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Two years after being listed as ‘dangerous,’ Broadway/Williams fix languishes

Posted by on November 23rd, 2009 at 12:32 pm

NE Broadway and Williams-1.jpg

The Broadway/Williams intersection is in
dire need of improvements.

[Adams Carroll contributed reporting to this story.]

The City of Portland Bureau of Transportation has known for years that the intersection of NE Broadway and Williams is one of the most dangerous in the city for bike traffic. Significant plans to improve the intersection were drawn up over a year ago, but PBOT has yet to implement them.

After two Portlanders died while riding in bike lanes in October 2007, PBOT put the intersection on its list of 14 to get a green-painted bike box. When a fix turned out to be more complicated than a standard bike box, PBOT went back to the drawing board. In March 2008 they unveiled several possible design solutions including separate traffic signal phases for bicycles, lane reconfigurations, and new pavement markings.

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But those plans sat on a shelf. We didn’t hear about the intersection again until six months later when the intersection claimed yet another victim (who was thankfully not seriously injured). That story, coupled with pressure from the Bicycle Transportation Alliance (BTA), turned up the heat on PBOT once again, and they responded with yet another plan to fix it.

BAC meeting - October-6

City Traffic Engineer Rob Burchfield (R)
presented plans to improve the
intersection in October 2008.

Now, another year has passed and the project remains on hold. But this time, it’s not due to the usual suspects of budget woes or political will (Burchfield told us in October 2008 that “funding is available and construction could start once a design is decided on”). According to City Traffic Engineer Rob Burchfield, the project is waiting for construction of the new streetcar line.

In a phone interview on Friday, Burchfield said that although plans for the intersection are finalized and funded, the city cannot proceed until construction begins on the eastside streetcar loop along NE Broadway. Any bicycle infrastructure improvements made now would end up needing to be dismantled during construction says Burchfield.

Our B-SMaRT tool lists several
collisions, close calls, and complaints
at Broadway/Williams.

In the meantime, Burchfield mentioned that a ‘yield for bikes’ sign has been hung above the bike lane, but no other interim adjustments have been made at the intersection. We asked Burchfield if he could speak about the crossing’s safety record in the past year, and although he had no official data to provide, he said that he had heard reports of another right-hook collision within the past three months. According to our B-SMaRT close calls reporting tool, a man was right-hooked at this location in January 2009, requiring 35 stitches to his face.

Although the signal has been designed, approved, and funded for more than a year now, we most likely won’t see any improvements to this intersection until summer 2010. Kay Dannen of Portland Streetcar Inc. told us that streetcar construction along NE Broadway is currently set to occur alongside the Broadway Bridge closure – from the Fourth of July to Labor Day, 2010.

Currently, water and sewer crews are in the process of relocating a water main on Grand Avenue. No streetcar rails will be laid until this phase of the project has concluded. Until then, people on bicycles will have to remain highly vigilant and alert when traveling through this notorious intersection.

NOTE: We love your comments and work hard to ensure they are productive, considerate, and welcoming of all perspectives. Disagreements are encouraged, but only if done with tact and respect. If you see a mean or inappropriate comment, please contact us and we'll take a look at it right away. Also, if you comment frequently, please consider holding your thoughts so that others can step forward. Thank you — Jonathan

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Steve B.
Guest

Thanks for the report. I’d love to hear what exactly is going on with the connection between NE Weidler and Williams. For such an important, highly-trafficed bike connection, I hoped this intersection would get more attention in the recent construction work. Now, if anything, it appears to be worse. Cyclists are forced to SALMON AGAINST TRAFFIC to queue up in the bike lane. WTF?!

One solution could be a (HUGE) left turn bike box as featured on the cycletracks on NW Broadway.

Jonathan Maus (Editor-in-Chief)
Guest

That’s a great question Steve and something I’ve been thinking about as well… i’ll get an update if there is one. my hunch is that perhaps they’ll put a bike box in the northbound williams direction and encourage east bound bike traffic on weidler to do a “copenhagen left”.

Daniel Ronan
Guest

Hey Jonathan, what is a “copenhagen left?”

flowb33
Guest

I agree with Steve B. I’m kinda blown away that the Wielder/Williams intersection re-design that just occurred seems to have neglected the huge amount of bike traffic that converges there. Maybe they’re waiting for the streetcar construction to re-vamp things here, as well (although I’ve heard no talk of plans or funding).

Jonathan Maus (Editor-in-Chief)
Guest

a copenhagen left is a way to make a left across a large/busy intersection. You proceed eastbound to the adjacent intersection and then re-orient yourself northbound in front of traffic. PBOT installed a bike box expressly for this purpose near PSU in order to facilitate leaving the cycle track.. . and it’s essentially the same movement folks used to do at Weidler/Williams.

McAngryPants
Guest
McAngryPants

Copenhagen Left as talked about on this site

jim
Guest
jim

a big bike box would not cost very much so dismantling it is not an issue, even if later the final solution was something different from a bike box- it would work until that time and maybe save somebodys skin

boneshaker
Guest
boneshaker

Good call Steve B. That’s part of my daily commute and it’s a horrible intersection for cyclists.

TIm
Guest

If nothing else, its really time for the blue area to be repainted, as I rode through there today I saw it was in bad need of paint. And perhaps they could consider painting the block prior to the intersection blue, not just the intersection.
http://www.flickr.com/photos/40716601@N00/4071215102/
http://www.flickr.com/photos/40716601@N00/4032724171/

Andrew
Guest
Andrew

I avoid that intersection on my bicycle unless I feel the need for a mortal challenge. When I do ride it, I take the left-most turn lane — all of it. Some honking may ensue, but I’m much safer than I would be in the bike lane.

david....no the other one
Guest
david....no the other one

Im aware that in some parts of this city people ride differently as opposed to what many riders and drivers are accustomed to having bicyclists do.
Last thursday afternoon/evening 5pm ish. I was traveling west on broadway just west of this intersection(about two blks). Two bicyclists were riding singlefile east bound on the north side of the street.
It is now getting dark early, I had been looking in my passengers side rearview mirror so I could make a right turn at next corner. Around the corner they came, no lights wow they weren’t afraid of me but I was suprised.
As I don’t usually drive or ride in this neighborhood it was very suprising to see bicyclists on my right going the opposite direction in the bike lane, it just seems very narrow and dangerous. I know it probably my perspective as a driver, time of day, traffic, and unfamilarity. Maybe I will buy that 900 lumen bike light.

Zaphod
Guest

Heading W towards the bridge requires nerve, focus and a little luck. If you take the lane (2nd from right) you eliminate risk but drivers can take issue.

are
Guest
are

am with Andrew 10 on this one. eastbound as well, almost always easier and safer to cross over to the left turn lane rather than do the “slalom” described by Steve B. in each case, you have to be ready to hear motorists suggest that you ought to be in the bike lane instead. but what do they know?

beth h
Guest

Once again, some folks are missing the point.

Bike lanes help make it possible for older, slower or less-experienced bike riders to feel safer on the roads. If people don’t feel safe on their bikes they won’t ride them. Period.

It is unrealistic to expect everyone who rides a bike for transportation to simply be faster, stronger or more steely-nerved and take the lane.

Asking bikes to ride in a lane between two car lanes, through an intersection that feeds high-speed motorized traffic onto a freeway, remains highly problematic.

Simply re-painting the blue lane won’t solve this issue, and neither will placing the bikes somewhere else in the traffic flow. Broadway, Weidler, Vancouver and Williams all intersect with a freeway! Unless bike riders are given somewhere else to ride that is actually safe AND MAKES SENSE, I don’t consider this problem really solved.

buzz
Guest
buzz

I ride this stretch frequently and have to say it is one of my least favorite spots to ride. I normally like to keep up my pace, but this is the one stoplight in town I always basically hope turns red so I don’t have to worry about the driver heading to I-5 without using a turn signal. Or like this morning getting sandwiched between two beer trucks.

kernel
Guest

All bke traffic into n/ne should take the Flint bridge, which should be closed to cars.

Bike access to Flint from B’way bridge eastbound and Rose Quater should also be in place.

Why is it so difficult for us to emplement unconventional but highly effective options?

are
Guest
are

beth h 14, although I myself do not have a problem on this particular stretch, I do understand what you are saying. in the end of the analysis — not just here, but in every scenario — the problem is that you are up against motorists operating huge, dangerous machines, and the solution is to limit the motorist, not the cyclist. here, specifically, any motorist who wants to get off on the highway should be required to get over into the right lane several blocks early, and stay there. solid white line, with heavy enforcement. it is because the city is unwilling to do that that we are talking about moving the bike lane inside the right hook or playing games with lights. the people with the weapons have to be made responsible. it is time for the rest of us to come out of hiding and cowering. make them slow down. make them get over early and stay there. if you want to also put in some other approach to the broadway bridge, fine, go ahead, but do not put me onto a mandatory sidepath.

beth h
Guest

Dear “are” (@17):

When government is unresponsive to demands for better bicycle facilities — particularly those that also require motorists to slow down, wait, and otherwise be “inconvenienced” — what then? I totally hear what you’re saying; but I’m also not willing to be cannon fodder in a war of attrition between bike riders and motorists.

are
Guest
are

what I am saying is that the proposed fix will make it worse. and weirdly, in part it will make it worse by giving the less intrepid cyclist a false idea that the arrangement is safer.

Jonathan Maus (Editor-in-Chief)
Guest

if anyone’s interested… we published a guest article by Jessica Roberts that critiqued PBOT’s proposed design titled Two rights don’t make a right.

Troy
Guest
Troy

Hola. I’m the guy who had 35 stitches (and a neck injury) after being hit by a truck in this intersection (mentioned in paragraph 5). In the meantime, I’d recommend this for cyclists who would head West down Broadway through this terrible intersection: instead, head 3 blocks North, to Tillamook, take that West until it Ts into Flint, then take Flint down to reconnect with Broadway, just before Interstate & the Broadway Bridge. It takes a few more minutes, but seems a lot safer.

matthew
Guest
matthew

beth #14,18,

simple things like attending neighborhood association meetings and getting a little face time with local government employees and elected officials can make a big difference. i’ve recently seen the results with the inclusion of bike lanes (at the sacrifice of some on street parking) on the 39th street improvement project here in vancouver. bicycle advocates were consistantly involved in the public forum/planning stages and our wants and needs were heard. i believe bike lanes were included in the original plans and some residents in the neighborhood didn’t see the need or importance of them and wanted them eliminated or re-routed to other streets. i’d like to think that at least in part, the bike lanes remain in the design plans because cyclists made their needs known. i live six blocks from this project and cross 39th street twice on any bike trip to downtown vancouver or portland.

the way i see things “demands” as you’ve put it tend to put up barriers in any discussion. to forcefully state our position and needs in a conversation regarding cycling issues serves us better imo. when the bta’s “demands” were not met on the crc project they walked away from the discission and now have no voice in the project. perhaps they saw their input as being marginalized or ineffective. i’m a neophyte in the sphere of advocacy and politics while the bta seems to be a major force and they are certainly better versed in the nuances involved. i believe they were on an advisory committee? if so i don’t think they were in a position to “demand” anything. just my 2 cents.

i’m with you on not willing to be cannon fodder too. my father used to say “you can be right-and you can be dead right”. having a pulse is something i value. i’m very familiar with the williams/broadway area and is dangerous. going south on vancouver to the transit station you are forced to take a lane and it’s not an area for the timid. heading north on williams a block before broadway there is often a huge puddle that takes up both the bike lane and the car lane next to it. on saturday i stopped in the intersection to let a bus pass so i could ride around it. legally it is a hazard and i could have signaled and used the lane but didn’t feel i wanted to press my luck. i’ve seen buses on williams consistently disregard the safty of cyclists. now i just report any unsafe driving- customerservice@trimet.org if enough of us do this hopefully tri met will correct these problems. if the pbot hears our concerns on the westbound broadway/williams issue it will get a fix we can all live with. literally….

Seth Alford
Guest
Seth Alford

I don’t ride that area as I live on the west side of the river.

I did just re-read the March, 2008, posting and comments, which Jonathan referenced. One comment from Garlynn had a promising solution to this problem. Any solution here was difficult due to the contradictory requirements to accommodate fast vehicular cyclists, timid cyclists, and ORS 814.420.

But, I think that something could have been implemented. It wasn’t, because we have to wait for the streetcar. This seems like another example of how streetcars are bad for bicycling. As it is, bicyclists get least priority for getting this fixed because the city doesn’t want to spend the money twice.

Part of putting in the streetcar is paying for reconstructing the street. That’s why streetcars are so expensive. If there’s a bicycle facility on that street, then that’s just one more thing that the streetcar project should pay for.

OK, say you don’t agree with my anti-streetcar view. How come the city all of a sudden develops a sense of frugality for this project? If city officials knew that they would incur the wrath of an effective BTA (as opposed to the BTA we have currently,) or a hypothetical bicycle political action committee that would endorse their opponents, do you think that a fix for this intersection would languish?

West Cougar
Guest
West Cougar

This situation is ridiculous. A very inexpensive interim solution is available if the city had the motivation to do it.

For instance, on Broadway for the entire block east of Williams the bike lane should be removed and the middle turn lane get the sharrow treatment with overhead signs noting bicyclists are in the traffic lane (I’ve seen these signs sometimes used on narrow bridges).

With a block to position themselves and traffic markings indicating they are supposed to take the lane, a lot of the contention would be resolved.

This is another case of traffic engineers, in their quest for idiot proof facilities, letting perfect be the enemy of good enough.

Todd Boulanger
Guest

Per the suggestion for refreshing the blue bike lane – sadly it is too late in the season to reapply the thermoplastic (it would likely just break up next year – unless PBOT had a large infrared heater). And paint is not a good option.

Do to the recognized traffic safety problem of this intersection…would not the quickest and cheapest interim solution would be to drop one of the motor vehicle turning lanes – make it simpler? (Just ‘barricade it off’ until the streetcar fixes it. This solution would also likely improve the future safety of the work zone for drivers and the construction workers.)

BURR
Guest
BURR

once again PDOT fails to use a readily available tool – sharrow markings – to help accommodate cyclists more safely.

furthermore, there really should only be one right turn lane at this intersection, and the reason that a safety hazard for cyclists exists here at all is due to the very poor design of the interstate overly onto the local traffic grid. As long as the interstate entrance exists, this will be a problem area for cyclists. Streetcar tracks will only compound the problem.

Kris
Guest
Kris

I just don’t get it why ODOT and PBOT – in all the time since the last major bike crash and coverage here on bikeportland – haven’t made the simple call to at least remove the short stretch bike lane wedged in between two high-traffic, right turn lanes. Anyone who has ridden this stretch during rush hour – or when it’s dark, or rainy – will concur that it is a potential death trap that provides cyclists a false sense of safety and is probably confusing to many motorists. It’s particularly dangerous for the occasional rider who is unfamiliar with the traffic flow at this intersection (read: cars in both lanes accelerating to launch onto the I-5 on-ramp).

In the wake of the deaths of Tracy Sparling and Brett Jarolimek, everyone’s hope was that PBOT and ODOT would become more pro-active in fixing this type of recognized “dangerous intersections.” The closure of the access ramp to Greeley on Interstate and the installation of bike boxes all over the inner city were two laudable initiatives going in that direction. However, when it comes to some of the more challenging intersections like the Broadway/I5 one, it looks like we’re still relying for way too long on everyone crossing their fingers real tight.

TIm
Guest

I took another picture this afternoon of the (lack of) paint and noticed as well that there is not a yield sign at the intersection itself, but about half a block back. Perhaps it would be helpful to change the turn arrows at the intersection to the “yield” ones, since in some ways they are contradictory.
http://www.flickr.com/photos/40716601@N00/4132272770/

BURR
Guest
BURR

PDOT doesn’t seem to have any money for paint this year – usually they get most lane markings repainted just in time for the winter studded tire season – but it seems to me that this year very few worn lane markings got any new paint at all.

kernel
Guest

Flint is the correct answer.

k
Guest
k

i was hit in this very intersection.

Steve B.
Guest

According to Roger Geller, the intersection between Weidler/Williams will return to its old configuration once construction is complete.. you can see the curb cuts where the cut-through was. Unfortunately, there won’t be much space for queuing cyclists, but that might change if the increased bike capacity project on Williams is adopted.