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Police consider bike-focused stop sign enforcement on Springwater

Posted by Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) on January 4th, 2013 at 9:53 am

Streetview of Springwater and Spokane.

In response to multiple citizen complaints, the Portland Police Bureau says they plan to begin a series of enforcement actions on the Springwater Corridor Trail near Sellwood Riverfront Park.

BikePortland was contacted by Sgt. Ty Engstrom of the PPB Traffic Division on December 14th in hopes we could spread awareness about this intersection (Engstrom has been the bicycle liaison officer but was just recently transferred to Central Precinct). Sgt. Engstrom said, "I wanted to let you know about this issue to see if you could help spread the word to local cyclists of a complaint we've received multiple times. We will be starting some enforcement in the area."

According to the complaint, some people who are riding on the Springwater headed southbound are not obeying a stop sign at the intersections of SE Spokane. It's a tricky intersection with people in cars coming through at three directions. People on bikes either continue straight (south) on the Springwater path or turn left (up the hill) on Spokane to enter the Sellwood neighborhood.

Sgt. Engstrom says he has passed the complaint on to another officer to observe the area in advance of doing some focused enforcement missions.

For more on how the PPB handles bike-focused enforcement missions, I asked Sgt. Engstrom to provide some context. He said the bike-focused missions are "few and far between." The Traffic Division does enforcement missions about once or twice a week that focus on high crash corridors or in response to citizen complaints. Sgt. Engstrom says typical hot-spots are major streets and highways like I-205, I-5, the downtown core, Sandy Blvd, 82nd Ave., and so on.

In the case of the Springwater/Spokane complaint, Engstrom said he responds by assigning one of his officers to the area to write citations and/or warn people as appropriate. Most of the people who are stopped are given the option to attend the Share the Road Safety Class in lieu of the fine and ticket.

The Traffic Division has five different sergeants and each one has about 5-10 officers at their disposal. Each sergeant does enforcement missions about once or twice a week. "Other than that," Sgt. Engstrom says, " Officers are free to work the areas they feel need attention."

Whenever one of the enforcement missions involves bicycling, the Traffic Division's bicycle liaison officer passes along the location and the issue to BikePortland and the Bicycle Transportation Alliance in hopes of spreading the word prior to the mission.

To give you an idea of how infrequently bike-specific issues are targeted with enforcement, Sgt. Engstrom checked his database and found that in 2012 the Traffic Division wrote 29,263 citations. Of those, 28,779 were written to people driving motor vehicles and just 484 went to people on bicycles. Put another way, about 1.6% of all the citations written by the Traffic Division in 2012 were issued to people riding bicycles. "That's very low," added Sgt. Engstrom.

If you ride through this intersection, don't forget to stop!

UPDATE: Many of you are rightfully pointing out that this intersection has some design issues and that many users — including people in cars — do not always comply with the stop signs. I'll make sure to forward this story and your comments to the PPB Traffic Division so they are aware of this feedback. Thanks. — Jonathan.

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  • Gabriel Amadeus January 4, 2013 at 10:05 am

    Every time I roll up on this this one I get the typical Portland stop-without-a-stop-sign subaru that waves me through. So no, I don't come to a complete stop.

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    • 9watts January 4, 2013 at 10:41 am

      "1.6% of all the citations written by the Traffic Division in 2012 were issued to people riding bicycles"

      Interesting.
      Inquiring minds want to know how this figure compares to the bike mode share, and whether we could draw even the faintest conclusions from this figure about the persistent--and I would say pernicious--notion of scofflaw cyclists?

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      • Spiffy January 4, 2013 at 12:18 pm

        we have a 6% bicycle commute mode share and even cutting that in half would say motorists are 2x more likely to break traffic laws, or I'm thinking at best half that again and says that bicycles break the same number of laws...

        I know which law-breaker I'd rather be the victim of...

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        • 9watts January 4, 2013 at 12:23 pm

          Well, we're going to need total mode share, not just commute mode share, and we also need to know something about the police enforcement algorithms, whether their method of doing these (against) folks on bikes or (against) folks in cars is sufficiently similar to even warrant any inference about the relative frequencies. I am led to believe that they ticket drivers at an enforcement action targeting bikes, and vice versa. Perhaps those statistics would be a good check?

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          • Spiffy January 4, 2013 at 1:30 pm

            yeah all I could find were commute numbers... but I think there's a local census article somewhere with all mode share numbers...

            they do target all modes at specific mode enforcements though, we've seen that reported here where they ticket cars when they're doing a bicycle stop sign enforcement... I would think the same thing would happen at this intersection...

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  • Jesse January 4, 2013 at 10:10 am

    This is just a poorly designed intersection all the way around. It's a 3 way stop for cars, but has 4 stop signs. Plus a railroad crossing, plus constant cross bike and pedestrian traffic. Hopefully someone takes a look at the intersection as a whole beyond traffic enforcement measures.

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    • Craig Harlow January 4, 2013 at 10:39 am

      No doubt. Have there been crashes here? If so, then it's no surprise.

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    • q`Tzal January 4, 2013 at 3:32 pm

      HAWK signal /pedestrian hybrid beacon?

      Maybe install a super sensitive loop detector 25'~75' on both sides for cyclists to trigger this intersection in advance; especially when there is heavy bicycle traffic.

      Remember: this is an uncontrolled intersection on what Portland KNOWS is a bicycle superhighway. Majority bicycle and pedestrian traffic is inconveniencing minority automotive traffic. This paradigm NEEDS traffic control devices.

      Nearly equivalent scenario: on major freight interstate highways (I-80 & I-90 that I see regularly when truckin`) which are primarily supposed to be controlled access - occasionally commercial interests need to access (to cross, enter or exit) where there is normally no access. This is usually very unsafe.
      The MUTCD has standardized signage for dealing with this exact situation where a minority (commercial interests) with undue influence "MUST" endanger the majority (everyone else).

      If there is any interest I'll dig up the precise regulations and specifications for the interstate highways scale solution and attempt to scale it down to something rational and reasonable.

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  • Demian Ebert January 4, 2013 at 10:11 am

    I ride through this intersection every day of the week on my commute to downtown. It's a major problem area for both bikes and cars. It's not so bad in the winter, but in the summer when Oaks Park is open and the weather's good (bringing out the walkers, joggers, and more bikers) it can be a real mess. I've been cut off by bikes blowing through the stop coming downhill on Spokane, by cars blowing the same stop sign (and all the others), by oblivious pedestrians, and one guy's off-leash big black lab. I can't say I stop all the time, but it's certainly one of those areas where I slow way down and make sure there isn't any traffice before proceeding. I never assume that any type of vehicle is going to stop at any of these signs.

    In general, I'd support enforcement but it should also apply to cars at the same time. I can't tell you how many times I see a vehicle turning left onto Spokane from Oaks Park Way blow right through the fourth stop sign. Yes, the fourth sign. This isn't a simple T-intersection with a bike path through it. There is a stop sign at each of the major streets, and a fourth on the downhill side of the bike path on Spokane at which everyone turning from Oaks Park Way, or coming uphill on Spokane is supposed to stop. Almost nobody does, and I can't say I blame them. This sign was moved because of Sellwood Bridge construction and isn't as obvious as it used to be. I think it should be removed to reduce confusion.

    Thanks for the article. I'll certainly pay more attention in the coming weeks.

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  • Allan January 4, 2013 at 10:12 am

    The primary safety concern on the springwater corridor is the people that live down there late at night. Why is this stop sign the thing that is getting attention?

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    • Paul Cone January 4, 2013 at 10:23 am

      Saying people are "living" there is rather clunky shorthand, but I know what you're getting at, because I had the same thought. If the PPB is really concerned about safety on the Springwater, they'd do some bike patrols on it, especially along the outer east parts where people do gather (i.e. "live") and cause problems. In other words, do some community policing, instead of just responding to a single stop sign being violated.

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    • Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) January 4, 2013 at 10:29 am

      Allan. This is the Traffic Division. They don't handle issues like that. And just because they are doing this enforcement stuff doesn't mean no one is doing anything about the homeless issues. Parks and Rec patrols the areas as does the PPB on occasion. Not saying more shouldn't be done... Just saying that traffic safety is an issue worth focusing on.

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      • Paul Cone January 4, 2013 at 10:32 am

        Yes, Parks and Rec does patrol, but I don't think anyone does patrols on bikes -- they usually just roll up to the nearest street intersection in a car.

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      • bike me January 4, 2013 at 1:19 pm

        But cyclists are traffic enough to get tickets from PPB, but not worthy of enforcement actions to make our bikeway safer. (until someone killed).

        This effort will not make us safer from cars.

        I also thought the headline implied cop on bike patrol of the path. Was looking forward to all the stings at the crossings where cars fail to yield.

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    • Joseph E January 4, 2013 at 11:59 am

      When I first saw the headline, I thought it read "Police consider bike enforcement on Springwater Trail", and took that to mean that there would finally be some police patrols around the area at night, via bike. Too bad.

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    • Adam January 4, 2013 at 12:39 pm

      I agree. There are some sketchy characters on the Springwater at night, hanging out and drinking and the like. I tend to keep my bikelock handy when I am biking alone anywhere east of Sellwood at night.

      When I saw the headline, I thought it meant there would be police bike patrols of the corridor at night. Oh well.

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  • A.K. January 4, 2013 at 10:14 am

    This intersection can also be confusing, because you have cars coming from Oaks Park that stop at their first stop sign (looking at the bridge), then make a left turn and stop AGAIN at the stop sign for the RR tracks (which you can see in the photo) while they are only part way through the turn.

    So to be perfectly honest, it can be a bit of a cluster-fuck and sometimes I'll just go when I see an opening. No excuses though, "we" could probably do better with stopping there.

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  • Craig Harlow January 4, 2013 at 10:26 am

    Engstrom has been the bicycle liaison officer but was just recently transferred to Central Precinct

    Jonathan, did you learn who has been or will be named the new bicycle liaison officer?

    Recommended Thumb up 3

  • Darren January 4, 2013 at 10:39 am

    I live right at that intersection. Plenty bikes do not stop. However, for every 4 bikes who do stop, three are waved through by the car.

    I imagine any bike who is waved through a few times (which is nice, but not how things are supposed to work) will start to to slow-and-see rather than stop. Then put 20 bikes doing this and you have an upset driver.

    It's an awkward intersection, and has been for ten years: nobody knows how to use it. Cars coming from oaks park will enter spokane blocking traffic on spokane (which they expect to turn to Oaks Bottom). It's not safe to trust the traffic laws at this intersection.

    But, the call is about bikes. It's almost like a major local newspaper is fanning the flames. I'm looking at you, Oregonian.

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    • J_R January 5, 2013 at 8:42 am

      My observations are similar to Darren's. I often have motorists wave me through, especially with kids in the trailer.

      This is one place where I roll through the stop, partly so I don't delay motorists. (I even stop at Ladd's Addition.) If we all stop (motorists and cyclists), and take turns in strict rotation, we'll all have longer delays.

      I'm not aware of any crashes at the Springwater/Tacoma/Oaks Park intersection and haven't seen anything that resembles a "close call." It appears that motorist complaints are based on "not fair" or "I'm being illegally delayed by bicyclists." So, the Traffic Division responds with an enforcement action. I find it to be a bit silly.

      If the Traffic Division wants to strictly enforce the law at a STOP sign, I'd suggest checking out the west end of the Ross Island bridge at 5 pm. Motorists accessing the bridge from Barbur have a STOP sign, but motorists coming from Naito allow them to merge without stopping. It's done in a strict rotation - first one, then the other. It's clearly illegal, but it works and there don't seem to be any crashes. But, this a location where 1000 cars per hour roll through the STOP sign on a daily basis during the rush hour. Other times of the day, motorists from Barbur do stop.

      I'd rather the Traffic Division work on enforcement for things that are truly dangerous. Like motorists running STOP signs in most neighborhoods, or failing to yield to pedestrians in marked and unmarked crosswalks, an blowing though red lights. I see these things happen EVERY day. I'd rather they concentrated on enforcing the 20 mph limit in school zones with none of the silly 10 mph "cushion."

      Thanks for the warning about the enforcement action.

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      • 9watts January 5, 2013 at 9:05 am

        You make so much sense, J_R.

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      • Chainwhipped January 5, 2013 at 11:20 am

        Yeah. Wouldn't it be nice if bike enforcement actions occurred in order of the actual level of danger caused by the violation?

        Start with ticketing light-less riders after dark, follow with wrong-way cycling and then maybe move on to Stop signs.

        Lights and bike salmon need to be resolved first, though. I can't tell you how much it hurts to get hit by another bike rider head-on.

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  • Demian Ebert January 4, 2013 at 10:45 am

    Too bad they didn't include a complete re-design and grade separation concurrent with the Sellwood Bridge project. Now that could have been cool.

    Recommended Thumb up 8

    • Granpa January 4, 2013 at 11:04 am

      What could be simpler or more cost effective than putting a tunnel under the right of way of the bike/ped/rail alignment. The ramp from the Springwater to Spokane eastbound could be a flyover structure over Spokane street and the alignment for Oaks Park Drive could canabalize the adjacent parking lot. Easy Peasy. Much better than stopping at the stop sign.

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  • Joe January 4, 2013 at 10:57 am

    WHEN will focused enforcement occur for cell phone users?

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    • Pliny January 4, 2013 at 11:08 am

      On bikes or in cars?

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      • Spiffy January 4, 2013 at 12:04 pm

        is it illegal to use your cell phone while riding a bike now?

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  • Andyc of Linnton January 4, 2013 at 11:32 am

    Man, yeah. I just drove the money-sucker through there last week. I hadn't been over there in a while, and I've got to say, it is truly a horrible design for all users.

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  • encephalopath January 4, 2013 at 12:12 pm

    What does a stop sign in front of a cross walk mean exactly? Is that a traffic control device that even makes sense legally speaking?

    I'd be interested to hear what some of our bike lawyer people have to say about this.

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    • davemess January 4, 2013 at 1:00 pm

      And on the wrong side of the path at that!

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    • encephalopath January 4, 2013 at 2:16 pm

      Are the police going to be ticketing pedestrians who fail to stop for the stop sign?

      As John Lascurettes note in the other crosswalk thread

      'The law is pretty clear: it says "Except as otherwise specifically provided by law, a bicyclist on a sidewalk or in a crosswalk has the same rights and duties as a pedestrian on a sidewalk or in a crosswalk."'

      If walkers and runners aren't required to stop at that stop sign, why would a bicycle be? The stop sign is meaningless and probably unenforceable.

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    • encephalopath January 4, 2013 at 2:19 pm

      Is there some law that changes the crosswalk requirements for multi use paths?

      If not, good luck making those citations stick.

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  • Spiffy January 4, 2013 at 12:13 pm

    we came through here with the BTA for their New Year's Day Ride and it was as annoying as ever...

    a car was stopped coming from Oaks Bottom, and they remained stopped there as if they were waiting for trail crossing traffic to clear, yet they had not yet turned onto Tacoma to wait at the actual stop sign for the trail... so bikes were waiting in anticipation of their presumed illegal upcoming left turn...

    It's a tricky intersection with people in cars coming through at three directions.

    no, cars are only legally coming from two directions, east and west on Tacoma... however people often turn left onto Tacoma from Oaks Bottom and run the trail stop sign...

    since there's already a stop sign for both Tacoma and Oaks Bottom right there it seems that they only put the trail crossing stop sign there some sort of safety concern but all it does is confuse people as to why they have to stop again so they usually just run it...

    ...

    also, this intersection highlights a frustrating grey area for bicycling MUP users... all four directions have a stop sign... that usually means that users to the right get to go first... however, since it's a crosswalk then that means you can assert a right-of way by sticking your front wheel into the road technically making you a pedestrian and suddenly granting you the legal right of way... I've tried to stay and wait for traffic to clear in MUP situations like this, waving people on as I tell them that I have a stop sign, but it's confusing to everybody...

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    • matt picio January 7, 2013 at 8:56 pm

      The "trail" stop sign isn't actually for the trail, it's for the railroad crossing. There *are* 3 legal directions for traffic to come from - the problem is that for one of those three origin points (Oaks Park), the stop sign on the RR crossbucks isn't clearly visible, and may not even be a "legal" stopping point. (the stop sign resides WITHIN the actual intersection)

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  • dmc January 4, 2013 at 1:47 pm

    I like that they offer a Share the Road Safety class as an option.

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  • Dan Kaufman January 4, 2013 at 3:06 pm

    Simple. Get rid of the stop signs.

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  • Sunny January 4, 2013 at 3:43 pm

    The trail stop signs are small and not regulation size. Maybe this was done so drivers wouldn't confuse the intersection as a four way and expect trail users to come to complete stops. I would wager the intent of the mini stop sign was to create awareness for trail users of cross traffic on a busy trail as most other trail crossings have the word 'STOP' painted on the ground rather than a full fledged stop sign. Marked crosswalks legally give the right of way to trail users.

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    • Sunny January 4, 2013 at 3:57 pm

      So I stop for the mini stop sign in case cars are careening through, then proceed with my right of way priority because I'm at a marked crosswalk. That sounds about right. I bet the cars are just stopping because they're confused as well and don't want to eat a ticket. Or they're cyclists themselves like that BMW in the picture that park at the park and ride the trail and are aware that this part of Portland is mostly for recreation at the amusement park or park by the river or parking for trail use.

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    • J_R January 5, 2013 at 8:23 am

      Sunny: The stop signs are small, but they definitely are regulation size. Section 9 of the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices allows a smaller size for shared use paths than for roads.

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  • Joe January 4, 2013 at 3:48 pm

    some car fokes wave me thru this section. I bet this ticket is as much a running a red. 200 bones yikes

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  • Joe January 4, 2013 at 3:50 pm

    A nice ped crossing sign would work much better? or yield sign :)

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  • CharlieB January 5, 2013 at 11:12 am

    Thanks for the heads up.

    This is part of my regular commute and like most stop signs, I will do a slow roll once I deem the intersection clear. However, when any cars, bikes or other users are in the vicinity, I will come to a complete stop, even if I will have the right of way. And when I don't have the right of way, it is usually granted.

    A lot of times (especially during summer) I have to come to a complete stop prior to this intersection in order to make my way past a crowd of strollers/dogs/joggers/oblivious head phone users.

    But I do so with a smile.

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  • spare_wheel January 7, 2013 at 10:21 am

    the stop signs at that location are pointing the wrong direction.

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  • El Biciclero January 7, 2013 at 1:47 pm

    This is just a case of too much ambiguity.

    City can't decide if this is a sidewalk or a roadway

    Cyclists don't know the rules about entering crosswalks (rights and duties of a pedestrian, etc.)

    Drivers don't know the rules about crosswalks, let alone cyclists using crosswalks.

    If there is a crosswalk painted as an extension of this path, then I would call it a "sidewalk".

    If it is a sidewalk, then pedestrian rules apply.

    If pedestrian rules apply, then there are no mini-STOP signs needed on the path.

    What might be appropriate is a sign on the path that says, "Cyclists: SLOW to 3 mph when entering crosswalk" (a reminder of existing law), along with an undersign on the street STOP signs that says "Yield to bikes and peds in crosswalk" (another reminder of existing law).

    IMO, adding mini-STOP signs on MUPs (sidewalks) like this is a clumsy attempt to dumb down an intersection--where existing signage and laws would already be adequate--due to the assumption (probably correct) that nobody actually knows the law.

    The only real ambiguity here is the status of a cyclist who turns from the path onto E-W Spokane St. Such a cyclist would seem to begin the turn as a pedestrian and end it as a vehicle operator...

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    • matt picio January 7, 2013 at 8:58 pm

      The stop signs aren't necessary because of the path - they are necessary because of the at-grade RR crossing. In fact, I believe it's an FRA requirement if there is no crossing signal.

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      • El Biciclero January 8, 2013 at 10:41 am

        The STOP signs on the path that is parallel to the tracks? I'm not saying the street STOPs are unnecessary, only the mini-STOPS actually on the path. If those mini-stops are there for RR purposes, it's even more confusing! Are they part of a "4-way" scenario where cars and bikes take turns and everyone yields to peds, or are they just a "stop to be sure you're not going to get run over by a train if you turn here"? If the latter, isn't there such a thing as a "[LEFT | RIGHT] TURN WATCH FOR TRAINS" sign that could be placed on the path instead of an ambiguous STOP sign?

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