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Police target pedestrian safety
By CHRIS COLLINS
Of the Baker City Herald
Shannon Flores carefully timed her crossing of Main Street hundreds of times Friday.
The Baker City code enforcement officer spent her day off nervously stepping off the curb at Court Avenue to cross the four-lane highway as part of Operation Crosswalk.
Flores was a decoy pedestrian who traveled across Main Street at Court Avenue for the first session of a pedestrian safety exercise sponsored by the Baker City Police Department. The department's overtime was paid by a grant through the Oregon Department of Transportation.
Most but not all cars traveling the north-south route through downtown Baker City followed the law that requires them to yield to a pedestrian in a crosswalk. Others found themselves being pursued by one of four police cars three marked and one unmarked that were strategically positioned in the downtown area during the three-hour "sting."
At the conclusion of the session, police had issued 10 citations and four warnings to drivers who failed to yield to a pedestrian, according to Lt. Vernon Hull. The drivers were cited to appear in Baker Justice Court where they could face a fine of up to $175.
"I was surprised there were that many," Hull said today. "It does point out that people aren't paying attention."
To ensure that the drivers had plenty of time to stop after Flores started across the street, she only stepped off the curb when vehicles were at least 161 feet away from the intersection. That distance was marked by cones placed to the north and south of the intersection on both sides of the street.
That distance would allow plenty of stopping time even if vehicles were traveling at 10 mph past the 25-mph speed limit on Main Street, according to Sgt. Douglas Schrade, the program coordinator.
A video camera filmed the operation and the video will be taken to court if needed to support a case, Schrade said.
The sergeant was the spotter for the operation. He stood nearby on the sidewalk and watched nervously as Flores crossed the street and then radioed any violations to one of the waiting patrol vehicles.
"I worry about her safety sometimes," he admitted.
Flores also was worried at times when cars looked like they were going to stop, but instead sped around her to avoid delays.
"My expectation, just as a citizen, is that they're not going to stop," she said.
Vehicles are required to stop in the lanes closest to the curb as the pedestrian steps off the curb and then in the far lanes once she crosses the center yellow lines. It is illegal for a car in one lane of traffic to continue if a car is stopped for a pedestrian in the adjoining lane traveling the same direction, Schrade said.
Several times during the exercise, vehicles escaped police pursuit by one or two footsteps and sped past Flores just before she crossed the center lane of traffic.
Schrade took his turn as a decoy during the exercise.
"It's a little scary knowing you're bait," he said.
The exercise is designed to educate drivers about their responsibilities toward pedestrians, he added. Those who were stopped by police were given brochures explaining the law.
The time and date of Friday's Operation Crosswalk was announced ahead of time to alert residents of the exercise. The department received a grant of up to $4,000 that will be used to fund five separate operations. They are scheduled once a month through September, Schrade said.