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Police begin enforcement of new bike box

Posted by on March 25th, 2008 at 8:02 am

Bike Box enforcement-3.jpg
Officer Voepel keeps a watchful
eye on the new bike box.
(Photos © J. Maus)

This morning, officers from the Portland Police Bureau’s Traffic Division began a series of targeted enforcement missions at the new bike box on SE Hawthorne Blvd.

Traffic Division Lieutenant Bryan Parman and three of his officers were on hand to watch the intersection and make sure road users complied with the newly installed traffic control device. As per their strategy, the officers are only giving out warnings and the plan is to follow up this mission and issue citations when necessary after a two week grace period.

Parman said things were pretty slow and that he expects more action at the intersection when they return and work the location again this afternoon (when bike commuters will be headed home). About 45 minutes into the enforcement mission, Parman told me that even with no bicycles present, every car has stopped behind the bike box.

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“This is a good intersection for us to start with,” he said, “because there’s not much traffic and the design is very straight forward.” Parman added that besides encroachment into the painted box area, they are also watching for ‘failure to yield’ violations as cars turn right onto SE 7th.

Pointing at the green-painted bike lane approach (preceding the bike box), he said they’re using that as a benchmark zone for where they expect motorists to be aware of the presence of a bicyclist.

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One behavior Parman has already noticed (and PDOT is also aware of) is how motorists position themselves between that green bike lane and the curb prior to making a right turn onto SE 7th. That lane is meant for parking only, and Parman said PDOT is considering a curb extension or some other treatment to discourage cars from using it as a turn lane.

I’ll be back out at the intersection this afternoon and will report back any significant developments.

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Comments
  • Moo March 25, 2008 at 8:12 am

    I walk or ride by the new box almost daily, and have yet to see more than two bikers in the box at any one time…even during the rush. That light is easily timed to hit it on the green from the Hawthorne bridge, so is it the wrong intersection for a box?

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  • Jonathan Maus (Editor) March 25, 2008 at 8:16 am

    \”have yet to see more than two bikers in the box at any one time…even during the rush. That light is easily timed to hit it on the green from the Hawthorne bridge, so is it the wrong intersection for a box?\”

    That\’s definitely the case Moo. there is very little bike traffic stopped at that light even during the rush hour.

    As for whether it\’s a good intersection for a bike box or not, I\’ll defer to PDOT for that answer. .. but in my opinion, the green bike lane both preceding and exiting the intersection vastly increases the awareness in motorists that a bike might be present… regardless of whether or not the bike box is occupied.

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  • A.D. March 25, 2008 at 8:18 am

    I agree with Moo. This isn\’t a good intersection for a bike box.
    In my opinion, the bike boxes in general are a flawed, and more of a band-aid approach to a much larger problem. The first time I had to stop in one of these (as a cyclist) I felt highly embarrassed. We don\’t need bright green paint to let cars know where we are, we need education!

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  • Kevin March 25, 2008 at 8:22 am

    Ah, curb extensions. The bane of less experienced bike riders who now will be forced to weave in and out of traffic to avoid the extensions while being more unpredictable to drivers who don\’t have a clue as to why the rider can\’t \”just stay in the bike lane\”. What will riders and vehicles do where there are no green lane markings? Should the actions of riders and vehicles be any different in locations where there are or are not green bike boxes?

    As much as I like green bike boxes I don\’t like the two tiered status they infer. It\’s okay for me to position myself in front of cars if there is a green box. What if it isn\’t green? A car can\’t right hook me if the bike lane is green. What if the bike lane isn\’t green?

    Would Brett, Tracey, and Austin still be alive if the bike lanes they were in were green? Where the vehicle operators who drove over them any less culpable because the pavement was not green in those locations?

    Drivers need to be aware of other road users whether that green bike box and lane are there or not. Police need to hold those drivers responsible whether that green bike box is there or not.

    I live 25 miles from the nearest green bike box. Am I less safe when I ride because of that?

    If so, what are Portland riders supposed to do when there is no bike box? Pretend it\’s there? Wait for one to be installed before proceeding?

    Maybe the answer is to learn the skills of \”vehicular riding\” and to ride in that manner whether that green box is there or not.

    Your life may well depend on it.

    Kevin

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  • Joe Rowe March 25, 2008 at 8:22 am

    Good small bit of news, but the police and city leadership still allow widespread abuse of cyclists by cars. Let\’s get a ticket to the truck driver who recently killed Bret with failure to yield. Currently the city is impeding that process.

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  • Geoff March 25, 2008 at 8:25 am

    Of course no cars pulled into the bike box, there are three police motorcycles sitting just a few feet away!!

    It\’s a shame one of those officers couldn\’t sit at the pre-existing bike box on Clinton. I was only there for a few seconds this morning, but there was a car stopped in the bike box…

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  • DJ Hurricane March 25, 2008 at 8:32 am

    Very effective strategy. The sting strategy works so well at preventing cyclists from running stop signs and motorists from speeding, I\’m sure once they give out a few tickets here people will obey the rules no problem.

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  • 3-speeder March 25, 2008 at 8:40 am

    Out of curiosity, what is the law for cars turning right regarding that parking lane? Although \”intended\” for parking, if there are no parked cars in that lane, are cars required (or forbidden) to use that lane to turn right? Does the presence of the bike lane make a difference in that answer? When I rode through that interection last week, I wondered about this, and I bet most car drivers wanting to turn right both safely and legally wonder the same thing.

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  • brian March 25, 2008 at 8:52 am

    I\’m tired of such soft enforcement. Get rid of grace periods. Get rid of stings. There needs to be broad general enforcement of traffic law.

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  • JCW March 25, 2008 at 8:53 am

    Any updates on when the next bike boxes will be installed? The sooner the better!

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  • PdxMark March 25, 2008 at 9:15 am

    I agree that with the timing of the lights few bikes end up stopped at the Hawthorne bike box. As a cyclist safety device, that bike box is probably not in a great location. However, as a motorist education device it couldn\’t be in a better place. Unlike many of the other bike boxes, which are slated for relatively out-of-the-way locations, the Hawthorne bike box is virtually at the foot of one of the Willamette River bridges. It\’s a very public, relatively high traffic location. I think it\’s just fine where it is.

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  • Stripes March 25, 2008 at 9:39 am

    I love the enforcement component here! One small suggestion – not many cars are heading EASTBOUND off the Hawthorne Bridge towards the bike box in the morning.

    It would make more sense to enforce the bike box during the EVENING rush hour, because that\’s when all of the traffic will be crossing over it.

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  • Bjorn March 25, 2008 at 9:41 am

    #4 while I agree that sometimes curb extensions can be dangerous for cyclists, especially when installed across a bike lane to make things safer for pedestrians I don\’t think the intention would be to extend the extension into the bike lane forcing weaving by a cyclist. This intersection has a parallel parking lane to the right of the bike lane, a curb extension here would prevent a driver from merging through the bike lane into that parking lane before the intersection when no parked cars are present and then driving forward and turning right on red.

    Bjorn

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  • Oliver March 25, 2008 at 9:51 am

    I think that if it\’s safe (and I think it can easily be made so), that provisions should be made for cars turning right in intersections where there are bike boxes or other such alterations to the traditional flow. As much as many cyclists (myself included sometimes) would like to re-write the whole traffic system, it\’s likely to happen the fastest and easiest if we find ways not to inconvenience/slow drivers where it\’s not necessary. This kind of compromise and thoughtfulness is the hallmark of good road behaviour, and sets a good example in the debate between alternate road users. Diplomacy will always yield better results than stubborn adherence to a \”right way,\” no matter HOW right you believe yourself to be. It\’s human nature to resist change, let\’s not forget that, and find ways to enroll drivers in a new, more cooperative way of using the roads. The golden rule on the road should be, I think, if you can avoid impeding other users, do it. Roads are for getting from A to B, safely and with alacrity.

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  • Stripes March 25, 2008 at 10:22 am

    PS – Like them or not, bike boxes & the accompanying billboards have really gotten people talking about bicycling here in Portland!

    I sometimes take the bus to work on Hawthorne, & the week this bike box went in, all anybody on the #14 TriMet bus could talk about was bikes, bikes, bikes, bikes bikes! People were chatting to each other about why they took the bus instead of biked, and what sorts of things the city could do to get them to bike more.

    It was really great to see people talking about this stuff so positively. On a bus.

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  • Matt Picio March 25, 2008 at 11:05 am

    Oliver (#13) – the problem is \”if you can avoid impeding other users\” and \”getting from A to B, safely\” are at odds with each other. An increase in convenience equates to a decrease in safety nearly every time. Even without a decrease in safety, more convenience for motorists on a given street results in a higher traffic load on that street, and an environment less friendly to alternative modes of transport. The problem is speed and convenience in an urban environment. Neither is appropriate.

    We\’ve been trying to cooperate with other road users for over 30 years, and the results are, at best, mixed. The traffic laws *should* be re-written. Our current system of laws is car-centric, and there are many other types of road users out there who have a right to equal access, equal opportunity and protection under the law, and equal mobility. Being a transportation minority does not give the majority permission to trample on our rights. And really, the argument needs to be framed in those terms.

    I think bike boxes are a wonderful experiment. Let\’s give it a year and see if it works. If it doesn\’t, I hope Mayor Adams (crossing fingers), the Council and Roger Geller will have the sense and courage to remove the boxes and try something else. I mean, we can do studies from now till doomsday, but the only real way to see if something works is to start building things and painting lines on the ground.

    The other thing is for us to demand at the state level that real, binding changes happen in the way we issue licenses to and train our drivers.

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  • J. Mike Lynch March 25, 2008 at 1:41 pm

    Another benefit of these bike boxes are that I am getting many calls, not just about how to drive through them, but how to drive in other bike/car conflict locations.

    This morning, I had a call asking \”what to do\” when there is a biker in a regular bike-lane, waiting to go straight, while the driver wants to turn right on red.

    As the current mechanisms for educating drivers appear to be lacking, the bike boxes seem to be getting at least some drivers (several a day) starting the conversation and asking questions instead of making assumptions.

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  • Stacy Westbrook March 25, 2008 at 4:12 pm

    I just saw someone get pulled over for stopping fully in the green at the light on 7th, right around 4pm. Of course, then there was the awkward issue of what to do with a cop pulling someone over across the bike lane…

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  • John Russell March 25, 2008 at 7:46 pm

    It might have been nice to have something of this sort on my ride today in Vancouver.
    Stopped behind me was the ever so \’courteous\’ driver, honking to alert me that bicycles shouldn\’t be waiting in the travel lane.
    I then kindly \’thanked\’ him and his passenger for helping me better understand the obvious rules of the road.
    /sarcasm

    While I don\’t feel that I personally need such help in traffic, I think things of this sort are largely beneficial, as they serve to make motorists more aware of our presence.

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  • Thom March 26, 2008 at 8:33 am

    I had opportunity to observe the enforcement at the bike box for a while durint the evening rush last night (3/25). Lots of enforcement, I counted 4 police motorcycles, two cars and a bicycle officer. Virtually every cycle of the traffic light at least one car was pulled over. Also saw one cyclist spoken to regarding an illegal U-turn on 7th.

    I don\’t know if bike boxes are the right answer or not, but at least an attempt is being made. I took a moment to thank the officers for being there to enforce and educate. They do not always make the enforcement decisions we as cyclists would like, but I believe it is in our best interest to show appreciation when they are trying. More flies with honey, etc.

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  • woogie March 26, 2008 at 8:59 am

    Sting Operation!!!

    I\’m incensed!!!

    I should be able do what I want if I think the law is wrong!!!!!

    Ooops, my bad, they\’re ticketing CARS that are breaking the law.

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  • peejay March 26, 2008 at 9:53 am

    I think most of us would agree that regular and consistent enforcement is alway better than concentrated stings. We really hate stings when they target extremely safe intersections because of the complaints of a few bike-haters, but really, there are no good sting operations, even when they target cars. However, this is a new traffic control device,* and it needs to be more closely monitored because people aren\’t that used to it.

    *Yes, yes, Clinton and 39th! Shame about that – perhaps the police might choose to remember that it exists, and needs enforcement there, too.

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  • Andrew March 26, 2008 at 12:03 pm

    > It\’s a shame one of those officers
    > couldn\’t sit at the pre-existing bike
    > box on Clinton. I was only there for a
    > few seconds this morning, but there was
    > a car stopped in the bike box…

    I ride Clinton every day, morning and evening, and I encounter a car in the bike box almost daily. Plus, a couple of times per month, I remind a motorist preparing to turn that making a right turn on a red light is illegal there. More often than not, they turn anyway.

    My kingdom for an ounce of enforcement at 39th and Clinton!

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  • Andrea March 28, 2008 at 2:10 pm

    Oh man…I think these bike boxes are great. However, I was just reading CL Rants & Raves…oi…I didn\’t realize there was such controversy surrounding these boxes. Some people really have skewed ideas of how \”their\” world should work.

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