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Persistent activism gets ODOT and police focused on Sylvan overpass problems

Posted by on November 27th, 2012 at 11:48 am

Google street view of Sylvan overpass.


It looks like we might finally see some improvements and enforcement at the notorious Sylvan overpass of Highway 26.

Back in June, we shared how citizen activist Andrew Holtz was so fed up with the dangerous intersection at NW Skyline and the westbound Hwy 26 on-ramp that he uploaded videos to YouTube that showed close calls and even one actual collision.

A few months later on August 1st, another concerned citizen, Doug Reid, emailed the City of Portland’s traffic safety and livability contact (Eileen Dent at safe@portlandoregon.gov) about the same intersection. “I had another close call at the Sylvan overpass again on this morning’s commute,” he wrote, “This is about my fourth near miss in the last year.”

The problem at this location is that people turning right (from Skyline) onto the freeway on-ramp (to go west on Highway 26) roll up and onto a crosswalk that serves bicycle and foot traffic. Given the angles of the corner, people in cars tend to roll through even on red lights. “They seem to seldom see bicyclists,” Doug wrote to PBOT. Making matters worse is that the bike traffic is coming from a dedicated path/sidewalk, which makes it even harder to get the attention of people in cars.

PBOT responded two weeks later and told Doug his concerns should be directed toward ODOT. Doug then emailed ODOT’s community helpline — AskODOT@odot.state.or.us — and was told his inquiry would be answered within 12 weeks.

Earlier this month, Doug heard back from ODOT Community Affairs Coordinator Jilayne Jordan.

According to Jordan, ODOT reviewed the intersection and determined, “It seems the right turn lane approaching the intersection can contribute to an unsafe situation for pedestrians and bicyclists, even when they have the right-of-way.”

Here’s more from Jordan’s response:

“A driver waiting for a green light has ample opportunity to identify approaching pedestrian or bicycle traffic. However, it’s apparent that drivers approaching the turn on a green signal phase may be more focused on their destination than on a pedestrian in the crosswalk or a bike coming up behind them on the right.”

ODOT says they’ve identified several options to improve the situation:

1. The first option would be to install new traffic signal controllers and a right turn signal head that would be visible to right turning traffic at the ramps. Doing this would allow the ability to control the right turning movements more effectively and hopefully obtain a better yielding compliance from the motorists.

2. The second option would be to redesign the curb radius for the right turns onto the on-ramps, so they would have tighter radii. This would include potentially moving the existing stop bars and moving the ramp locations. This option could improve pedestrian and bicyclist visibility and reduce right turning vehicle speeds as motorists approach the crosswalk. This option is very expensive and will require an analysis into the type and size of trucks using the interchange today.

Jordan added that they will work with the City of Portland to implement safety improvements “as soon as funding allows.”

Doug has also heard back from the Portland Police Bureau and that they plan to start doing targeted enforcement patrols during evening rush hour.

While ODOT hasn’t committed to anything in terms of actual improvements, the fact that they have acknowledged the dangers and laid out some possible solutions is a great sign. And major props are due to Doug for his persistence in getting both ODOT and the PPB’s attention. We’ll keep you posted on future developments.

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Comments
  • Jake November 27, 2012 at 12:23 pm

    I run to this intersection a lot on my way to the MUP along 26, and I’ve had several people start turning only to see me at the last minute, both those turning right heading down from Skyline and those turning left coming up from Scholls Ferry. Definitely needs improvement. Haven’t had a close call biking there though.

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  • oliver November 27, 2012 at 12:43 pm

    How about a light; bright, white, flashing, mounted on the pole, and directed at eye level into the cabin of motor vehicles in the right turn lane.

    Have it be activated by pressing the crossing button.

    It appears that the traffic crossing Skyline/Scholls Ferry Rd to enter the 26 wb at that intersection can only be coming from Canyon Road. But Canyon Road traffic can merge onto highway 26 a half mile west.

    So people are rolling this stop while looking left for traffic coming up that slip road but it appears that there is no (valid) reason for cars to be going forward through that intersection anyway. Make it left turn only (onto skyline) for cars entering that intersection from the west.

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    • Psyfalcon November 27, 2012 at 1:12 pm

      I think you’re looking at the wrong side of the intersection. Its SB Skyline making a right to 26 that is the problem. The button to signal the light change is set something like 30 feet back from the crosswalk, so if you stop there at the button, there is a lot time for someone to try and make a right on red while you are riding to the crosswalk from a stop.

      Left turns from Canyon to the overpass to make a left to WB 26 are well controlled. Canyon can not go WB farther west, only EB (although most people coming from Beaverton would use entrances on 217 to go WB).

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      • oliver November 27, 2012 at 2:01 pm

        Sorry, I did have that wrong. The sentence should read:

        “It appears that the traffic crossing Skyline/Scholls Ferry Rd to enter the 26 eb at that intersection can only be coming from Canyon Road.

        I agree that the traffic causing the immediate problem is turning right from Skyline/SF to merge onto 26 eb. But, they are rolling that stop/into the crosswalk while looking left for traffic I that is also entering 26 eb. And that is the traffic that (according to the map) appears can only be coming from Canyon Road or having just exited 26 further west.

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  • judy jones November 27, 2012 at 12:50 pm

    as someone who comes through this intersection quite frequently, I can guarantee that the problem is only for cars turning right. even if you are checking the path as you pull up to the stop, you are looking hard left before pulling onto the ramp on the right. that’s when bicycles ‘appear’. and I’m a bicyclist… imagine those that don’t ride, so don’t think of seeing a bike here.

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  • BURR November 27, 2012 at 1:00 pm

    No right turn on red, problem solved.

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    • q`Tzal November 27, 2012 at 1:09 pm

      Without a red light camera here I’m not sure any change will make a difference.

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    • Eric November 27, 2012 at 1:09 pm

      This could help, but another problem is that the cars coming down Skyline and turning on to 26 west bound constantly stop in the crosswalk (another thing that should be ticketed) when waiting for the signal to change. If the signal was moved further up Skyline, motorists would have to stop further back from the crossing.

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      • q`Tzal November 27, 2012 at 1:36 pm

        People stop their cars in crosswalks everywhere.
        What ever solution works everywhere else should also work here and vise versa.

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        • Chris I November 27, 2012 at 2:04 pm

          Raised crosswalks that act as speed bumps would be ideal, but that will never happen…

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          • q`Tzal November 27, 2012 at 4:15 pm

            In combo with the green bike path paint either solid or crosswalk striped application of “bike lane green” might not hurt too.

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        • Dan November 27, 2012 at 2:17 pm

          The people at this intersection often stop WELL beyond the first painted line of the crosswalk, and sometimes completely past the entire thing. The easy solution is to make it no turn on red, and put in a buffer zone between the crosswalk and the stop line for cars.

          Oh, HEY, they could make a tunnel for bike/ped traffic here. A tunnel?!? That’s crazy.

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          • Chris I November 27, 2012 at 4:08 pm

            They could make Canyon Ct. continuous by making a simple cut/cover tunnel under Skyline. Include a 12′ MUP on the south side and you have a project that might get support from everyone. They could even sell it as a “traffic reduction” project or something…

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  • boneshaker November 27, 2012 at 1:05 pm

    It’s perhaps worse dealing with the folks making a right turn north onto Slyvan from the hy26 westbound exit. I’ve been yelled at, nearly hit, honked at and flipped off all while in the crosswalk with the light. It’s kind of crazy really. One lady was really laying into me last summer and I simply said, “I have a green light and I’m riding at a walking pace in the crosswalk”. She was stunned and quickly shut up. At this intersection I’ve come to expect cars to not stop. I ride through it almost every day btw.

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    • Paul Souders November 27, 2012 at 3:38 pm

      “At this intersection I’ve come to expect cars to not stop.”

      This is pretty much what I do here, regardless of what direction I’m riding. Something there is about this intersection that makes drivers super distracted.

      I’ve never had a close call but that’s only because I treat every driver as if they’re drunk and staring at their laps.

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      • Mindful Cyclist November 27, 2012 at 10:15 pm

        I have yet to have a close call at this intersection as well. All I need to do is look at an approaching car and see where they are looking. 90% of the time they are looking to the left to see if they can safely make that right hand turn. They don’t see me if that is they are looking that way–simple as that.

        What I have found somewhat helpful for some or the more semi-attentive drivers is to basically stick my front wheel out as far as I can (going EB). There are too many overgrown shrubs if you simply wait and balance yourself on the pole where the walk button is to be seen.

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  • q`Tzal November 27, 2012 at 1:33 pm

    They need to install bike tuned traffic loops (super sensitive) to detect fast moving cyclists coming off the MUP which then key in to the new right turn signal and change the green arrow to a yellow arrow or even a blinking red arrow.
    Both of these options are well within the MUTCD proscribed usage and deployment of yellow and red arrow turn signalling devices.

    What I think would work best is to have two bike tuned traffic loops that judge the speed of incoming bikes then triggers both:
    () a blinking yellow right arrow phase
    () an actively illuminated “YIELD TO CROSSING BIKES AND PEDS” similar to the illuminated bicycle sign on NE Couch at Grand Avenue just to the right of the new signal to further draw the eyes to the right
    () increased MUP lighting from the problem area out approximately 100′ to increase visual contrast of all MUP users, not just fast moving bicycles.

    In lieu of 24/7 enforcement or a permanent red light camera a traffic signal that draws attention to the danger would be best.

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  • Boris Kaganovich November 27, 2012 at 2:00 pm

    Why no rumble strips?

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  • Dan Packard November 27, 2012 at 2:19 pm

    I didn’t even know there was a dedicated path here, westbound. Cool!

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  • Bobthebiker November 27, 2012 at 2:21 pm

    I agree this intersection needs a lot of work, I have nearly been hit here as well. While we are on ODOT let’s see if they can come up with something better at the northbound or southbound crossing of NE Glisan on the I-205 bike trail. Both crossings have right turns at the intersection and the light for the cars change at the same time as for bikes and peds and some of the people coming off of SB I-205 especially are flying when they turn right onto Glisan. Even the stopped cars don’t look when the light changes, they just turn.

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  • Steve B. November 27, 2012 at 2:27 pm

    Glad to see ODOT and PBOT working together and being responsive on this issue. I am really happy they have identified squaring up the intersection as an intersection.

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  • Lynne November 27, 2012 at 3:46 pm

    There is also the challenge of (on a bicycle) heading S on Skyline/Scholls Ferry to get onto Humphrey/Hewett. I get in the left turn lane, and when I HAVE THE GREEN and the northbound HAS THE RED, I cross over onto the path. Hah.

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  • tonyt November 27, 2012 at 4:49 pm

    Waiting for an enforcement with 9 motorcycle cops ala Ladd’s Addition.

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    • Joe November 28, 2012 at 8:08 am

      ABSOLUTELY! Where’s the enforcement for this kind of problem, as well as people on cell phones while behind the wheel?

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  • Peter Koonce November 27, 2012 at 5:08 pm

    PBOT installed the additional traffic signal head and the traffic signal controllers for the southbound right turn as identified in the post in November of 2011 (identified mitigation Option 1). This change allows the right turn to be controlled separately from the through (right turn sees a red arrow) when the pedestrian display (WALK, Flashing DONT’ WALK) is active. It was a good first step toward addressing the problem, but doesn’t fix the problems associated with the curb radius.

    Bobthebiker’s comments about Glisan/205 has similarly been talked about for improvement.

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  • jim November 27, 2012 at 5:39 pm

    The guy in the car didn’t stand a chance. The lady on the bike didn’t even slow down before she rode out in front of that car.

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    • JJJ November 27, 2012 at 7:53 pm

      The guy had red.

      The lady had green.

      Whose job is it to adjust their speed?

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      • Psyfalcon November 28, 2012 at 7:57 am

        Well, technically it is a crosswalk and as such need to slow to a walking pace to enter it.

        Now, it is a crosswalk connecting two parts of a MUP and as you point out, the cyclist had the walk signal. Slowing can’t hurt, but I see that rule primarily helping to create sanity at unmarked and uncontrolled intersections. Say, parts of Pearl or near PSU, entering a crosswalk at speed would create some issues.

        This being a right on red situation though, that driver needed to pay much more attention to the task of NOT MOVING until his path was clear.

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        • wsbob November 28, 2012 at 11:43 pm

          “…This being a right on red situation though, that driver needed to pay much more attention to the task of NOT MOVING until his path was clear.” Psyfalcon

          The suggestion is, his path would have been clear, for a situation in which a person on the path entered the crosswalk at an ordinary walking speed.

          A situation where a path user travels the path at speeds over an ordinary walking speed and enters the crosswalk at that speed, presents main lane road users with a much higher degree of difficulty in detecting approaching path users’ approach to and entry into the crosswalk.

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  • grimm November 27, 2012 at 6:37 pm

    Seems like a “NO RIGHT TURN ON RED” sign would be a cheap place to start. At least compared to a new signal or sidewalk re-design.

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  • Pat Franz November 27, 2012 at 8:46 pm

    I’ll bet 8 out of 10 drivers would not notice a “No Right Turn On Red” sign. One of the two that did see it would see everyone else ignore it, and ignore it themselves.

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  • GlowBoy November 27, 2012 at 9:54 pm

    The last few weeks I’ve been riding this route regularly. As several others have mentioned, I assume that drivers WILL NOT SEE ME, both those turning right onto WB 26 from SB Skyline, and those coming off 26 to go north on Skyline. I always have my helmet light in blink mode here, and aim it at any drivers who might be approaching my path when I’m crossing.

    All that said, getting across this interchange while staying entirely on its north side is nothing – NOTHING! – compared to trying to get from the 26 bike path to Humphrey and Hewitt (as referenced above by Lynne). There is absolutely no safe way to make this connection on a bike (at least without minutes of delay). Which is too bad, because Hewitt really is one of the most delightfully low-traffic routes through the west hills, and involves less additional climbing than the zoo route.

    For several years I would always use SB Skyline/Schools bike lane and then try to find a gap where I could hop over to either the left turn lane for EB 26 (angling off to the right and exiting to the sidewalk and the short connector path to Humphrey/Hewitt), or the left turn lane for Raab/Humphrey. The former option has a HUGE conflict risk with traffic turning right on red from NB Scholls to EB 26, the second involves riding up a hill you just rode down, and both involve playing chicken with high speed traffic that is behind you and partially obscured by curves and contours.

    Then about a year ago, I decided I was sick of mingling with the speed-addled drivers on Skyline/Scholls, so I chose a new option: take the sidewalk/bike path crosswalk across the north side of the interchange, then use the sidewalks/crosswalks across the east side of the interchanging. This involves pretty lousy light timing, and a few weeks ago I almost got clobbered (and DID get yelled at) by a guy in a Comcast truck who ran a red light at me while I was riding through one of these crosswalks. He was coming around from the SB-to-WB left-turn lane and I never saw him coming because this was frankly a risk I hadn’t even considered. So i’m done with that route for good.

    And I’ve gone back to the route everyone else is taking across the north side of this interchange, and bombing down from the zoo. Despite the hazards we’re all hoping to have improved here, especially in the winter it’s probably safer than just about any other route between Beaverton and Portland.

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    • davemess November 28, 2012 at 12:22 pm

      I’ve never had an issue with crossing the overpass to get in the left turn lane (take the lane), wait for the green arrow and then jump up onto the sidewalk, where you can easily skirt across Humphry to get on Hewitt. I’ve seen hundreds of others do this. Is there really a huge issue here? Most cars seem to have figured out that’s what cyclists are going to do. They give you space when you’re waiting in the left turn lane. (shockingly I was following a guy who just turned left onto 26 from the left turn lane on Thanksgiving (Going down 26 on a bike does not interest me)).

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  • Mindful Cyclist November 27, 2012 at 10:25 pm

    I am a regular on this route and tonight on the way home I was going to pedal up the sidewalk a bit up on the West side and see if there was even a yellow diamond caution sign signaling a crosswalk before approaching this intersection. But, that awful head wind and wanting to get home made me forget to look. Looking at Google earth, I am not seeing one. How about even just simply putting one of these up? Drivers will notice it just as much as a NRTOR sign.

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  • scaryseth November 28, 2012 at 6:20 am

    I usually take this path home heading west bound. I am cautious at this intersections after having close calls on both ends of the intersection, all with me heading west.

    The cars exiting 26 going up the ramp to make a right onto Skyline I usually have closer call with. Some of them come up and roll through the light while looking for oncoming cars.

    The cars coming down Skyline to make the right onto 26 usually stop. But there are occasionally those that continue to roll into the crosswalk, sometimes into a turn.

    Issue exists from both directions. At least the rest of the road to the east up to the zoo are little traffic and west is dedicated MUP.

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  • Lynne November 28, 2012 at 12:38 pm

    (SB going across the overpass to get onto Humphrey/Hewett) Getting into the left turn lane on the overpass is not the problem. The problem is that the NB Scholls Fy traffic turning right onto EB 26 will take that right turn on red, just as I am coming through to hop onto the connector path at the onramp.

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    • davemess November 28, 2012 at 3:02 pm

      I’m only an n=1, but I’ve never had a car not yield to me there (where I have the green arrow and they have a red light). Usually there are other cars turning left with me.

      When I”m going the opposite way and waiting on the sidewalk I am more likely to not have those right turning cars yield to me.

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  • Andrew Holtz November 29, 2012 at 1:25 pm

    KOIN/6 news saw this thread. They just interviewed me for a story scheduled for tonight. (Thanks for getting their attention, Jonathan.)

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  • jered November 30, 2012 at 7:29 am

    Coming back from Beaverton I had a cyclist t-bone be just before the light where another path joins the main path from the south. I wasn’t pleased to have been t-boned and thrown to the ground! The commuter behind me laid into the offender with a proper zeal which was nice… Never really had a problem with cars at the intersection, but I almost never make the light so always stopped at the light.

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