Portland Drivers ‘Clearly’ Show Racial Bias at Crosswalks, PSU Study Says

Joseph Rose, Oregon Live, May 21, 2014


Conducted in downtown Portland, the joint Portland State University and University of Arizona study found that twice as many drivers failed to yield for black pedestrians than those who were white. Meanwhile, black pedestrians typically had to wait a third longer for cars to stop for them when they had the legal right of way.

With fewer motorists yielding for them, minorities are more likely to take greater risks to cross the street, which might factor into why they’re disproportionately represented in U.S. pedestrian fatalities, the study concluded.


Between 2003 and 2012, 47,025 pedestrians died along American roads–16 times the number killed in earthquakes, floods, hurricanes and tornadoes, the report showed. Another 676,000 pedestrians were injured.

Nationally, African-Americans have a 60 percent higher rate of pedestrian deaths than whites, the Smart Growth America study shows. Meanwhile, it’s 43 percent higher for Hispanics.

For their study on racial bias at crosswalks, PSU researchers Kimberly Barsamian Kahn and Tara Goddard, and Arlie Adkins, of the University of Arizona, chose an unsignalized but clearly marked crosswalk near Southwest Park Avenue and Clay Street.


Kahn, Goddard and Adkins dressed the six test subjects–three white men, three black men, all in their 20s with the same height and build–in the same clothing and had them approach the crosswalk in the same manner. “Each pedestrian did 15 crossing trials,” the study said.”These trials resulted in 168 driver subjects.”

The research team stood out of sight and recorded whether the first car to approach yielded, how many cars passed before someone yielded and the number of seconds that elapsed before the pedestrian was able to cross.

The black pedestrians got passed by twice as many cars and waited 32 percent longer than white pedestrians, the researchers said.


At the same time, Goddard said it would be wrong to say many Portland drivers are racist just because they didn’t yield for a black man waiting at a crosswalk.

Rather, driving is a fast-moving activity “with tons of stimuli” that relies heavily on reflexes and motorists are are likely acting on subconscious impulses, she said.

The researchers said they understand the small study’s limitations.

Goddard said she and her fellow researchers hope to acquire a grant to collect more data on driver demographics, which were only collected for the driver who yielded during the pilot study. They also want to test different types of crosswalks and the inclusion of gender as a possible influencing factor.


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