Back to school road safety: Tips for drivers, bicyclists and pedestrians

Back to school road safety - KATU News

Back to school season presents a perfect opportunity for families to revisit road safety. There are many free resources in Portland, for families and all kinds of commuters, to learn more about the rules of the road.

Cynthia Newton is a partner with the law firm Thomas, Coon, Newton & Frost. She and her colleagues regularly partner with The Street Trust, a non-profit working to improve conditions for cyclists, pedestrians, and public transit across Oregon. Newton shared five tips with KATU News for families getting ready to walk or bike back to school.

First, find a good route. Get out an old-fashioned map or smartphone, and chart your course before heading out for the first day of school.

“And then every day you’ll know exactly how to get there. And you’ll know exactly how long it takes,” Newton said. “No fuss, no rush.”

Second, always use a crosswalk. There’s a crosswalk at every intersection, even if it’s not marked.

“When you use a crosswalk, that’s when cars are required to stop for you. And that’s really important,” Newton added.

Third, consider biking on the sidewalk where it’s safe and legal to do so.

“You can ride your bike on a sidewalk anywhere in Portland, except downtown,” Newton said. Just make sure you slow down to a walking speed approaching driveways and crosswalks; that gives drivers more time to stop for you.

Fourth, everyone should wear a helmet, even though the law only requires it for kids under the age of 16.

Newton said, “Even if you just fall down on your bike, if your head hits the ground you can suffer a big injury.”

Finally, wear white and use a light. Oregon law requires lights on bicycles in limited visibility conditions, but it’s a good habit to practice all the time. Make sure to have a white light on the front of the bike, and a red light on the back.

Newton’s colleague, attorney Chris Thomas, offered safety tips for drivers who will soon be sharing the road with lots of kids and families going back to school. His first suggestion: pay attention to your speed.

“A pedestrian struck by a car going 30 miles per hour has a 50 percent chance of dying. Whereas a pedestrian struck at 20 miles per hour has just a 10 percent chance,” Thomas explained.

Neighborhood greenways in Portland are specially marked to give priority to bikes and pedestrians. “So that’s a nice cue for drivers to be particularly aware of the presence of those people,” Thomas says.

Thomas suggests being extra aware when driving near crosswalks during back to school season, because “kids might not be as familiar with how to use them as adults.”

Also, keep an eye out for cyclists both in front of your car and behind.

“Another thing that we see too often is folks not checking over their shoulder before opening car doors,” Thomas said.

The Street Trust offers free clinics to people interested in learning about cycling and other active transportation. Once a month, attorneys from Thomas, Coon, Newton & Frost staff the Rules of the Road clinic.

“We talk about what your rights and responsibilities are as a cyclist in Oregon, and what to expect when you’re on the roadways, even when the conditions aren’t perfect,” Alexa Jakusovszky explained. “So, for example, when you’re in a roadway and there’s not a bike lane, what do you do?”

For businesses and community groups, The Street Trust also offers a Commute Clinic, where they will bring the class to you on a lunch hour or at the end of a work day. They ask for a small donation to facilitate the session. The class covers basic information about cycling, skills, basic gear, and maintenance. For more information about scheduling a clinic or attending a regular session, visit The Street Trust’s website.

The Street Trust has a new program this year, focused on teaching fleets of drivers how to travel safely alongside bikes and pedestrians. It’s called the Oregon Friendly Driver Class.

“We come and do a 90-minute class that teaches them how to drive safely around cyclists and pedestrians, learn local infrastructure, and just the general rules of the road. Why cyclists and pedestrians do what they do, and it really tries to humanize the relationship,” Education Program Manager Lindsay Huber explained

The course is sponsored by ODOT, and it’s free for businesses. Just contact The Street Trust to set up a course.

“It’s a really good way for people to learn stuff that definitely wasn’t in their DMV handbook,” Huber added.

As kids across the metro area head back to school this week on our rapidly changing roads, Newton said it’s important to know what the rules are for all types of commuters.

“Some of the transportation infrastructure that’s been installed, with really great intentions, over the last several years in Portland has created some confusion. So, we like to try to clear up that confusion.”

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