In Oregon, our laws state that every corner is a crosswalk. While some crosswalk locations are marked with traditional, wide, white painted lines, it is important for all of us to understand that even with no paint, a legal crossing exists at every corner or intersection. Crosswalk users can include people on foot as well as people using other forms of non-motorized transportation (wheelchairs, bicycles, skateboards, skates, scooters) and some forms of motorized transportation (power wheelchairs, personal mobility assistive devices). IMPORTANT: whenever entering a crosswalk, bicycles must “proceed at a walking pace” per Oregon Revised Statute (ORS) 814.410.
To enhance safety on roads with high traffic volumes and/or high speeds, “mid-block crossings” are used to improve safety and visibility and to provide easier access to destinations in key locations. In South Corvallis, there are four mid-block crossings that allow pedestrians to cross SE 3rd Street/Highway 99W. From north to south, they are at the following locations:
- Between First Alt Food Co-op and Papa’s Pizza
- Just north of SE Lily Avenue
- Just south of SE Mayberry Avenue
- North of SE Richland Avenue
These mid-block crossings have center refuge islands for added safety, and have pedestrian-activated, round, yellow, flashing lights. These crossings were installed around 2005 with funding from the Transportation Enhancement Program (TEA-21), funneled through ODOT to the City of Corvallis. In other parts of Corvallis there are mid-block crossings that are more modern, with a different style of flashing light called a rapid rectangular flashing beacon (RRFB).
Drivers and pedestrians as well as other forms or traffic (bicyclists, skaters, scooter users) have questions about the use of these mid-block crossings. Here are some of the more common questions, and their answers.
Q: Can’t I just walk into a crosswalk because pedestrians have the right of way, especially at painted crosswalks?
A: This is a good question and not as simple to answer as you might think! In Oregon, there is a correct way to use a crosswalk and it involves more than one step. Prior to crossing the street, a person must indicate their intent to cross. To do this, they must extend “some part or extension of themselves onto the roadway.” This can be as simple as starting to step off the curb, or holding your hand forward over the curb, or taking one step off of the curb. At the same time, you must give traffic a chance to notice you and yield to you. The Oregon Revised Statute actually states that a person cannot enter the crosswalk at a speed that “constitutes an immediate hazard” (ORS 814.040). By this rationale, people on mobility devices (bikes, skates, etc) need to enter the crosswalk at a walking pace.
Q: When I want to cross and I push the button to activate the lights at the mid-block crossing, I cannot see the lights flashing. Why not?
A: The crossing was engineered this way on purpose. The lights do not give you the safety to cross the road, they only enhance awareness of the crosswalk location and your intent or desire to cross the road. You need to ensure the cars are stopping or stopped before you walk across the road, regardless of the lights. Press the button, indicate your intent to cross;, if cars are close, wait for them to stop or pass by, then proceed to cross. If the lights are malfunctioning, you may still use the crosswalk in the same fashion. Yellow flashing lights are in place to draw attention to potential hazards, but they do not change the fact that there is a painted crosswalk at the location – and if you demonstrate intent to cross, drivers are required to stop if it is safe for them to do so.
Q: Why can’t those lights turn from yellow to red, and make the drivers stop?
A: For the crossings in South Corvallis, the criteria for a red light are not met. The Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD) is a document issued by the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) of the United States Department of Transportation (USDOT) to specify the standards by which traffic signs, road surface markings, and signals are designed, installed, and used. Flashing yellow lights have different criteria for their installation than a full red signal indication. For the crossings in South Corvallis, the MUTCD criteria for a red light are not met. Interestingly, research has shown that compliance with stopping at red lights used in some mid-block crossings has only slightly better stopping compliance than crossings with rapid, rectangular flashing beacons (RRFBs). All of the crossings in South Corvallis will be updated from their current round yellow flashers to the RRFBs, and the process for making this happen has already been started.
Q: Are cars on both sides of the road supposed to stop for me when I use the mid-block crosswalk?
A: For these locations in South Corvallis, the answer is “No.” Each of these mid-block crossings has a center island, also known as a pedestrian refuge. Per state law, if there is a pedestrian island, the traffic that is in the lanes closest to you must stop until you reach the center island. The traffic opposite the pedestrian island can remain in motion until you reach the island (ORS 811.028 section 3a). Once you are at the refuge, traffic on the other side must stop for you. There is an additional activation button on the center island, however the existing buttons are timed to allow you to cross all 4 lanes in one phase. If there are pedestrians on both sides of the street, wanting to cross in both directions, traffic must stop on both sides.
Q: If I am driving, when should I stop for a pedestrian at a crosswalk?
A: Pedestrians invoke their right to cross when any part or extension of the pedestrian (body, cane, wheelchair, or bicycle) enters the crosswalk. In other words, put a tiny part of yourself off the curb to signal your intentions to drivers. Drivers must stop if they are able. Pedestrians must not step off the curb if a vehicle is so close that it creates an immediate hazard. ORS 811.028(4), 814.040(1)(a).
Q: When I have stopped my car for a pedestrian, how long should I remain stopped at the crosswalk?
A: Until the pedestrian passes the driver’s lane plus one further lane (ORS 811.028). In other words, if you are driving along SE 3rd Street and a pedestrian is in the crosswalk on your side of the street, you must stop and remain stopped until they reach the sidewalk or the center island.
Vulnerable road users (VRUs) can follow all laws and best practices, yet still encounter daily hazards. Corvallis Right of Way is a local nonprofit that strives to eliminate daily hazards through education about safety and the rights of all VRU forms of transportation. By fostering safer conditions, Corvallis Right of Way will serve all VRUs and encourage new ones.
Wendy Byrne is the president of Corvallis Right of Way (CROW).