some time, Officer Goodrich, dressed in his official police uniform and wearing a bright orange safety vest, gave White a little time off by taking her place in the crosswalk.

At the first break in traffic, Goodrich stepped out to walk north in the pedestrian crosswalk.. He made it halfway through one lane of traffic when a car shot past, missing him by about three feet. The speed of the passing vehicle caused the officer’s safety vest to flutter in the wind.

Watching this near miss was Portland Police Traffic Division Sergeant Robert Voepel. He commented to THE BEE, “You need a full traffic lane, plus six feet, before you drive by a pedestrian.” And since that is the law, he started up his motorcycle and pulled out to cite the negligent driver.

Meantime, Officer Goodrich was manfully again dodging cars and trucks as he walked to the south side of Powell Boulevard. There, he stopped to talk with us.

“It's a little scary, stepping out in front of cars and trucks that are probably traveling over the speed limit,” Goodrich commented grimly. “It looks like people are distracted, and not stopping.”

Because Traffic Division officers are called to investigate crashes, he said he’s been called to some of the worst. “Not long ago, a serious pedestrian injury accident, at this intersection, was captured on video. To see the pedestrian hit by the car, and fly up in the air, and land on the pavement – it was very traumatic to watch.

“My experience here today reinforces for me that I need to make sure my own kids know to always look both ways, several times, before you cross the street,” Goodrich went on. “Expect the drivers to not see you. Another lesson is, if one car is stopped for you to cross the street, look before you go into the next lane – that other car may not stop.”

Sergeant Voepel circled back after issuing his citation, and parked his motorcycle. “People still don’t see pedestrians. They’re busy trying to get where they’re going, distracted by their thoughts or cell phones, and not paying attention to their surroundings,” he commented.

To cited drivers, it’s just a traffic ticket. But to officers working these missions, “We’re educating them; like earlier today. A line of cars stopped in the lane, waiting for the pedestrian to cross. This driver drove right past those cars – and if Officer Goodrich hadn’t paused and looked around the stopped car, she would've hit him.”

Here’s the law: A driver must stop, and remain stopped, for pedestrians. “The other law is that if vehicles are stopped at a crosswalk, vehicles in the next lane need to slow down, and be ready to stop,” Voepel said. “Do not drive past those vehicles, until you know for a fact that the crosswalk is clear.”

It was jaw-dropping for us to watch, as Goodrich had one close call after another as while cautiously crossing Powell Boulevard in a marked crosswalk.

PDOT’s fearless Sharon White later gave THE BEE statistics from the 3½ hour mission:

· Traffic citations: 55

· Failure to stop and remain stopped for a pedestrian: 45

· Traffic warnings: 20

· Cell phone violation: 9

· Failure to carry proof of insurance: 2

· Driving over the speed limit: 2

· Failure to use a seatbelt: 2

· Driving with Suspended License: 1

With these numbers, its clear why PBOT has named S.E. Powell Boulevard a High Crash Corridor, and has repeatedly held these pedestrian missions there.

The Police Bureau received funding for this mission from Oregon Impact, which pays for staff time conducting at as many as four extended Crosswalk Enforcement Actions along our High Crash Corridors, White told us.

She observed that, based on the results of this mission, they no doubt will return to this location in the future to conduct yet another Crosswalk Enforcement Action under this grant.