Attorney Ray Thomas Works to Change Pedestrian Law

Activists who want to make crossing the road safer for pedestrians are working to change Oregon law.

Bicycle and pedestrian rights attorney Ray Thomas, in conjunction with Willamette Pedestrian Coalition director Stephanie Routh, wants to amend ORS 811.208 — “Failure to stop and remain stopped for pedestrian” — to include wording that gives pedestrians a way to signal to oncoming traffic that they intend to cross.

While vehicles must yield to pedestrians who are crossing the street, pedestrians currently must begin actually crossing the street in order to activate their right to cross, putting themselves in danger if oncoming vehicles do not stop.

“No one feels safe walking out in front of speeding traffic, so the pedestrians stand at the curb, often looking forlorn, wistful or angry as they watch cars approach and pass,” Thomas said. “If the pedestrians could only exercise their legal right of way without having to step in front of speeding traffic, then pedestrians could signal their intent to cross, watch as approaching traffic slows and stops for them, and then continue.”

The problem is underscored by Oregon’s 60 percent increase in pedestrian deaths last year.

“I feel current Oregon law all but requires people to act as ‘aggressive pedestrians’ in order to cross the street, while caution is met with apathy. We need to do better,” Routh told BikePortland recently.

Advocates have attempted to get the law changed for the past three legislative sessions and are hopeful that this will be the magic year. Thomas and Routh are in the process of forming a bill that includes the following wording:

“For the purposes of this section, a pedestrian is crossing the roadway when any part or extension of the pedestrian, including but not limited to any part of the pedestrian’s body, wheelchair, cane, crutch, bicycle or leashed animal moves onto the roadway with the intent to proceed.”