‘Pedestrian-Friendly’ Portland Crosses Out Crosswalks

Traffic officials are installing 'no crossing' signs at intersections. Are they protecting pedestrians — or privileging cars over people?

Portland transportation officials are adding pedestrian barriers to some intersections and restricting their mobility instead of slowing speeding motorists.
Portland transportation officials are adding pedestrian barriers to some intersections and restricting their mobility instead of slowing speeding motorists.

Safe-streets activists in Portland are furious that the supposedly pedestrian-friendly city has installed some 150 “No Crossing” signs and  metal barriers at intersections around the city, which have been increasingly prevalent.

“It’s almost like they’re making us trespassers on our own crosswalk,” Portland attorney Ray Thomas told Bike Portland, adding that traffic officials are “infringing upon our right to roam, to be in the public way.”

The anti-crossing signs have proliferated in recent weeks as Portland grapples with an alarming spike of traffic fatalities this year. There have been 36 traffic fatalities in Portland through the end of August, which is already more than the total number of traffic deaths last year, according to Portland’s Bureau of Transportation, which acknowledged that the figure is “very high.”

State transportation officials, who have installed barriers on state-owned streets, consider the structures to be a useful tool to limit crashes between vehicles and pedestrians. Structures are bring installed to shift pedestrians “onto nearby and more appropriate crossings” and away from areas in the middle of a road where their “vision may be bad, line of sight may be difficult, and there may be a better crosswalk nearby, State DOT spokesman Don Hamilton told Streetsblog.

“We’re looking at individual circumstances at individual location,” Hamilton said. “We’re tying to look at whether this is the best option in each case. We’re using our good judgment about what’s appropriate there.”

But national pedestrian safety advocates say the barriers are misguided and do not represent best practices. Transportation agencies must prioritize pedestrians when designing streets — including lowering speed limits, adding traffic signals, installing speed cameras and stop signs, and marking pavement with wider crossing lines to give visual cues to motorists and cyclists that pedestrians use roads, too.

“It’s got to be a multifaceted approach and they must evaluate speed limits on these road ways,” National Safety Council government relations senior director Jane Terry told Streetsblog. “Lower speeds in an area where you have a lot of vulnerable users really mean the difference between life and death.”

The signs and barriers have alarmed transit advocates and personal-injury attorneys, who say that the transit agencies are favoring vehicular traffic over pedestrians and restricting pedestrian movement unnecessarily. The presence of the anti-crossing sign also eliminates a pedestrian’s right-of-way at the crossing — likely insulating the city from legal responsibility if a car injured or killed someone at the site, attorneys said.

It also may also be cheaper for the city to close an intersection instead of installing curb cuts to make streets more compliant for people with disabilities, especially after the city agreed to a $113 million settlement last September to fix or install 18,000 curb ramps during the next 12 years.

Traffic collisions have not let up. On June 13, a car struck and killed 82-year-old Louanna Battams in an unmarked crosswalk, the same day the city had celebrated safety improvements on the road she was crossing. The city barred the intersection to pedestrians several weeks later, although city officials said the installation had been in the works before the fatality. But pedestrians can walk around the barrier and cross anyway.

The blocking of crossings is continuing apace. State Traffic Roadway Engineer Mike Kimlinger, one of two state officials who can unilaterally close a crosswalk, said he’s been closing about two a month.


17 thoughts on ‘Pedestrian-Friendly’ Portland Crosses Out Crosswalks

  1. NO, streets are designed for motor vehicles, not pedestrians. And it’s the pedestrians that have been hijacking this city and wanting to put all the onus on drivers to look out for them. I see them taking ridiculous chances all the time! Cyclists and pedestrians act like they are sharing the road with vehicles, but it is indeed the other way around and if they showed a little more respect, there would be less traffic incidents.

  2. Yes, drivers should not kill people. Aren’t you told in driver’s ed to slow down if there’s a blind area, 3 second rule, expect the unexpected? Are you drivers aren’t responsible for any of the above if that’s a pedestrian? If so, I’m curious in which driver’s education class did you learn to drive and how you passed your driver’s exam?

  3. Intersections should be regarded as places cars are occasionally allowed to cross sidewalks, not as places people are occasionally allowed to cross streets.

  4. As a pedestrian and rider of public transit, I respect my part in following the rules of the road. What I see, more often than not, is drivers running red lights, turning in front of pedestrians crossing on a walk signal, and going around stopped buses, crossing the double yellow line to do so, threatening any pedestrian crossing legally. The reason for this, I feel, is two-fold: in this particular societal climate, meanness is the order of the day, and secondly, there are not enough police officers to enforce traffic laws. I have been tempted to keep my phone at the ready to film such violations and report these drivers. I have as much right to walk safely as drivers have to be on the street in the first place.

  5. Am I the only who noticed the lack of state ID for “Portland”? Portland, Maine is big enough and important enough that whenever “Portland” is typed, a tagged-on state ID is mandatory. Here, Oregon was not mentioned until the end in the Filed Under list. The lead photo was ambiguous enough that it could have been in either city.

  6. The article does not make clear whether it is ODOT (Oregon Department of Transportation, the state) or PBOT (Portland Bureau of Transportation, the city), or both that is installing these pedestrian prohibitions. It makes a difference. If you want to change things, but mis-identify the responsible agency, you are wasting time.

  7. No one is favoring cars over pedestrians or vice versa… It’s about safety. The intersections I’ve noticed these barriers at are EXTREMELY dangerous areas for pedestrians not to cross busy roads.. No one should be crossing there. Go the extra block and use a safer intersection/space to cross. Your body has no chance against any vehicle! Fyi- I walk, bikeb and drive.

  8. This is very likely at least in part a cost savings savings issue, as alluded to in the article. The ADA requires at time of resurfacing roads expensive ADA acesibilty upgrades, including curb cuts and sidewalk extensions, at all crosswalks – including unmarked crosswalks. All intersections, regardless of marking, are crosswalks unless barriers or no crossing signs are installed. So in intersections (or legs thereof) not explicitely designed for pedestrian crossing, cities are forced to either prohibit all crossing or make the crossing accessible to all users. This goes beyond mere curb cuts. As shown in the photo, the sidewalk isn’t even designed to connect to the intersection. Although able bodies pedestrians can just walk over the grass to get to the sidewalk, wheelchair users cannot. The ADA requires that sidewalk be extended to a curb cut or prohibition of all pedestrian crossing.

  9. Aaron Short seems to be a middle schooler. I lost count of all the errors in this article. Where is the professionalism?

  10. A Police Chief in a Central MD wealthy county once said to me re: pedestrian rights, “you are right and if that is the sum total of your focus you might be dead right”. This Chief put police patrols on bikes, set up driver/ped “stings” on signalized arterials and not only supported cycling but cycled himself. However, he was a realist, like we all need to be.

  11. The second image is incredibly disingenuous and misleading. That is a T-intersection and there is no ramp on the corner, nor at the top of the leg. However, there is a marked crosswalk and ramps on the other corner (of this side street). Further, there is parking prohibited on that corner to provide better visibility (i.e. safer) for that crossing. To the west one block there is a signalized intersection with crosswalks on all 4 legs. To the east one block there are crosswalks and pedestrian refuges (splitter medians), along with bike crossings, making it a much safer location. The only people using the crossing in the image would be on that one street (Moore), and that intersection has ramps and a high visibility crosswalk. So this is manufactured outrage.

  12. Many of these crossings are in outer Southeast Portland, an area that continually gets the short end of any money or attention to road safety issues. SE Division is supposed to be getting a redesign–but hopefully without these crossing bars.

  13. Half of the barriers should block the street with signs directing automobiles to go around. Enforcing equity will result in more thoughtful site selection for barriers.

  14. The world and roads are to be shared. Everyone has a responsibility to obey the law. I walk, bike, use ok lic transportation and as of last week am driving again. I think that cars should have more respect for others sharing the road. People who are walking and biking are the most vulnerable. The most vulnerable should make better decision because if something where to happen ( noatter who.has the right away) the have the most to lose. Cars don’t own road space! Sharing is caring.

  15. The world and roads are to be shared. Everyone has a responsibility to obey the law. I walk, bike, use public transportation and as of last week. I am driving again. I think that cars should have more respect for others sharing the road. People who are walking and biking are the most vulnerable. The most vulnerable should make better decision for themselves because if something were to happen ( no matter who has the right away) they have the most to lose. Cars don’t own all the roads! Put your phone down while driving! Sharing is caring.

    Talk to text was not my friend in the previous message

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