Taking Back the Legal Right of Way

WPC's pedestrian actions were the organization's most visible means of challenging the status quo. They emerged as a response to routine violations of Oregon state law OR 811 910, which requires cars to stop and yield to pedestrians. Vanderslice herself says she became a "radical pedestrian" in 1985, after a driver failed to stop for her and her two small children while crossing the street in NW Portland. She describes the incident on her website. Link to it here.


"Primed with indignation and a big hit of adrenaline, I bopped the back of his car with our diaper bag as he pulled away. And this man, who was in such a hurry that he couldn't yield the right of way to a mom with two babies, found the time to stop his car, get out, put up his fists and say: 'You ever do that again, I'll beat the **** out of you.'

Apart from one nominally ill-fated incident at a Pearl District crossing (in which a nameless board member's husband kicked a car that wouldn't yield), WPC pedestrian actions have been models of civility. The first one took place on the south park blocks in the spring of 1994, after WPC was awarded a $6000 grant by the Bicycle Federation of America. Approximately 50 people showed up for the occasion, including TV anchor Eric Schmidt, who left his desk at 5 p.m. to participate.

"He actually led people across the street," says Vanderslice. "His mother had been hit by a car two weeks before and this issue totally resonated,"

At a July 1994 action in Multnomah Village, says Klotz, "we even got a cop to show up." During the event, Portland police officers wielded radar guns and ticketed several speeders.

Organized by WPC's board member, April Bertelsen, the most recent pedestrian action took place on the downtown transit mall in August 2002. "Driving" cardboard vehicles up and down the sidewalks and carrying signs such as "Pedestrians for Retail," WPC members protested a downtown business association proposal to narrow the sidewalks and allow parking on one of the city's most revered public spaces.

The WPC has also organized three major walk to school media events for National Walk our Children to School Day and International Walk to School Day. The events have attracted Mayor Katz, Portland Schools Superintendent Ben Canada, and Chief Kroker. The October 2002 event involved 35 schools around the state, twice the number of schools as the year before. In 2003, the WTSD event attracted more than 40 schools around the state.

"The pedestrian actions were the main way WPC was able to educate the general public," said Dotterrer. "It got WPC on television and brought us to the attention of passing pedestrians and drivers."