It is axiomatic that, in Oregon, there is a legal crosswalk at every intersection on either side of a cross street, whether the crosswalk is marked or unmarked. Does the Americans with Disabilities Act require marked crosswalks at intersections with ramped curb access? The City of Portland had better hope not.
There are six such unmarked crosswalks in a nearly 0.4-mile-long stretch of Northeast Glisan Street from 125th to 128th avenues.
The ADA requires reasonable modifications to infill sidewalks to accommodate disabled persons, including those who are blind or visually impaired (B/VI). Portland Bureau of Transportation interprets the ADA as requiring curbs to be provided with ramps that meet detailed PBOT specifications; however, neither the ADA nor PBOT say whether a crosswalk to which access is facilitated by such sidewalk curbs must be marked.
East of Northeast 122nd Avenue along Glisan Street, cross streets, including 127th and 128th avenues, are staggered, nearly doubling the number of intersections with implied crosswalks along this stretch. In 2010, PBOT undertook to infill sidewalks as part of Mayor Sam Adams’ “East Portland Sidewalk Infill” project.
The curb ramps at each intersection comply for the most part with ADA mandates as interpreted by PBOT. Nevertheless, none of the six crosswalks is marked with a pedestrian warning sign or at least striping to visually warn drivers of the irregular intersections and crosswalks ahead.
Various factors influence whether to mark a crosswalk, according to Chapter 4 of the Federal Highway Administration’s visually impaired guidelines, including whether the speed limit is over 30 mph; whether a senior center, school, government building, or business/commercial center is nearby; and whether the streets are irregularly aligned.
Within a block of these unmarked crosswalks along this 40-mph stretch of Northeast Glisan Street with irregular staggered cross streets are Providence ElderPlace Glendoveer senior center, Menlo Park Elementary School, Multnomah County Sheriff’s office and Menlo Park Plaza. These facts seem to weigh heavily in favor of marked crosswalks in the interest of the safety of Portland’s more vulnerable citizens.
Marking mid-block crosswalks in some jurisdictions is mandatory, but not in Portland, according to PBOT’s own published guidelines. The city should have treated the irregularly spaced intersections as being mid-block crosswalks, and they should have marked them by striping each, erecting warnings to drivers of this busy, fast, and confusing arterial stretch.
At the very least, Portland should have provided ADA-compliant curb ramp markers indicating to the V/BI person where and in which direction it is safe to cross Glisan Street. On the southeast corner of Northeast 128th Avenue at Glisan Street, the raised, Braille-like, tactile yellow marker meant for the visually impaired is incorrectly oriented diagonally. If a completely blind person approached the intersection on foot, the diagonal orientation would tell them it’s ok to walk diagonally from there across Glisan Street: a small but significant mistake that could be a recipe for disaster. This orientation of the rectangular marker with raised truncated cones informs a BV/I person that there is a crosswalk not only across 128th Avenue but also across Glisan Street. However, a person who attempts to cross Glisan Street from that corner would run into a curb in front of a TriMet bus stop for bus line #25.
Speeding traffic is never a good place for a sighted person to land in, let alone a B/VI person.
A sighted person might see the miscue for what it is and avoid the hazard. A blind person would crash into an insurmountable six-inch curb in 40-mph traffic.
Single father George Wiater, 34, who lives a few doors south of the Northeast 128th Avenue corner on Glisan Street, happens to be a blind, but otherwise able-bodied ex-Marine and veteran of the Iraq war. He lost 90 percent of his vision—most of it central, leaving only slight peripheral vision—as a result of chemical burn damage to his optic nerves when a 55-gallon drum of diesel backfired while under enemy attack. In 2010, he moved to Portland from his native Philadelphia. With custody of two young children, Wiater gets rides, walks or buses everywhere, often walking along the stretch of Northeast Glisan Street between 122nd and 128th avenues. At times, he has business on the north side of Glisan Street east of 122nd Avenue, where Menlo Park Plaza is located. Asked to compare Portland’s B/VI friendliness to that of his native Philadelphia, Wiater says, “It’s better here.” Wiater credits Portland with newer infrastructure and drivers that are more thoughtful.
However, Wiater wishes there were at least one marked crosswalk between 128th and 125th Avenues to ease his travel burden and to reduce his risk of becoming a casualty yet again; this time, he would be a casualty of the domestic war between drivers and pedestrians. “I can either walk [the wrong way] down Glisan to cross the bridge safely at 130th or walk all the way down to 122nd for what I would call safe [passage]. I don’t feel safe crossing [Glisan Street in between].”
Regarding the curb ramp at the Southeast corner of Northeast Glisan Street and Northeast 128th Avenue, PBOT spokesperson Dylan Rivera said in an email that it and its “matching sibling on the opposite corner of 128th Avenue … [appear] to be designed for people utilizing mobility devices to continue east/west on the [south] side of Glisan.”
But the 1998 Portland Pedestrian Design Guide states that the diagonal curb ramps at 128th Avenue are “[n]ot recommended for new construction.” It also states that [a]t ‘T’ and offset crosswalks, as at all crosswalks, a curb ramp should be located at each end of each legal crosswalk.’” Therefore, it appears to the Memo that at least the crosswalks at Northeast 128th Avenue and Glisan Street constructed in 2010 fail to meet Portland’s own ADA-compliance design guidelines.
Is Northeast Glisan Street safe for even less vulnerable able-bodied pedestrians? Evidence suggests otherwise.
Even marked crosswalks slated for improvements did not prevent the death of Vijay Dalton-Gibson, 59, on Northeast 117th Avenue and Glisan Street. In December 2013, she was struck and killed by a car while walking her support dog wearing one of those support dog vests in the crosswalk a half block from her home in daylight hours. Dalton-Gibson’s widower, Scott Dalton, 65, says he has engaged in activism but is still patiently awaiting the nearly two-year-old promised sidewalk infill and crosswalk with on-demand, rapid-flashing beacon-light additions, noting, “I’m not in charge of city government.”
“I can be persistent,” Dalton adds, by recent signs of a survey crew working near the crosswalk.
Near the same spot, three years ago along this pedestrian un-friendly stretch of Northeast Glisan Street, a vehicle killed a jaywalker, and another pedestrian was seriously injured two years previously.
According to Rivera, two flashing beacon light crosswalks are being added on Northeast Glisan Street at 130th Avenue as well as 117th Avenue, and both should be substantially completed by the end of the year.
According to Oregonian guest columnist Aaron Brown (“Pedestrian deaths should be wake-up call for Portland leaders” January 2014), seven of 10 pedestrians killed by cars in 2013 were walking east of 82nd Avenue. He notes that as a community, otherwise young, low-income and minority east Portlanders are least likely to afford an alternative mode of transportation to walking.
To view side-by-side before-and-after photographs showing a model marked crosswalk and copious signage accompanying the installation of ADA-compliant curb ramps or to comment, visit www.portlandoregon.gov/transportation/article/431130?archive=yes.