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On the podcast: The ‘invisible urbanism’ of traffic signals

Thursday, June 5th, 2014
Portland’s traffic signal guru, Peter Koonce,
in our podcast studio.
(Photo J.Maus/BikePortland)

When you change something about a traffic signal, people don’t notice. They simply obey.

Well, mostly.

Maybe that’s why signals have quietly become one of the most important and unique ways that Portland has made itself a better place for walking, biking and driving cars at reasonable speeds rather than at noisy and unsafe ones.

In this month’s episode of the BikePortland podcast, Jonathan, producer Lillian Karabaic and I interview one of the wizards behind the curtain of Portland’s unusually safe streets: Peter Koonce.

Koonce, the division manager for Portland’s signals and street lighting division and one of the nicest people you’ll ever meet in municipal government, talked with us about all the tricks in the city’s signal system that you never even noticed. And as always, we close with a transportation tip of the month, Lily’s favorite tweets about TriMet and the uncannily appropriate song that Lily found for the subject of the show.

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Study: Half of Portland bike riders don’t know how to trigger green lights

Wednesday, November 13th, 2013
Signal aids and innovation-3
The place to place the wheels.
(Image by J.Maus/BikePortland)

The pavement marking to the right, which is supposed to tell people where to place the wheels of their bike to trigger a green light, is illegible to about half of Portland bikers, a new study (PDF) finds.

Even worse: Those figures don’t include many people who rarely ride, suggesting that interminable red lights are a particular burden on new bike riders.

Stefan Bussey, a PSU civil engineering student who conducted the survey, said he came up with the idea when he noticed that people ahead of him at the long Seven Corners traffic signals on Southeast Division would regularly stop a few feet away from the traffic signal stencil.

“It would happen three or four times a week,” Bussey said.

Bussey’s research confirmed it: even in Portland, about 55 percent of bicycle riders surveyed don’t know the meaning of the pavement marking.

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Portland takes note as NACTO releases ‘Urban Street Design Guide’

Tuesday, September 24th, 2013
Screenshot from NACTO website.

The National Asssociation of City Transportation Officials (NACTO) released their Urban Street Design Guide yesterday. The new guide is being hailed by its creators as, “a blueprint for the 21st century streetscape” and it couldn’t come at a better time for Portland. (more…)

City staffers: Here’s how to use blog comments effectively

Friday, July 26th, 2013

“I respectfully disagree with you on the topic of traffic signals and support the dialogue on speed limits.”
— A good opening line to a blog comment.

I say it a lot in private conversations, but perhaps not enough here on the Front Page: I believe the most valuable part of BikePortland isn’t the words and pictures we share, but the comments that appear below them. Since the early days, the comments are what have given this site its mojo and they’re what has given me the excitement and energy to keep on blogging.

I could write a book about all my blog comment thoughts and practices, and all the crazy/amazing things that have happened in our comments section. But today, I just want to share one that was written a few days ago by a City of Portland staffer. And not just any staffer, one of a select few Division Managers who actually run things and make important decisions about transportation policy and projects in our city. Peter Koonce is the Manager of PBOT’s Signals, Street Lighting, & ITS (Intelligent Transportation Systems) Division. He is not only a national leader in how to make signals work better, he also “gets it” when it comes to engaging with the public he serves (and his personal, yet work-related blog isn’t too shabby either).
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New signal on NE Lloyd gives bike riders a jump on other traffic

Wednesday, October 3rd, 2012
New bike only signal at MLK and Lloyd-3
The new signal makes it easier for this person to merge left over two lanes of traffic.
(Photos © J. Maus/BikePortland)

The Bureau of Transportation (PBOT) activated a bike-only signal yesterday at the northwest intersection of NE Lloyd Blvd and Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. (more…)

PBOT experiments with ‘intelligent’ new indicator light

Wednesday, June 20th, 2012
Signal aids and innovation-8
One smart light.
(Photos © J. Maus/BikePortland)

One unsung area where Portland is doing some very cool stuff for bicycling is with traffic signals and “ITS” — which stands for Intelligent Transportation Systems. The field of ITS encompasses all sorts of high-tech ways to make our streets smarter. From sensing vehicle patterns with RFID, to software that manages complex signal systems.

Around Portland, some of the most innovative examples of traffic engineering fall under this category. ITS is how PBOT managed to improve bike access on the NE 12th overcrossing without upsetting nearby freight-dependent businesses. It’s also how they dealt with the notorious right hooks on Broadway at Williams (with bike-only signals). (more…)

See PBOT’s latest tweak to Broadway/Williams bike signal

Tuesday, December 28th, 2010
Broadway Williams Bike Signal-1
PBOT crew at work this morning.
(Photos © J. Maus)

A Portland Bureau of Transportation (PBOT) signal operations crew was out at the new Broadway/Williams bike signal this morning. The new signal was installed on October 13th to try and decrease the amount of right-hook collisions that have plagued the intersection for several years.

After over two months, even after some initial tweaks to make it work better, some motor vehicle operators are still not complying with the “no right turn on red” sign.

At issue is a curbside bike lane that is to the right of two right-turn only lanes. PBOT’s new bike signal gives the bike lane its own green light, but the problem is that people in the right-turn only lanes would see the green indicator and assume it was for them — and then make an illegal turn that put non-motorized traffic in danger. (more…)

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