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Despite sketchy crossing, kids still walk to school in Bethany

Posted by Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) on October 29th, 2010 at 12:47 pm

With no crosswalk or light, students rely
on a police officer to cross Springville
Road in Bethany.
(Photos: Kellie Rice)

This past Walk and Bike to School day was a smashing success. Throughout Portland's inner neighborhoods, schools reported overflowing bike racks, crowded crosswalks, and record turnouts.

That's all fine and good, but our experience of walking and biking to school in Portland isn't shared by everyone in the region. In newly developed suburbs of Washington County that lack a grid street network and a people-first engineering philosophy — walking and biking to school can be a much greater challenge.

This is Springville Road.
The school is up and to the left.

After our coverage of Walk and Bike to School Day, I heard from reader Kellie Rice. Kellie is a P.E. teacher at Springville School in the unincorporated community of Bethany.
Bethany is a few miles north of Highway 26 just at the edge of the development boundary. Springville School is separated from most of its students by Springville Road, a high-speed arterial with a posted speed limit of 45 mph (see Google Map of school location).

From above (Springville runs east-west).

Unfortunately, the only intersection with access to Springville School, NW Joss Avenue, lacks a traffic signal or a crosswalk (photo at right). This situation has several parents concerned about the safety of their children. When one parent found out there wasn't a crosswalk at that intersection, she told me, "I was dismayed... The school was essentially cut off from the majority of the neighborhoods that feed into it."

According to a source at Washington County, the Beaverton School District feels it's not safe to have elementary age students crossing roads with a 45 mph speed limit or greater. Standard traffic engineering policy is that a crosswalk in this type of location gives a false sense of security and might actually make conditions more dangerous. The preferred option is to have crossing guards (or, in the case of Walk and Bike to School Day, a police officer).

Springville School administrators are in contact with county engineers and ODOT has been out to the site to measure traffic speeds and consider various safety improvements (including lowering the speed limit, installing school zone flasher signs, and so on). P.E. teacher Kellie Rice would be happy to see any progress — even if it's just a sign saying kids and a school are present; but with workloads backed up and major budget freezes at ODOT, it could be 12 months before anything changes.

Despite conditions on Springville, Kellie remains positive. She reported that they had 263 walkers, bikers and scooter riders out of 615 students on Walk and Bike to School Day. Not a bad turnout at all. "Walking to school is becoming more of an option for some of our parents," she says, "Even if they have to cross Springville on their own."

For an inspiring look at the demand for biking and walking to schools — even in suburban-rural places like Bethany — take a look at the photos below...

We'll keep you posted on Springville Road conditions.

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Comments
  • jim October 29, 2010 at 1:06 pm

    This sounds like an accident waiting to happen. They will spend more money on having an officer there than what it would cost for a stoplight & crosswalk

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  • Alex October 29, 2010 at 1:48 pm

    Jonathan, thanks for reporting on my area.

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  • OLIver October 29, 2010 at 1:50 pm

    We hear "I hate the suburbs" often enough (I do, if only because I say it so often)

    But even I have to admit it's been awhile since I formed a more perfect supporting argument for my opinion than this.

    "the only intersection with access to Springville School,..lacks a traffic signal or a crosswalk"

    Well done to everyone for making walk & bike to school day such a success in such a place.

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  • Alan October 29, 2010 at 2:07 pm

    suburbs...lack a grid street network and a people-first engineering philosophy...

    I take "grid system" to mean a rectilinear cardo and decumanus street layout. I don't see that grids are inherently superior in terms of bike/ped friendly urban design, although they do have other attributes that can be valuable. The bike-friendly northern European cities we all like to point at don't have a grid system (except newer parts, and those often are more car-centric). A grid system alone does nothing about problems of mixed use traffic (speed, turns, crossings, etc). "Dead worm" streets, cul de sacs, gated communities and such anti-ped/anti-urban designs are built either on-the-grid or as an overlay to a grid layout, so the grid can work against people-use as well as for us.

    That means that the second part of your phrase, Jonathon, "people-first engineering philosophy", bears all the burden!

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  • q`Tzal October 29, 2010 at 2:22 pm

    Lots of drivers will speed through a school zone.
    Lots of drivers will speed through a crosswalk, failing to yield.
    Not many will run down a police officer.

    I'm looking forward to a 3G/4G webcam with laser speed verification and a high resolution camera that local school safety volunteers can use to upload live data and facial images to a traffic precinct office where an officer legally vets the violation and issues the ticket to the person the photo analysis says is the offender; this would nullify the "but I wasn't driving my car" defense. The police officer would essentially operate as a photo radar van officer but from a centralized location.

    It would be better for the officers: if you've ever been couped up in a vehicle on stake out or a non-mobile post it can get onerous. I got two words for you: bathroom break?
    It would be better for taxpayers: there are always concerned citizens out there wanting to do something to help make their community better. A device like this would simply outsource the physical presence, leg work and time spent to some one who is not asking for money, benefits or a union contract, they just want results. That's why we pay taxes, right?

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  • Red Five October 29, 2010 at 2:26 pm

    who came up with this brilliant piece of planning? Are they still employed?

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  • El Biciclero October 29, 2010 at 2:39 pm

    This is extreme car-oriented design. It doesn't appear to have crossed anyone's mind that students would arrive to school by any other means than private SUV. [shakes head]

    The ped crossing should be moved away from the major intersection of Joss/165th Terrace and Springville. I would paint a crosswalk at the point where the powerline MUP intersects Springville (~340 yards east of Joss), then complete the sidewalk on the north side of Springville up to that crossing point. The road is narrower at this point, making for a shorter crossing. There is an existing path that leads up to Springville, providing easy, off-street ped access to the crossing. There is no turning traffic at this crossing point to add extra confusion. Where are the 20mph school zone speed limit signs? Didn't they even put those up???

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  • kellie rice October 29, 2010 at 2:48 pm

    @ Jim -

    The officer(s) volunteer for this 1 to 2 times per year. I've heard that a flashing yellow crosswalk signal is at least $20,000.

    It's not just about the dollars for the infrastructure improvements, either, but more about the opportunities that kids will have to move their bodies. Walking and biking to school is a public health issue, too, and the more we can get kids to want to be active, the less it will all cost us in the long run to decrease the incidence of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and so on.

    I do know that a stop light or traffic signal is planned for the future improvements that are beginning to take place in this area ( though it might be years before a light does get installed), and it will be cheaper than busing kids each day. But, we do what we can here to promote walking, biking and active transportation by holding these events, and making ourselves visible to the commuters and other drivers who use this road.

    Many thanks for the story, Jonathan!!

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  • Spiffy October 29, 2010 at 3:43 pm

    love all the smiling faces... it looks like they're having such a great time...

    some intersection improvements could bring that kind of happiness to many of those folks throughout the school year... and into the summer for kids wanting to play at the school...

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  • J October 29, 2010 at 5:34 pm

    Looking at the map picture, it appears that there are 4 legal crosswalks, not zero as the article suggests.

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  • Greg October 29, 2010 at 5:59 pm

    J @10
    Yes, there are 4 unmarked crosswalks, and zero marked crosswalks. I assume most people think "marked" or "paint" when they envision a crosswalk.

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  • Stig10 October 29, 2010 at 8:46 pm

    Those are crosswalks. They are just unmarked.

    The school could hire a crossing guard or makes a teacher available twice a day, year round. A police officer is overkill.

    It's such a wide highway of a road, maybe a pedestrian bridge should be built. Or add a bike lane, some street furniture or trees to make drivers slow down.

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  • Tonyt October 29, 2010 at 10:29 pm

    Came here to say what J said. There ARE crosswalks there per Oregon law.

    Having just seen the ppb running a crosswalk sting just the other day, I have to ask AGAIN, why do cops just run stings at marked crosswalks? The law is that drivers must yield to peds at all public intersections, yet the cops reinforce the massive ignorance of the law by running stings only at marked crosswalks.

    Perhaps because cops don't obey that part of the law either?

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  • J October 29, 2010 at 10:46 pm

    Greg, people might think it, but the law is pretty clear that an unmarked crosswalk is legally the same as a marked one.

    The quote "I was dismayed... The school was essentially cut off from the majority of the neighborhoods that feed into it." implies that the school is nowhere near an intersection, and folks must walk a mile to reach a crosswalk. That's not the case.

    Of course, it's idiotic that local officials refuse to paint one because they say it will make it less safe.

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  • Hart Noecker October 30, 2010 at 3:01 am

    It's probably no accident that most of the people photographed here are of some sort of ethnic minority. High speed highways cut through communities of color throughout the nation for the simple reason that it is easy to ram though such projects where there is little money and opposition against them. Detroit is the perfect example. But this trend is changing, gradually. Even right-wing bigots like Newt Gingrich are writing about the communal benefits of safe routes to schools programs.

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  • kellie rice October 30, 2010 at 7:17 am

    @Stig10 and others-

    It's Kellie, the PE teacher here....
    I am well aware that there are 4 legal crosswalks even though they are unmarked.
    Not all of my parents know and understand the crosswalk laws.
    Besides, they're usually thinking about the safey of their child first, and contemplating how to cross this road.

    The speed zone is _45_ mph on this road (many drive faster) , and Wash Co Planners would _not_ put a school crossing zone in a 45 mph zone. It has to be 40 mph or less for a school crossing zone. That is problem #1 for us - to get the speed limit reduced. We had a traffic survey done last September by Wash Co. when the school first opened, and ya know what they said? "Reducing the speed limit in this area could cause more accidents because of current driving habits."
    I still have a copy of that traffic study. If any readers out there want to do something in regards to this matter. contact Wash Co DOT to reduce the speed limit.

    In reading one of Jonathan's previous stories this week about roads that are 18 feet wide and the lower speed limit put in place ( was it 20 mph?), I think many sections of Springville Rd are 18 feet wide with no shoulder and a dtich on either side.

    There isn't any signage along Springville Rd that indicates that there is a school 1/3 of a mile to the north of this main intersection. The PCC Rock Creek campus is just west of us, and we are dealing with increased automobiles on this road because it is faster to access Skyline, and the NW Portland industrial area from Germantown Rd.

    If the only solution was to have a teacher standing at that intersection to act as a crossing guard, I would be the first to sign up. However, the higher ups above me would not allow it. And right now, schools do not have "extra" resources to hire crossing guards when we never started with any in the first place. All of our staff are on duty supervising open gym, morning recess, open library, etc, etc. Classroom teachers are prepping for their day.

    And having a police officer there 1-2 mornings per year is not costing the sheriff's office anything. They are not hiring anyone extra for these special days for a 20 minute stint at this main intersection.

    Commissioner Schouten and Candidate Greg Malinowski came to our Spring version last May. They are well aware of what we need and support our wishes, but if you know anything about those two guys, I'm already preaching to the choir about walking and biking to school.

    Thanks for reading!!

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  • jim October 30, 2010 at 8:56 am

    1-2 mornings a year is nothing. They need to change the speed limit

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  • Stig10 October 30, 2010 at 10:24 am

    @kellie rice

    So the report said that high speed of traffic can't be mitigated because of the high speed of traffic? That's insane and reinforces my opinion that traffic engineers the most dangerous people on our roads with their deadly by design products.

    Maybe Jonathan would consider publishing that report. Surely there must have some recommendation other than 'we understand the speed is high, but to reduce it would only make the street more dangerous.' Speedways in Portland often have 20mph school zones with flashing lights.

    If a call for volunteers went out to parents, I'm sure some folks would step forward to be crossing guards.

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  • kellie rice October 30, 2010 at 10:53 am

    Stig10

    The traffic study said that it was because of patterns and habits which drivers are used to, which lowering the speed limit could make the road more dangerous. Insane? Yes. The traffic study also state that there would have to be several car accidents near this intersection in order to make the requested infrastructure changes (parents and I requested a lower speed limit, cross walk or stop light.)

    Jonathan featured a story about this kind of issue last winter / spring(?) in regards to a report (from Washington DC?) about how lowering a speed limit even by 1-2 mph can improve the safety of our roads and decrease accidents.

    So basically something BAD has to happen before Wash Co will do anything about it.

    I'm not certain that parents can volunteer as crossing guards in our district. A friend lives in this neighborhood and he volunteered to do it. I jokingly mentioned this to my Principal, and she said he couldn't.

    I'm not certain that I ever got a straight answer on this, but I think that Wash Co is responsible for installing the 20mph flashing school zone signs and not Beaverton School District.

    If you have ever spent any time on this road walking, biking, or even driving, there are sight-distance issues along Springville and with this intersection in general, particularily driving west from Kaiser.

    Those are all supposed to be addressed with the planned changes that Wash Co does have in store...but it will be some time before that happens.

    I've sent this article to the 3not5.org group representing the Bethany Blvd area - and the proposed 5 car lane plan Wa Co DOT has in order to make more room for cars.

    I'm off for a bike ride now :)

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  • Psyfalcon October 30, 2010 at 12:03 pm

    Just changing the speed limit wont make anyone drive slower. Having an unprotected crosswalk seems like a bad idea if cars are doing 45+ in a 45, and it still seems like a bad idea to have an unprotected crosswalk when cars are doing 40+ in a 40.

    The sight lines are too good. Its a straight stretch of a 4 lane road, with the school not even visible. People will speed though there until you rebuild the road.

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  • Michweek October 30, 2010 at 1:51 pm

    I think a Rogue Cross Walk painting is in order, if the city can't get stuff done quickly enough, then the citizens should organize and take things into their own hands! With paint and flags of course!!!

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  • Stig10 October 30, 2010 at 6:59 pm

    kellie rice:

    If your friend or anyone else wants to help kids cross the road, they should just go ahead.

    While it would be beneficial to organize crossing guard duties through the school, sometimes you have to start something acknowledging it won't be perfect to begin with. Coordination from the school can always come later once this highly visible undertaking has more support.

    For right now, they're still unmarked crosswalks where pedestrians have the right of way. No permission is needed from the school.

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  • El Biciclero October 30, 2010 at 8:18 pm

    "Just changing the speed limit wont make anyone drive slower."

    I still don't see why this cannot be designated as a school zone with a 20 mph speed limit "on school days between 7am and 9am and 2pm and 5pm" or whatever the criteria might be. Then set up a police "enforcement action" to ticket any drivers caught going faster.

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  • J October 30, 2010 at 11:56 pm

    Stig10 is right, the school has absolutely no say about a parent crossing the street with kids and establishing their ROW.

    They may not be able to legally hold a walk sign, but they can absolutely cross back and forth with a flag or something.

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  • J October 30, 2010 at 11:57 pm

    Edit: Stop sign, not walk sign.

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  • gary sauers October 31, 2010 at 1:33 pm

    Stig10, psyfalcon, and J-

    I do believe that Ms Rice was quoted in the story that parents _are_ crossing Springville Rd on their own so that their kids could go to school. Whether someone stands there with flags or not, I think it is going to happen.

    I made use of the almost sunny weather today to take a bike ride up here. I've ridden up here before, but never really paid much attention to the infrastructure in this area.

    Man! There are sidewalks that go to nowhere up there. I made a point at crossing Springville Rd at Joss Ave and back again. This intersection sits just below the crest of a hill, and Springville bends to the right about 150 yards to the east. Crossing from Joss to 165th was not that bad. It's coming out from 165th ave towads Joss that is bad. There are sight distance issues crossing in one direction.

    I think the other issue is that since the speed is posted 45mph, that a school zone speed limit of 20 will never be put in place. In simpler terms, in order to get a 20 mph school zone sign with flashing lights, the posted speed limit has to be 40mph or less.

    On a differnt note, have any of you checked out Ms Rice's website? Year-long after school fitness and jump rope club programs that are free for students, staff, and parents? An adventure club that's been hiking and rock climbing?

    Kudos to this PE teacher who is putting her muscle where her mouth is and creating opportunities for the Springville School community to be healthy!

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  • Rick Hamell October 31, 2010 at 3:02 pm

    @Hart Noecker

    You're right, it is not an accident that many people in those pictures are Ethnic. What you fail to realize is that most likely a large portion of those people work for Intel or one of the other high tech businesses in the area.

    This is not an area that is on the lower end of the economic scale. Heck, most those houses in that area probably cost more then mine does.

    Ten to fifteen years ago this was all farm land. I used to pick pumpkins and strawberries within yards of this intersection. It still remains unincorporated as a city, and as such has not had the benefits (such as proper traffic studies) that an area inside city limits would have.

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  • peejay October 31, 2010 at 3:33 pm

    1. Lower the speed limit
    2. Install a raised crosswalk that also acts as a speed bump. These are used in Europe fairly effectively. They are visibly distinct enough to not require much supplemental signage and they offer an effective penalty EVERY TIME a driver fails to follow the law.

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  • T November 1, 2010 at 6:51 am

    The photos of the road in the article are misleading. If you drive the road or go look on google maps you'll see the road is very narrow and winding. I live in Arbor Oaks where the school is located and I think it's so stupid that the speed limit is 45mph on this road. It needs to be 35mph. Also, there is a gap in the sidewalk in between Arbor Oaks and PCC RockCreek that needs to be looked into. It's VERY dangerous trying to get from PCC to Arbor Oaks because of this missing sidewalk. On top of all this we have College Students racing through there on the way to PCC all the time. Guess what the first thing they do when the get out of class? Racing out of PCC with there cell phone in hand. This has to be one of the most dangerous roads in Portland when you consider everything.

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  • noah November 1, 2010 at 8:36 am

    @Red Five #16, so what? You think you discovered something BikePortland was trying to hide?

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  • El Biciclero November 1, 2010 at 9:45 am

    "I think the other issue is that since the speed is posted 45mph, that a school zone speed limit of 20 will never be put in place. In simpler terms, in order to get a 20 mph school zone sign with flashing lights, the posted speed limit has to be 40mph or less."

    One of the main roads near my house as a kid was also one of the main walking routes to my school. When I was a kid, it had no sidewalks and a 45mph speed limit. A blacktop sidepath was added later and the speed lowered to 40. Then a railing was installed between the path and the road, and the speed is now 35. It can be done.

    I would be dismayed if 5 mph (1 minute saved over a 5-mile journey) was worth more than the safety of kids crossing the road to get to school. Springville is currently on the edge of nowhere (not in the middle anymore...). The only destinations out there are homes and schools--why such a need for speed? This reminds me of the situation at the new Williams signal: re-do the road first (optimized for motor vehicle throughput), THEN go back and try to make it safe. Why not design safety into the road in the first place? Start with signage and the addition of crosswalks, then widen the road and tweak the speed limit.

    I've been to a few places (some of them in the U.S.) where crosswalks are marked not just with stripes, but with a sign or bollard on the center line warning of pedestrians crossing. I've never seen one of these in Oregon, but they seem to have the desired effect of narrowing the roadway, which causes drivers to slow down regardless of the speed limit or presence of peds. But I'm getting way ahead of the game--there aren't even crosswalks striped here. If paint is too expensive, and/or speed limit policies too distorted, then I guess safety is just too hard.

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  • Shannon November 1, 2010 at 12:38 pm

    There is precedent in Oregon for school speed zones within a 45 mph zone. I travel through one on the way to and from the coast on Hwy 22 at the town of Grand Ronde. Entering town at highway speeds, there are 45 mph signs followed relatively closely by school zone signs with hours of enforcement posted. Everyone slows down because there is random enforcement,which was much more frequent when the school zone was first installed. Please challenge the notion that habit cannot be changed. That said, it's amazing that a safe entry onto school property for all pedestrians, bikes and vehicles was not a city/county code requirement for any school design. Failing to act now to remedy an accident waiting to happen is failure of our elected officials to use common sense to make our neighborhoods better, safer places to live.

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  • Brian November 1, 2010 at 2:51 pm

    Sad the way our society is willing to sacrifice our young just so people can drive the way the have always done. The problem is simple to solve.

    Change the speed limit. Patrol the hell out of it. Habits will change.

    My children go to a different Bethany area school. I've complained to both the School District Safety official, and to the Washington County sheriff. I see 10 traffic infractions EVERY time I drop my children off. I've see police presence 1 day. I waited 10 minutes when they were there to see if they handed out any tickets. Not a one.

    Thats why I drive my kids to school every day. A 9 year old is just not equipped to out maneuver moms driving their oversize suv's while talking on their cell phones.

    It's disgusting.

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  • Karen November 2, 2010 at 1:32 pm

    I'm a Springville parent, and Kellie Rice is a wonderful, amazing, dedicated teacher who goes above and beyond every day! Thank you, Kellie, for calling attention to this issue.

    I had to laugh a little at the poster who suggested our traffic problems are related to the neglect of poor minorities. Our attendance area includes complexes of subsidized apartments and developments of $400,000 homes. Our minorities include people on public assistance and people with advanced engineering degrees. It's true that about 20% of our kids are elegible for free or reduced lunch, but we've got a good, diverse mix and would hardly be considered a "poor" school. I feel very fortunate that my kids get to go here -- even if we do have to run quickly to get across Springville Road!

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  • jim November 4, 2010 at 12:10 am

    How come they don't have any parent volunteers out there in orange vests helping kids with traffic?

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  • Dan M November 7, 2010 at 9:59 am

    A roundabout with enhanced pedestrian treatments would solve the majority of issues associated with this dangerous intersection.

    The roads here may have high speed limits, but luckily they are narrow. This makes the installation of a roundabout a natural solution for this dangerous intersection.

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