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.
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.
(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):
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.