June 14, 2001 11:00 pm

Union feels it has a problem with drivers not stopping for pedestrians in crosswalks; other communities, including La Grande, have chronic problems as well.

Try TO cross an intersection along La Grandes Fourth Street and youll be taking your life in your own hands. At least 80 percent of the time walkers will have to wait until all the cars have passed to venture across, even though Oregon law makes it a ticketing offense to fail to stop for pedestrians in crosswalks.

The Union Police Department showed how serious the problem is last week when it set up an enforcement operation at Main and Arch streets. The police were rather courteous about how they went about their operation. Signs were posted 24 hours in advance, announcing the law would be enforced

Amazingly in a two-hour period, about 20 drivers failed to yield to pedestrians in a crosswalk and were stopped and provided counseling by the officer.

All violators were videotaped, and police estimated another 10 to 15 drivers were seen ignoring the crosswalk rule, but were not stopped because officers were busy with other violators.

And that occurred in the fairly quiet community of Union.

The problem exists in larger towns. Another difficult area for pedestrians in La Grande is near the post office. Just try to cross Washington Avenue at Depot Street, and count how many cars go by before someone finally stops to let you pass.

So many drivers are ignoring the crosswalk rule that we wonder if the state should change the law, making it illegal for a pedestrian to step into a crosswalk if a motor vehicle is anywhere within sight.

That kind of law is laughable and would be highly unpopular. Most people agree that a person should be given a chance to succeed at an intersection over a one- or two-ton motor vehicle.

For some reason, when people get behind the wheel of their car or truck they forget some of the common courtesy that goes along with the responsibility. That includes being a proactive driver, stopping for pedestrians who are standing at crosswalk entrances. Also, when stopping at a stop sign or red light, drivers need to stop fully behind the crosswalk area before creeping forward to look at oncoming traffic.

Hats off to the Union city police. An aggressive approach toward enforcing crosswalk violations is needed in other communities, including La Grande.

What will come of police action? The word will get around. Enforcement will encourage drivers to hit their brake pedal, and not their accelerator, when they see someone trying to cross the street.