Killing Pedestrians

By Frank Dufay of Portland, Oregon. Previously, Frank contributed "Buy local, dammit!"

I almost killed a guy last week.

I stopped for him as he approached the crosswalk at Burnside and the Park Blocks. I was in the right lane, and traffic was well behind me in the left. A no-brainer courtesy stop, though, of course, its the law too.

In the left lane though...the SUV kept racing. As the pedestrian crossed in front of my car, I could only think "wait!" But he kept moving on. I sat there, frozen in the moment, waiting for the impact.

The pedestrian retreated, to the safety in front of my car, at the last moment, but not before the SUV driver slammed on his brakes. Hard. Then behind him, the junker car smashed into the SUV, pushing it well past the crosswalk. Broken glass and twisted metal lay in the street.

What madness is this?

After we'd all pulled over, the women whose car was in ruins -- the SUV hardly dented -- was crying, the pedestrian long gone, the SUV driver clearly shaken. While they exchanged drivers licenses -- I asked him, he of the SUV: "why do you think I was stopped there?"

"I didn't know, I couldn't see."

"You couldn't see? So you kept speeding..."

I shut up. I was too angry. Besides, I was complicit. I'd stopped, he didn't -- they almost never do -- and, well, my parting words to him as I gave the second car my name and number: "you're lucky you didn't kill someone."

But wasn't it my fault too? I could've pretended not to see the pesdestrian at the crosswalk, as most of us do. Let him wait for one of those "gaps" in traffic that transportation professionals like to talk about? But I obeyed the law...and almost got a guy killed.

There's something very wrong with this picture.

  • Robert H. (unverified)

    Interestingly, the Portland police apparently don't care when pedestrians are hit by vehicles if there is not a death. A few months ago, my wife and I were in a crosswalk, with the crossing signal, when a man speeding down NE Broadway made a left turn without looking for pedestrians. He narrowly missed me but hit my wife. She was knocked backward ten or twelve feet, but remarkably had nothing broken and no bleeding injuries. She still suffers pain and stiffness, and her summer is basically ruined because she cannot do the activities she enjoys for sustained periods of time.

    When the police arrived, they talked to the driver and my wife, but they did not talk to me or any of the other numerous witnesses. The did not give the driver a ticket, and I later discovered that the police did not even file a report.

    Given the number of pedestrians killed lately by vehicles, you would think the cops would be a little more interested in cases like this.

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    And the irony of course is that the driver of the third car is the one whose insurance will skyrocket. She rear ended the SUV, therefore was following too closely, therefore will be liable.

    But there is a bigger question here: are the crosswalks really safe for pedestrians? There was a story in the paper recently about the City's refusal to put a pedestrian walkway at the new Firestation museum on Belmont because there is a signalled crosswalk just one block away. The City said it was far safer for pedestrians to use the signalled crosswalk.

    I observe the behavior you describe multiple times per week on Powell between 39th and 26th, taking my son to Cleveland. I've tutored him on the crosswalks--especially what it means when one car is stopped on the right.

    But the SUV is right in that he/she could not have seen a thing. The pedestrian was hidden behind your car. Were you stopped? Slowing? It would be defensive driving to tap your brakes and slow when a car is slowing ahead of you, but this is very easy to miss.

    I think the crosswalks need to be seriously reconsidered, and if necessary, a light installed (such as is in place at 17th and Powell).

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    It's good to reconsider these questions, but the law is pretty clear here--as Frank noted. Rather than add a bunch of lights which would only slow the flow of traffic (making drivers like the SUV more impatient), I would like to see a concerted effort by the police to ticket drivers. This kind of action worked when people were flying around (and crashing into) the Terwilliger curves. It incentivizes civility by creating a financial deterrent. Eventually, it would revert to normal habits of driving.

    Thanks for the post, Frank.

  • Bill Holmer (unverified)

    The problem is partly the law and partly inconsistent enforcement. Frank is right that the law says you're supposed to stop when someone is "approaching" the crosswalk. But drivers can't always devine the intent of the pedestrian, and frequently the pedestrian wisely stops at the curb anyway. So the drivers aren't sure what they're supposed to do and neither are the pedestrians.

    Then there's inconsistent enforcement. You have unfortunate situations like paul encountered where no ticket was issued, and in other jurisdictions you can have a pedestrian step into a crosswalk on the far side of a four lane road with a median in the middle, and someone on the other side gets a ticket, even though the driver wasn't anywhere close to impeding the pedestrian's right of way.

    The law should be that the pedestrian has the right of way when he or she is actually in the crosswalk (not just approaching it), and the driver may proceed through the crosswalk if not unreasonably impeding the right of way of the pedestrian.

    If both pedestrians and drivers alike know what the law is, and it is enforced with reasonable uniformity, then there will be far fewer unfortunate incidents like those described.

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    Presumably, police treat peds the same way they treat bicyclists: they don't file reports unless someone is entered into the trauma system at the scene, a decision made by the ambulance companies. That is, you can be taken to the hospital, but if you're not designated a "trauma" patient, the police will do an exchange report (participants exchange information for insurance companies), but no police report (which requires significant time and effort).

    That said, the pedestrian probably should have stayed on the scene and exchanged information as well.

  • THE WOLFE (unverified)

    Killing Pedestrians? Big fan!

  • Amy Jenniges (unverified)

    Following up on what Evan said—

    Robert, if the police didn't do a police report, it's possible they still did an exchange report. If so, you can try to have the driver cited. See's full coverage of the recently-discovered 'citizen initiated traffic enforcement' process - check out details here.

    The links on that page are especially helpful in walking through the steps.

  • Jon (unverified)

    See's full coverage of the recently-discovered 'citizen initiated traffic enforcement' process

    Interesting...I wish I should have known about that when I was hit by a bicyclist while walking on the sidewalk downtown.

  • Paul Johnson (unverified)

    Sounds like a good example of why Oregon should require testing to get an Oregon license when moving in from out of state and every two years mandatory instead of only if you forget to renew on time once every eight years...

  • rex Burkholder (unverified)

    Another angle is road design that encourages high speed driving. There is little reason for cars to travel more than 25 mph in cities (in most of northern Europe city speed limit is 30kph or about 18 mph) yet we have many non-highway roads posted at 35 - 45 mph. And designed, per national standards, to be safe when driving 10mph over the posted limit. If you ever wondered why these streets seem so wide and anti-pedestrian this is the reason: they are meant to be.

    Why does this matter? If a pedestrian is hit by a car going 20 mph their chance of survival is 90%. if they are hit by a car going 40 mph their chances drop to only 1 in 10.

    High speeds are appropriate where there are no pedestrians (or cyclists) expected, that's what the freeway system is for. These kind of situations will continue to happen (and be seen as "tragic accidents") as long as the road design is skewed to high speed traffic rather than safety for all users.

    Metro is launching an update of its regional transportation plan as part of its "New Look" long rang planning effort. These issues are some of what i'd like to see argued about. What kind of community do we want this place to be? Adding a million more people will be unbearable if they all rely on cars to get where they need to go. Your take on this?

    Jump on in.

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    And the irony of course is that the driver of the third car is the one whose insurance will skyrocket.

    Not if I can help it, which is why I gave her and my wife's info as witnesses.

    But there is a bigger question here: are the crosswalks really safe for pedestrians?

    The mantra out of PDOT is that they "create a false sense of security." I don't buy it. (And more recent studies don't bear that out.) More importantly, though, is if marked crosswalks are NOT adequate, then the responsibility falls on us to find a mechanism that DOES make walkers safe. I hear a lot of talk from PDOT about "gaps" where we can run our way through traffic. I think we need to change the paradigm...pedestrians are the most important part of the traffic flow. We're ALL pedestrians at one time or another, especially the most vulnerable among us, our children, and the elderly.

    But the SUV is right in that he/she could not have seen a thing. The pedestrian was hidden behind your car. Were you stopped? Slowing?

    The SUV was nowhere near in the right. I was stopped at a crosswalk, and a well-marked one to boot. And the SUV driver was well behind me, speeding and not paying attention. I would think that if he was, one might consider what it means to have a car stopped at a crosswalk. And, not to get legalistic, its the law. The fact is, to too many drivers, pedestrians are invisible. I don't know how manty times I've read of drivers hitting pedestrians and they didn't see them because "the light was in their eyes." Perhaps that should suggest to us, if you can't need to STOP your several thousand pound vehicle until you can safely proceed?

    Thanks for the feedback. As we increase density, and become more multi-modal, we're really going to have to address the unlevel playing field that currently exists on our streets.

  • Jonathan Maus (unverified)

    I highly recommend this video interview from BikeTV with Enrique Penalosa, former Mayor of Bogota. He transformed that city by taking drastic measures to increase the safety of pedestrians and make the streets more appealing to non-motorized traffic. His mantra is simple:

    "The essence of the conflict today is cars and people. We can have a city that is very friendly to cars or a city that is very friendly to people, we cannot have both."

    And just to re-iterate what Rex's a graphic from PDOT, "The effects of speed on stopping distance".

    other thoughts on this ...but will have to chime in more later..

  • Harold Cade (unverified)

    I can attest from personal experience, just today, that Robert is right. A cop was sitting at the Plaid Pantry on 39th and Gladstone and I went to cross, in the crosswalk, with the walk sign. As I started across a pickup that wanted to turn left from Gladstone onto 39th paused for me. 1/2 way across the walk sign turned to don't walk, and the woman in the pickup- full eye contact at least twice- hit the gas and headed straight for me. She came so close that I could feel her door handle against my back pocket as she went past. I walked back to the cop, who had been watching the whole thing. He was laughing and when I asked why he hadn't pursued her, he flat out said, "She didn't hit you".

  • Steve Bucknum (unverified)

    And now we know why so many people are moving to rural areas like mine. Traffic really does stop when someone APPROACHES a cross walk here.

    Except for hunting season. Then we've got all the out of town folks passing through to go camping/hunting in the hills. This is the time of years when parents warn their children not to trust people to stop.

    And where do this out of towners come from? A place where the police don't give a rip about cross walk enforcement.

  • jim karlock (unverified)

    Jonathan Maus: And just to re-iterate what Rex's a graphic from PDOT, "The effects of speed on stopping distance". JK:Why does your chart shows a 200 ft stopping distance for 30 mph while page 33 of the Oregon driver’s manual shows only 112 feet. (

    Looks like more anti mobility crap coming out of PDOT.

    BTW: they are right about crosswalks: marking a crosswalk never improves safety and sometimes degrades safety as Frank found. see:

    Thanks JK

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    I am sorry to hear about your wife. I hope she can make a quick recovery.

    Personally, I have my own horror story although slightly diffrent. In November of 2003 I was pulling out of the 7-11 on 181st (this is the one just down from 181st and Halsey across from Shari's), looked both ways and crossed the median to head south on 181st when I pedistrian ran across the road. Everything happened so quickly I only reacted after he hit my windshield.

    The police and paramedics showed up a few minutes later. The guy didn't have any serious injuries. The police cited me for for reckless driving (which I disputed) and I pointed out that they need to cite him for J-walking.

    In the end I fought it in court and won. My car was damaged and I had to pay a $500 deductable.

  • Thedude (unverified)

    Please Steve Bucknum cut down on the Dreamy Rural life stuff. While your "perfect" rural people might stop for "white folk" lets see what happens when a minority comes to town. I'm happy you like the rural life style, but does every conversation here at Blueoregon from you have to be about how the big cities don't get us, they bring all the bad things to our town. Whenever I have vistors come to town I almost always find myself making exuses for the rude behavior of rural folks we see while touring the state. Its a common theme, great friendly people in PDX, great natural beauty around the state, scary rural folks. So please tone down the rural cheerleading. There are bad Drivers all around the state.

  • Harold Cade (unverified)

    David, you're right that a lot of pedestrians aren't exactly trying to make things easier either. From my experience the other day, though, you can see how one set of behaviors fuels the other. After almost getting hit I was transferring from one Tri-Met bus to another about 15 minutes later. To make the second bus, I had to run out in front of the blind traffic on the busses left, when the light was green for them. I have never before considered doing that, but after the cop's reaction I just didn't give a damn.

    General question: Is it taken as a given that the only people using Tri-Met exclusively are people that can't afford cars and that everyone that bikes does so for their health? There's a significant number of us that could buy an automobile outright, cash on the barrelhead, don't give a flip for our healths, but have given our cars away for grenner options because other people won't be responsible. I also don't have any kids for the same reason. And I don't know anyone living that way that expects any kind of appreciation or even understanding. But when you have to put up with overt hostility and people trying to kill you, well, that's when I loose it.

  • PlaquemineParishSD (unverified)

    Then we've got all the out of town folks passing through to go camping/hunting in the hills.

    Steve, here in rural Louisiana we call that a revenue opportunity. You need to get you a gung ho sheriff's deputy sittin' out on the main corner at 7am on Saturday. Cuts down on local taxes, too.

  • Master of Reality (unverified)


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    whoops...sorry about that...end italics

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    Ok, now that that's fixed

    I understand what your saying about giving up a car. For the past two and a half years I've been living in Korea teaching English. While I've been here I haven't had a car, so I use public transporation. There are foreigners here with cars and licenses, but personally no one could pay me enough money to drive here.

    Seriously, if you think Portland is bad, they are worse here. Plus there are motorcycles and mopids (spelling?) everwhere. Traffic lights are a joke, as people still go through the them when they are red.

    My hope when I get back is to be able to use public transportation to goto work, but own a car to use only spearingly. Another consideration has to be the price of gas as well (which is a totally diffrent subject).

  • Steve Bucknum (unverified)

    TheDude writes, "Please Steve Bucknum cut down on the Dreamy Rural life stuff. While your "perfect" rural people might stop for "white folk" lets see what happens when a minority comes to town."

    You know, I didn't make my point very well. My point was, over here we enforce cross walks, and people obay cross walks. You are safe in a cross walk here - until it is one of those times of year when lots of people come here from places where it isn't enforced. Enforcement works, in other words.

    Now about your racist comment. Rural people are not racists. We have a large Latino population here, and not one problem.

    Now about your unfriendly comment - "Whenever I have vistors come to town I almost always find myself making exuses for the rude behavior of rural folks we see while touring the state." When I'm doing my appraisal thing, and I'm talking to people moving here, I ask why they decided to move here. To a person they say, "because the people are so friendly."

    Yes, rural life is great. I like it here, and I am unabashed in my liking it, and I'm not going to change.

    What I lament is that the urban parts of our State are losing out. When I visit Portland, and I grew up there, I see a town that has worse air, is dirtier, and where people don't seem to care as much as they used to. Maybe that is just some rosy enhanced memory of my childhood, but I think not. I wish I could bring to you in Portland some of what we have here - the way Oregon, all of Oregon used to be.

    I'm just crazy enough to think that people can make a difference, and can make improvements. Change happens when people know that an alternative exists, that there is hope that the alternative can be achieved, and they have a way to express that hope with action.

    I like to think that my contributions are varied. Yes, I like to poke a stick in the side of the fancified city folks who think they have all the answers - for me. But I also think that I offer perspective, hope, options, and occasionally provoke a thought or two. I haven't just sat on the side lines talking either, I have been active in the Democratic Party getting things done. I was the main mover in getting the Rural Caucus going, I wrote some parts of the recently adopted Democratic Party Platform, and I remain active in my County - including a current Congressional campaign.

    TheDude, I'm sorry you don't believe in what you call my "Dreamy Rural stuff". I don't lie or exaggerate here (except for a couple jokes), and life really can be better.

    "Life really can be better" ought to be a core Democratic value.

  • Thedude (unverified)

    You have to understand that life for many of us is better here in the city, but I don't at every opportunity bash rural folk about their way of life and its limited opportunites. The rural world seems to have a very big chip on its shoulder. The people of your world are no better or worse then the city folk.

    As for Portland being better in the good old days of your youth, I beg to differ. The options of today cannot be beat. Yes the air maybe a bit dirtier (prove it) but man do we have some great restaurant choices!!

  • LT (unverified)

    The dude: As someone who has lived in rural areas (incl. 7th and 8th grade rural school and 4-H), big city (Detroit, MI) and a variety of other places, I wonder if you are a serious person or just a young smart aleck. People living in all those places are people just the same, although it has been my experience that small town people can be a lot friendlier.

    Those of us who don't live in the Portland area are just as much Oregonians as those who do--and generally statewide candidates need to win downstate as well as Portland. If things go well this year, the Democrats may take over the Oregon House because hard working candidates in mid-Willamette Valley counties win state rep. elections.

    But maybe you don't really care about that--as long as you have great restaurant choices, nothing else matters.

  • Thedude (unverified)

    Maybe you missed this "The people of your world are no better or worse then the city folk." Its the myth that rural people are somehow more noble and more American then city folk that I'm commenting on. From my point of view people are people no matter where they live, so can we get off the rural high horse.

  • Harry (unverified)

    We moved from Portland to Central Oregon 6 years ago....and many more PDXers have followed us over here since then.

    My son today just bought a bumber sticker (after repeating the saying for 3-4 years):

    "If it is tourist season, then why can't we shoot them?"

    And yes, we stop for all pedestrians (both locals and cone lickers), even if it backs up traffic way outta the town of Sisters.

  • Rebel Dog (unverified)

    Since this has gotten off thread anyway... All this rural vs. city stuff is- seems to me at least- to be an instance of the perennial valley issues vs. rest-of-the-state debate.

    Do any of the so called progressives around the country have an answer to the problem- which would no doubt be worse with any more progressive policy changes- that many states have major voting blocks that have always been at odds with the dominant voting block? Like Cascadia vs. Eastern 1/2 of the state in Oregon and Washington, like north vs. south California, or Chicago vs. downstate Ill., or west Texas vs Austin... You get the idea. Is Cascadia still discussed as a viable political concept?

  • Carrie (unverified)

    Well, like lots of people I can't afford to give up my car, but I do what I can...My personalized license plate is some variant of "DRIV-SAF". If it makes one other motorist slow down and think, its worth the price.

  • Keith (unverified)

    I live near Burnside in the SE 70's and I have never had a police officer stop to let me cross the road one time (and they pass through here a lot). If they don't care I really doubt that anyone else is likely to care.

    <h2>Because I do walk (and cross streets) so much I am one of those guys who stops for pedestrians when driving, but my experiences of cars in none of the other lanes stopping (or cars passing me on the shoulder on the right!) has been causing me to re-think my stopping.</h2>
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