…And why the road speeds keep rising.
By Andrew Selee
Oregon Public Broadcasting
There are many reasons why a driver feels overwhelmed and refuses to pull into a parking space at the traffic light that directs cyclists, runners and joggers through the crosswalk and through the intersection of Benson Boulevard and Burnside Road in the Pioneer Triangle. The signal frequently fails to trigger the yellow light and turns red even when not occupied by someone traveling. When it does start showing the light, it shows a flashing yellow light that won’t even start pulsing in the middle of the night because nobody’s there to look at it.
And we’ve all seen the photo of the man huddled along Benson Blvd. in the middle of the night, cutting through the dark and taking a leap of faith, with his iPhone strapped to his chest, to grab a map and start reporting his hunt for a cheaper gas station on a random corner in the wee hours of the morning so that he can light a fire and survive until daylight shows up.
The one big difference between him and me is that my car is pretty pricey and I can afford to be a bit cautious, especially in Washington County, where my daily routine covers 70 miles of freeway freeways from Portland, Oregon to Grants Pass, Oregon. To be honest, there is no intersection of Benson Blvd. and Burnside Rd. that I have ever driven through that I haven’t avoided unless there is some kind of emergency. And there are other intersections I avoid that are actually pretty dangerous, such as the one at Biglerville Road, where I spend about a half hour each night looking for a missing brake pad near a four-inch diameter hole in the side of my vehicle.
I learned about the signs indicating no parking early on in my career as a reporter at the Portland Tribune and have since become an expert on cars and carsomedays, because I haven’t been able to catch up. I know about traffic signals and the need to drive carefully for the safety of those who are driving right along next to you on the road, but I didn’t know what to do when I would see these “No Parking” signs flashing bright red and blue through the night in the middle of the neighborhood. And I know exactly how one of the folks who follows me through these neighborhoods feels when he drives in front of a “No Parking” sign.
Apparently, many folks in Washington County have the same view of the traffic signals that I have about the incidents on Benson Blvd. because recent poll results show that 71 percent of respondents said that the lights should not be used to restrict bicyclists, runners and joggers to the only lane available when parking is at a full stop and the time limit for the stop is 20 minutes.
If only that perception was based on reality, where there would be no traffic to restrict and the light had a legal limit of at least 25 mph.
But since a Washington County judge ruled in 2008 that drivers have a right of way to park at a red light or stop sign — even if there is a road closure and no motor vehicle traffic coming or going in the vicinity — it makes no sense to put signs showing the intent of the sign on display whenever there is no one around to look at it. Why set up the rules to discourage people from entering the intersection and using a pedestrian crosswalk if you don’t want the traffic lights to turn red? Or is it because the law allows it?
Of course, I can believe that the police department who is currently reviewing our complaints and educating the citizens of this “No Parking” sign would say that in order to help with the enforcement of the “No Parking” sign or any other existing Washington County law, the county also needs to give up this 20 mph-limit rule.
The problem seems to be a lack of cooperation from drivers, not drivers making common-sense decisions. Many people who are missing out on the convenience of using a crosswalk and slowing traffic shouldn’t have to pay the price of having the police use the traffic lights to enforce laws.