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Water Bureau says no more vehicles on Wheeler

Posted by Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) on December 7th, 2007 at 3:19 pm

"We want to take a leadership role with this, and we hope that other bureaus and divisions in the city take note."
--Jeff Guard, risk specialist with the Portland Water Bureau

As part of a proactive effort to increase bike safety around their Interstate facility, The City of Portland's Water Bureau will issue a mandate to employees next week that prohibits all their vehicles from using N Wheeler Avenue.

Wheeler used to provide convenient access to the Water Bureau's main Interstate facility, but this move comes in light of a growing concern for bike safety and potential collisions with bicycles at the notoriously dangerous intersection of at Wheeler, Broadway, and Flint Avenues (in graphic below).

Yellow areas mark intersections where the Water Bureau is concerned about truck/bike conflicts.

The decision to stop using Wheeler comes as part of a broad bike safety movement within the Water Bureau (that I first reported on back in August) that's being spearheaded by risk and safety specialist Jeff Guard. Besides his job description, Guard has personal inspiration for his work on this effort; he was one of the first people on the scene of the crash that killed Brett Jarolimek (just a few blocks from the Water Bureau facility) back in October.

"Having witnessed that fatality at Interstate and Greeley," he told me today, "I don't want to have that same trauma and emotional damage for anyone here at the Water Bureau...so let's just be good citizens and do what we've got to do."

Guard is primarily concerned with the potential for right-hook collisions by large trucks turning north onto Wheeler from Broadway. But, he says the new mandate will apply to all vehicles "owned or leased" by the Water Bureau.

Guard also plans to meet with other business in the area (including a Portland Public Schools facility) to let them know about the Wheeler ban and encourage them to "pick the ball up and run with it". He will also work with the Water Bureau's public outreach department to let employees coming from other facilities know about the ban.

View looking west on Broadway.
The white truck (in background) is on Wheeler.
(Photo: Jonathan Maus)

Instead of turning right (north) onto Wheeler from Broadway, Guard says they will mandate that drivers go down to Larabee and enter the Insterstate facility from N Tillamook Street (view a Google Map of the area).

At a bike safety meeting held last week, Water Bureau employee Jason Gainor said the decision was met with some initial skepticism from truck drivers but now they're coming around to the decision; "At first it was an irritant, but now crews are all doing it without a complaint."

Also at the meeting was Rick Cardoza from the Water Bureau's Public Works department. He said, "It's a hardship for our crews, but we figure the liability is too high...we can't take chances, there have been too many close calls."

The issue stems from the engineering of the triangular intersection of Broadway, Flint and Wheeler Avenues. Flint is a popular bike route that puts bicyclists onto Broadway just a few yards from the intersection with Wheeler. This, combined with the fact that many people disregard the stop sign at Flint, make this one of the most dangerous intersections for bicyclists in the city.

Betsy Reese -- who also attended the Water Bureau's recent bike safety meeting -- knows about these dangers all too well. Reese owns the Paramount Apartments that are smack-dab in the middle of this intersection and she witnessed a bike/car collision in November. She devoted her building's latest newsletter to "the bicycle issue" and offered safety tips to her tenants.

Reese, along with PDOT, the Water Bureau, the BTA, the Lloyd District Transportation Management Association, and others have all come together to try and improve bike safety at this intersection.

Guard says the Water Bureau's Wheeler ban is just a first step; "We want to take a leadership role with this, and we hope that other bureaus and divisions in the city take note."

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Comments
  • Jessica Roberts December 7, 2007 at 3:28 pm

    Wow, I\'m impressed...as far as I can tell this was primarily an internal Water Bureau effort. We\'ve really come a long way when major city bureaus are making proactive decisions that are inconvenient to them in the interest of bike safety. I hope Jeff Guard knows that his efforts are appreciated by Portlanders who use bicycles.

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  • Jonathan Maus (Editor) December 7, 2007 at 3:33 pm

    I agree Jessica. I have been to several meetings on bike safety that Jeff has put together and I can say without a doubt that his dedication to this is very real and sincere.

    There\'s a lot more to his efforts (and those of the ad hoc committee he\'s pulled together) that I could write about.

    For example, he and Betsy Reese have contacted the folks at the Rose Quarter to see how they can fund and/or get involved with efforts to improve safety on Broadway in that area.

    I expect more reports on their efforts in the future.

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  • Jerrod December 7, 2007 at 6:08 pm

    I bet the water bureau employees are pissed now!

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  • Scott December 7, 2007 at 6:22 pm

    Props to the Water Bureau.
    Is this a one way effort or do you think the cycling community will do its part and actually stop at the stop sign?

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  • gabriel amadeus December 7, 2007 at 7:36 pm

    Yay! Way to set a precedent Jeff! It is really great that people like you see a dangerous busy intersection, and take a proactive approach to solve the problem - all without pressure from the city or public.

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  • Joe December 8, 2007 at 8:13 am

    That\'s fantastic news. I commute down Broadway and that intersection is the WORST. It is way worse than the intersection where people are turning right on to I-5.

    Maybe this publicity and discussion within the Water Bureau will get the employees who drive that route in their own cars to be a little more thoughtful in driving to work. Almost daily if I don\'t watch it, someone would right-hook me, though I can\'t be sure that the culprits are just water bureau employees; there are other businesses back there, such as the Portland Public Schools building.

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  • Jason December 8, 2007 at 10:37 am

    Good news!

    I ride down flint everyday. After a number of close calls while yeilding to the Stop at Flint & Broadway, I have begun to come to more of a complete stop if not putting my foot down and stopping fully. It would be nice if that was a yeild but considering how dangerous that area is, I would recommend both motorists and bikes stopping.

    Plus once you get on Broadway, cars & trucks are frequently turning right onto Wheeler. I have dodged a number of right-hooks and I am please to hear the the Water Bureau is doing their part to avoid collisions.

    Can anything be done to the cycling infrastructure at this junction to create a better path to the bridge? I don\'t mind riding it, but for a novice rider, I don\'t think they would feel safer and more likely to ride if we had a dedicated connection from Flint to the bridge.

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  • Jason December 8, 2007 at 10:39 am

    Edit:

    I don\'t mind riding it, but for a novice rider, I think they would feel safer and more likely to ride if we had a dedicated connection from Flint to the bridge.

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  • Aaron December 8, 2007 at 10:50 am

    Jonathan;
    Do you think it would be okay for you to post an email for Jeff so that we can thank him? I applaud this.

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  • Jaime December 8, 2007 at 12:20 pm

    Jerrod #3 you are correct.

    There are many rank and file WB employees that are not happy about this. They feel they are being penalized for the bad behavior of the cyclists. Unfortunaltely the few bad examples of cyclists who blow the stop sign on Flint have colored their view of all cyclists. They believe all the accidents invloving Water Bureau vehicles were the fault of the bicyclist. I am both a Water Bureau employee and a bike commuter so my perspective is a little different than most. The responsibilty for safety at that intersection is all of ours. So now that the Water Bureau is doing their part to make that intersection safer, cyclist need to step up and do their\'s. Stopping at the stop sign at Flint is just a start. Cyclist need to start riding in that area defensively as though they were 100% invisible all the time. We also need to use some peer pressure on our fellow cyclists to get them to do the same. This a great step in the right direction but unless ALL the stake holders step up I fear it will be short lived.

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  • chad December 8, 2007 at 12:37 pm

    Has anyone with PDOT considered the option of labeling this and other dangerous intersections with a \"Dangerous Intersection\" sign to warn both motorists and novice cyclists of the upcoming hazard?

    I go through the Flint/Broadway intersection every day and know through experience to make a complete stop and use extreme caution before preceding onto Broadway, but many times I have seen what I assume to be novices fly through that stop sign and almost get hit or right hooked on Broadway. I believe this stop sign is ignored because of the wonderful momentum gained on Flint and because, to the untrained eye, the intersection gives the appearance of being safe.

    There is probably no way we can get all bikes to stop at that sign, but I do think it would be helpful to give a heads-up to everybody of the added risks of this specific intersection.

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  • rex burkholder December 9, 2007 at 1:48 pm

    Great news. and a big thanks to Mr Guard.

    When I ride down BROADWAY, with traffic, this is one of the scariest places I cross (way worse than the dual right turn at Williams). It is especially bad at morning rush when all the PPS/Water Bureau employees are heading to work and trying to turn while negotiating an outside curve. Just poor geometrics that have nothing to do with poor driving or poor cycling that put all users in jeopardy.

    The next step should be prohibiting right turns off Broadway onto Wheeler all together.

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  • Kristen December 10, 2007 at 11:05 am

    Ah, my favorite phrase: \"the cycling community\".

    As if there was an organized group in charge of everyone who cycles.

    I would bet most of the people blowing through that stop sign (and the other ones) have no clue about the BTA, this site, or any other \"organized\" group involved in cycling activism.

    Asking for \"the cycling community\" to do \"their\" part on this site is literally preaching to the converted.

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  • Peter Nierengarten December 10, 2007 at 11:47 am

    As a Water Bureau Employee and as a cyclist I\'m proud of my bureau\'s efforts to improve bicycle safety. Thanks to Jeff and others for efforts on improving safety at this intersection.

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  • Sarah Bott December 10, 2007 at 12:15 pm

    I\'m also a Water Bureau employee and bike commuter, and I think this is awesome.

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  • blurt December 10, 2007 at 12:57 pm

    Kristen,

    \"Asking for \"the cycling community\" to do \"their\" part on this site is literally preaching to the converted.\"

    Nothing could be farther from the truth about the posters on this site. They are far from a community when it comes to obeying traffic signs and laws.

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  • joeb December 10, 2007 at 1:02 pm

    I\'m a convert because of this site...

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  • k. December 11, 2007 at 12:08 pm

    I commute through the stop sign on Flint every day. I also recognize all the conflicts going on at this location and applaud the Water Bureau for doing it\'s part. And, while there are always exceptions, I\'ve noticed over the past year or two that more cyclists seem to be stopping, or at least slowing considerably, for the stop sign on Flint. I do all the time now, although a few years ago I didn\'t. I hope this is a trend because I agree that we cyclists need to step up and do our part when it comes to safety and earning the respect we seem to be demanding.

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  • J December 12, 2007 at 8:03 pm

    You are so right blurt! Kristen\'s comment reminds me of the \"holier than thou\" attitude I grew to despise as a teenager.

    While I think it\'s great to do what we all can to improve safety for motorists and bicyclists, prohibiting right turns for motorists doesn\'t always address the issue, like on N Interstate. Bicyclists like Brett who ride way too fast put themselves at risk everyday, just like those who run red lights. I see more cyclists running stop signs and red lights than I do cars. It seems the cyclists that at least look the most into it break run signs and lights the most, at times 3 or 4 red lights/stop signs in a row!

    As for the cycling community, I believe that everything reasonable is done for safety, sometimes it is up to the police to enforce the traffic laws, on both motorists and bicyclists.

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  • Jeff Guard December 19, 2007 at 10:30 am

    I appreciate the feedback and acknowledgement. However, I must point out that work on this from our end must include credit with our Safety Committee, many who are bicyclists. I am just their coach and facilitator. There are probably at least 30 employees out of 260 at Interstate that commute by bike some of the time and a faithful dozen who commute full-time by bike. We also have 2 bikes available for employees to share here if they are headed downtown for meetings, etc. Of course, we make them take a high-visibility traffic vest and a helmet as well. There will be additional initiatives we will coordinate with our community partners that will focus to education and awareness. We look forward to participating in these events. The employees are not 100% happy and in agreement with our decision, but the large majority do support our decision. It is just change and we all know how we handle that. The official policy should be issued in the next few days by the Bureau Adminsitrator, David Schaff. Meetings will continue on this subject as long as the hazards still exist. I thank all of you for your efforts to date and encourage you to continue to be involved. Have a safe and happy holiday season!

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  • [...] that the bureau I work for is willing to be so proactive in this matter. Read more about it on bikeportland.org. Posted by pictureportland Filed in Entertainment, News, Pacific Northwest, Portland, Portland [...]

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