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Bike-only signal eyed as solution at Broadway/Williams

Posted by on November 13th, 2008 at 11:55 am

NE Broadway and Williams-4.jpg

PDOT is working on safety improvements
at the Broadway/Williams intersection.
(Photo © J. Maus)

This is the preliminary plan for Broadway Williams that was presented at the Bicycle Advisory Committee meeting last night.A month ago, PDOT’s top traffic engineers decided to finally put their heads together and try to make the dangerous Broadway/Williams intersection safer for bikes.

Currently, bikes that continues straight are required to merge one lane south, putting them directly adjacent to right-turning motor vehicles (see photo above).

PDOT has struggled with this intersection for years. It was slated for a bike box, but because of various complicated issues (it’s a high-volume street, it’s got two right-turn lanes onto the I-5 freeway, and streetcar is coming through the intersection soon), a fix was put on the backburner.

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But after we reported a right-hook bike/truck collision that could have had tragic results, PDOT realized the project should be prioritized and now a fix is imminent.

Last month, PDOT’s head traffic engineer Rob Burchfield presented initial thoughts on the project to the city’s Bicycle Advisory Committee (BAC). He then convened a sub-committee of the BAC to flesh out the options. At last night’s meeting, that committee presented their findings.

According to sub-committee member (and now Vice-Chair of the BAC) Robert Pickett, the preferred option is to install a bike-only signal phase at the intersection.

The bike signal would be similar to this one at the intersection of Broadway and Lovejoy at the west end of the Broadway Bridge.
(Photo: Jim Parsons)

Preliminary plans also call for a widening of the bike lane as it approaches Williams from five feet to eight feet (which is very wide) and then down to six feet right before Williams (to accomodate streetcar tracks at the southern end of the intersection).

Currently, the idea that’s being discussed is for a 70 second signal cycle. Here’s how it would break down (photos are from PDOT graphics presented last night):

30 seconds: All westbound motor vehicle traffic gets a green light. Northbound m/v traffic and bike traffic get the red.

15 seconds: Bike traffic gets their own green light while right-turning and northbound Williams traffic gets a red. (Notice the advance stop bars.)

25 seconds: All westbound (Broadway) traffic is stopped while northbound (Williams) traffic gets a green.

Also being considered is an advanced stop bar and a “no turn on red” stipulation for motor vehicle traffic.

Pickett expressed that this new configuration would mean a “trade-off” for bike traffic. The trade-off is that bike traffic will be more inconvenienced than they are now (with longer, more frequent wait times), but they’ll also get increased safety (with a dedicated signal).

“…in light of current traffic patterns, this is the best available option.”
— BAC Chair Mark Ginsberg

Other concerns that are being discussed have to do with whether or not motor vehicle operators and bicycle operators would be used to this type of signalization — where non-compliance by either user could have tragic consequences.

For instance, would someone on a bike be looking up at the motor vehicle signals (like usual) and not realize their own light is red? (For an account of one rider’s perspective on a bike-only signal, read this recent post in the Portland Bike Forums).

Traffic engineer Burchfield thinks that PDOT can design this in such a way that riders won’t be confused and non-compliance won’t be an issue.

Another concern would seem to be whether or not 15 seconds (the length of the bike-only phase) will be enough time for bike traffic to get through the intersection.

Michelle Poyourow from the BTA was also engaged in the discussions. She would like to have the city consider adding some sort of structural curb or median between the bike-only traffic lane and the other traffic lanes, in order to prevent right-turning cars from colliding with bikes that are waiting for the light.

Mark Ginsberg, outgoing Chair of the BAC, said they’ll provide a letter of support for the idea. “We wish it could be done better,” he told me at the meeting last night, “but in light of current traffic patterns, this is the best available option. If it ends up not working, we can revisit it and change it.”

[If you’re curious why PDOT doesn’t just remove one of the two right-turn lanes, I updated my previous story on this with audio from Rob Burchfield explaining why that’s not an option being pursued at this time.]

Funding is available for this project and construction will begin once a design is finalized.

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Jim Parsons
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Jim Parsons

I’d want to make sure that the planners evaluate this for nighttime riders too.

That photo of the Broadway/Lovejoy intersection was ment to show how it DOESN’T work for people unfamiliar with the area.

http://bikeportland.org/forum/showthread.php?t=2360

The bike only sign, and No turn on red signs need to be illuminated, and a flashing yellow diamond warning signal is what I’d recommend to them. At night those retroreflective signs do nothing for cyclists who don’t know what to look out for.

Michelle (BTA)
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Michelle (BTA)

Something else that might make this quite elegant, as well as safe, is if the signal timing works out well with the signals further east on Broadway – so that if you’re biking west on Broadway you can hit the green on this signal without changing your speed too much.

As for the little concrete curb that might separate the end of the bike lane from right-turning traffic, it would be a “comfort” improvement for bicyclists more than a “safety” improvement. (A distinction that city bike planner Roger Geller has made of late.) You might be perfectly safe standing there with traffic on your left, but maybe you’d feel better if there were a curb there too.

There might not be the space for it, and I’m not sure it would work with the gas station driveway, but hey. It would be nice!

I do think that bike-only signal phases are a tool we’ll see the city making more use of in the future – when you can’t separate cars and bikes in space, you can separate them in time. It’s something I’ve seen all over Europe. Once we alert and train Portland bicyclists to get it – and to obey it – I think it’ll be a great addition to the toolbox.

BURR
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BURR

will cyclists have the option of leaving the bike lane and riding with the normal traffic in the through lanes?

Michelle (BTA)
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Michelle (BTA)

Good point about the non-reflective signs, Jim.

I think the city is contemplating explicit pavement markings for this one…no, not lewd bikemen, I mean explicit like “Bike-only signal ahead” or “Look for bike signal.”

jered bogli
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jered bogli

Sounds like a lot of waiting for a light… I’d be inclined to ride in the far left lane as a vehicle if it meant making the light and then work my way right before the bridge. As I continue to learn this intersection the farther left I am the happier I am.

Icarusfalling
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Icarusfalling

I personally abandon the bike lane in this area, and ride in the second lane over from the left until after crossing the freeway overpass.

This is really the safest and most efficient way to deal with cycling in this area.

I fear, as Burr also refers to, that a bike only light in this area will make illegal the best way to travel safely through the intersection.

Even though the bike lane loophole allows riding in the traffic lane through this area,(as it is an extreme hazard zone) adding a light could thoroughly change the legality of leaving the bike lane.

Moving the bike lane over, even if to the left of the second turn lane, really seems to be a much better idea than adding a bike only signal.

I doubt that those drivers rushing to the freeway will either have the patience to, or take the time to, pay much attention to a bike only light.

And the timing of the lights is perfectly fine now for cycling through there. Adding a bike only light, as pointed out in the article above, will only serve to slow the forward progress of cyclists through a sweet downhill section that can help to carry you all the way across the bridge into downtown, from MLK all the way to almost NW Couch.

One more thing. On a bike, momentum equals safety in many ways, and at many intersections.

This intersection in particular fits that bill. Going slowly through, especially after an extended stop, is not advised.

Jordan
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Jordan

On that curb extension that Michelle is talking about could be the bike stoplight. The light could be in the shape of a bicyclist like that intersection at 41st and Burnside (near Laurelhurst Park) and the height could be more related to a crosswalk light.

John Lascurettes
Guest

It’s too bad they aren’t considering giving cyclists the green first and motor vehicles second. During high traffic, I rarely see cars clear the intersection on a yellow or red. So for that 15 second window, bikes will be waiting for those cars (who have even less time now to turn right) to clear the intersection.

We’ll see, it might work in the end.

As it is now, I avoid that intersection except to cross if from the south heading north. I never cross it east to west. Did it once and didn’t want to do it again.

Malex
Guest
Malex

I wonder if people will be confused by all the different lights at this intersection.

Perhaps the red, yellow, and green bike traffic lights could each be a little picture of a cyclist. I think the HAWK light on 42nd (or 41st or 43rd, whichever the bike boulevard is at that point) at the intersection E Burnside has this feature. Is that true or am I just making it up?

Jessica Roberts
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Jessica Roberts

I think double right-turn lanes are so dangerous that cities should ban them (and remove them where they exist). I think it’s such a dangerous design that it’s not worth the additional vehicle capacity you get out of it. I know that removing it would have major side effects, some of them possibly negative for cyclists, but I still think it’s the way to go. (Yes, I listened to Rob’s audio recording, but I stand by this one).

Jordan
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Jordan

I like the idea of creating a barricade that adds a small element of safety and a large element of comfort and confidence. I think if that median/barrier that Michelle is talking about was built, the bike light should go there. The light could be in the design of a bicyclist like the light at 42nd an Burnside (or whichever it is). Also, if the light was twisted and to focus more on traffic in the bike lane and was about the height of a crosswalk light it would attract the attention of a bicyclist a lot more than being strung up with the other traffic lights.

andy
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andy

I don’t know – I’ve seen too many motorists turn against that “no turn on red” light to trust their future compliance. Maybe it would work if they put in one of those red light cameras in addition to any signalization changes…

Chase
Guest
Chase

THey should also put an activation button for cyclists to press if the signal phase at night doesn’t cycle for them.

I really hate having to run red lights because my non-ferrous framed bicycle doesn’t trigger signal phases.

Chris
Guest
Chris

This is a minor detail, but the caption on the second figure isn’t what the graphic shows. The right-turn movement is red but the westbound thrus are concurrently green with the bike movement.

BURR
Guest
BURR

I agree with Jessica, removing the second turn lane is a much better way to go. Double right turn lanes should really be eliminated everywhere they exist in the city.

r
Guest
r

many motorists disregard the signal at Lovejoy, and many will do the same here, and cyclists will be lulled into a false sense of security. like Icarus (comment 6), I get over into the second lane early for this mess, disregarding the occasional unkind comments from motorists, because — as I have said on these boards before — “you cannot get right hooked if there is no one to your left.” the correct fix here is limit right turns to the far right lane. this might require signage a couple of blocks earlier, warning motorists that they had better get over now or forget it. if we absolutely have to have this light business here, then I agree with comment 8 that the sequence should be reversed, so that the cyclist gets the first jump and does not have to compete with motorists taking a late yellow.

Patrick
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Patrick

I ride this intersection at rush hour every day, and I rarely if ever see right turn traffic that warrants two right turn lanes. If anything congestion is caused by the fact that only one of the two lanes gets you smoothly onto I-5 North, so drivers get confused and freeze just as they are turning. A single right turn lane would be better for everyone, drivers included.

bobcycle
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bobcycle

I think we need to fight this one. I’m with #6 above… take the lane… take the lane… take the lane. I will be e-mailing BTA shortly to let them know how I feel.

Martha R
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Martha R

The potential for “tragic consequences” due to driver non-compliance is just too great here. At *all* other “no turn on red” areas around town, I *always* see drivers turning right on red. Even when there’s a red right arrow, I see drivers turn right on red.

How does Mr. Burchfield plan to design the intersection to ensure TOTAL compliance with the “no right on red” requirement? That’s the crux of the design: drivers are developing their freeway mentality at this intersection, and it’s going to take a lot to make them stop and stay stopped at the red. With the bike lane on the right and the high volume of bike traffic, there is no room for motorist error.

I agree with Jessica Roberts — it really would be worth it to remove one of the turn lanes. When will we as a society be willing to sacrifice vehicle capacity in order to avoid sacrificing human lives?

Kevin Wagoner
Guest

I could see myself being confused like this.

“For instance, would someone on a bike be looking up at the motor vehicle signals (like usual) and not realize their own light is red?”

I work down the block down there. My commute home doesn’t take me through there often (unless I’m meeting friends somewhere). I am excited to hear they are doing something about the intersection.

Zaphod
Guest
Zaphod

Icarus Falling #6 has some very good points. Having the cyclist-only phase *after* the motorists will probably cause enough localized gridlock that the 15 seconds for cyclists will be spent trying to navigate cars blocking our path. I also project that once cars understand that cyclists are next in the queue, they might be more inclined to roll a late yellow or red. I find that motorists are often quite surprised when I’m going faster than a gentle pace. So whether riders are coming into the intersection carrying some speed or pedaling from a stop with some intensity, it could result in carnage.

Given we cyclists already have to exercise some vehicular riding to get into the bike lane one over from the right why not do this one more time to really put us in a low risk zone. Combine this with some clear, “cyclists merging left” graphic signs and big bold green sharrows and we’re in business.

Here are the issues I see with the signal approach.
1) You’ll have fast fearless cyclists riding in the auto straight lane with less aggressive cyclists on the right at the same time. This will be confusing and stressful for all road users (except perhaps the fearless cyclists).
2) Timing will create no friends, cyclists and motorists will tire of it.
3) Non-compliance of the light by both parties makes for extremely high risk consequences.

jim
Guest
jim

The right side turn lane is handy for vehicles that are going onto Williams rather than the freeway. If there was only 1 right turn lane it could easily get all blocked up at rush hr. That would be really bad for ambulances or anyone else that needs to make a beeline to Emanuel Hospital.
Its about ime they made a fix for this. How many yrs has it ben like this? I allways felt it unwise for anyone to try and ride through that engineered acident waiting to happen

jim
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jim

If they make the coliseum into a baseball park that whole area is going to be screwed up with construction for a few years for everybody.

Schrauf
Guest
Schrauf

The short green light and long red for cyclists is unreasonable, except for the fact it should still be perfectly legal to leave the bike lane and take the green intended for the standard lanes. This is going to happen all of the time, so the legality of such should be clarified. I realize it is legal to leave the bike lane when it becomes necessary to do so for safety – does this qualify, in the eyes of law enforcement?

Schrauf
Guest
Schrauf

On the other hand, the simplest, cheapest and best approach would be to convert the second turn lane (the left lane of the two lanes turning right) into a clearly marked shared bike/vehicle lane. This would require sharrows, signs, maybe some sort of flashy paint.

The signage would need to make it clear to drivers that cyclists are encouraged to ride down the middle of the lane, obviously to avoid the right hook the current bike lane encourages.

The signage would need to make it clear to cyclists that they need to scoot their ass over to the middle of that second lane, in the last block before that crazy turn.

This is what smart cyclist do now, regardless of the presense of the silly bike lane. Has such a simple plan been considered, and what is the problem with it?

This will always be a unique and confusing intersection, but with the change above it will be simple to navigate after one trip through.

Schrauf
Guest
Schrauf

Ah yes, in my plan above, cyclists might get impatient when that second shared lane is backed up with cars, and pass on the right anyway. Well, this would be their mistake. They should move to the third lane from the right (the lane required to go straight) if the turn lanes are backed up. And then shift back over after Williams.

audrey
Guest
audrey

i commute down broadway and across the bridge (heading west) almost every day. the bike signal at the end of the broadway bridge (at lovejoy) is pretty scary, because i can’t even put a number on how many cars i have seen make an illegal turn.
the signals are just one of many hazardous things about this road. there are people trying to park on the street who will suddenly stop in front of you or back into you, people trying to reenter traffic who will cut you off, people suddenly turning in to the gas station.

JE
Guest
JE

Alerting the cyclist to a bike signal–

How about painting a traffic light (maybe with red yellow green bikes) on the bike lane?
Or the words “bike signal.”

John Lascurettes
Guest

@Jim (#22 http://bikeportland.org/2008/11/13/bike-only-signal-eyed-as-solution-at-broadwaywilliams/#comment-1023549 )

Regardless of the convenience of that right lane for turning onto Williams, it is still marked as a no turn on red lane now and will remain so. So going down to one lane would not slow traffic going to Emmanuel. As other have pointed out, those confused drivers that turn from there and then still try to make it to the free onramp lock up and slow down the intersection even more.

Besides, if there’s gridlock on Broadway, EMTs and anyone familiar with the areas knows they can turn blocks early and use a side street to get to WIlliams and therefore Emanuel (that’s how I do it every single time I’m in a car in that area – just to avoid the onramp goons who can’t figure out the turn lanes).

cda
Guest
cda

I really, really, REALLY don’t like this.

What we have now is better than this. If something must be done, remove the second turn lane.

A 15 second window for bikes is not long enough and the risk of right turn on red is too great.

If this goes into effect, I think that it will only cause more confusion and bad feelings between riders and drivers. we will see a lot of bikes simply taking the right hand through lane and drivers getting upset because bikes are not “where they are supposed to be.”

cda
Guest
cda

As an alternate proposal, why don’t we have the far left lanes turn right for 30 seconds and then have all of the the right lanes (cars and bikes) go straight for 15 seconds?

Makes about as much sense, doesn’t it?

cda
Guest
cda

My alternate proposal was obviously sarcastic.

BURR
Guest
BURR

please stop sending our public officials to Amsterdam and Copenhagen, they come back with half baked ideas that cannot be reasonably integrated into traffic engineering in the US but insist on trying them anyway, to the detriment of cyclists.

Paul Manson
Guest
Paul Manson

**Cough cough** Roundabout **cough** Roundabout

jim
Guest
jim

John Lascurettes
November 14th, 2008 11:49 29

They need 2 lanes to handle moving the cars off of Broadway, otherwise it would be just a big mess there with the short onramp, They know how to handle cars ok, they just have no idea how to work bikes safely into the system. Maybe if all the bikes going through the intersection were naked like that one guy people might take notice that someone is there

TS
Guest
TS

I’d like to second (or third?) the comments here that this and any other bicycle-specific traffic lights need special signage. I spend relatively little time while riding looking any higher than eye level. The pedestrians, bicycles, cars, doors, potholes, leaves, and sewer grates I need to avoid are all at a level or downward angle of view.

I like the idea of painting a “bicycle signal ahead” in the bike lane preceding the signal. If there’s going to be a curb separating traffic, a narrow eye-level sign of a bicycle and stop light would help make the point (rather like stop ahead signs for cars). The “bicycle signal” sign should be to the left of the bicycle light, or attached directly to it, unlike the Broadway signal. The light should also be in the form of a bicycle-looking outline. Then it’s clear to cars that “this is not your signal” and to bikes that it is.

I don’t think 15s is long enough. I’d want 20, and depending on how heavy the bike traffic is there, maybe longer.

bobcycle
Guest
bobcycle

This all seems to be about how to “accommodate” bicyclists on roads primarily designed for cars. What we should be looking at is a bicycle thoroughfare somewhere in portland that allows bikes to cross the river conveniently and safely. The esplanade crossing at the Steele bridge is nice but not really accessible to a commuter and watch out for pedestrians! This is Portland (the Platinum City?) lets think outside the box folks. If only we still had that Sauvie Island bridge they dismantled!