Case Studies

Oregon: Strengthen Crossing Ordinances

Ray Thomas, an Oregon bicycle and pedestrian lawyer, and the Willamette Pedestrian Coalition had been trying for years to induce drivers to yield more consistently to pedestrians in crosswalks. Oregon’s existing statute specified that a driver shall stop and remain stopped for a pedestrian when he or she is crossing the road in a crosswalk.

But how could pedestrians “trigger” this statute to get drivers to yield to them—without putting themselves into the path of an approaching car? So Thomas and the Willamette Pedestrian Coalition tried to clarify the existing statute language regarding pedestrian rights-of-way in crosswalks to make it easier for drivers to understand and the police to enforce. The team considered the phrase “crossing the roadway” and proposed adding the term to the statute’s definitions section. The proposed definition listed descriptive scenarios that would indicate to drivers when pedestrians were “crossing the roadway.”

ORS 801. “Crossing” or “Cross” the Roadway in a Crosswalk. 

Crossing or Cross the Roadway in a Crosswalk occurs when any part or extension of a pedestrian, including but not limited to a foot, wheelchair wheel, cane, crutch, bicycle tire, or leashed animal, moves into the roadway and the pedestrian intends to cross the roadway. 

Each scenario was designed to correspond to a supporting constituency, e.g., “foot” for slow-walking seniors, “bicycle wheel” for cyclists, “wheelchair” for the disabled constituency, “cane” for the blind community, and “leashed animal” for dog walkers.

Thomas added the last phrase “and the pedestrian intends to cross the roadway” in response to political concerns that pedestrians might try to mislead drivers contrary to the bill’s intention. Thomas and the Willamette Coalition then created a coalition based on these constituencies and hired a lobbyist, whose salary was paid for by the Willamette Pedestrian Coalition and Bicycle Transportation Alliance. While this bill was making its way through the legislative process, Oregon experienced a political backlash against the cyclist community. As a result, Thomas highlighted the elderly, disabled, and blind advocates within the coalition. He wrote a public letter of support and attached it to the cover of the bill draft, which proved instrumental in contextualizing legislation for politicians. Once the bill made it to the legislative council, its language was adopted wholesale. Thomas also prepared testimonials for the public hearing about the bill, many of which came from former clients he’d represented over the years. The bill passed both houses, and Governor Kitzhaber signed it into law August 24, 2011.

This material is the product of a partnership between America Walks and Sam Schwartz Engineering. Visit here for more information on the partnership.