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

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.

Peter Koonce is the manager of PBOT’s traffic signal operations division. He says they think compliance has been “pretty reasonable” at Broadway/Williams given the complexity of the lane configuration. He said they’ve been trying to make the green bike signal indicator invisible to motor vehicle operators. They’ve used louvers to shield the indicator but the green light could still be seen.

This morning, Koonce’s crews installed an “optically programmed signal head.” Koonce said the new signal head allows them to change the aperture of the light to narrow its focus, thereby making the green light visible only to people in the bike lane. “Think of it like a laser, as opposed to a light bulb that can be seen 360 degrees.”

This morning, crews tweaked the green light on the bike signal so that it can be seen only from the bike lane. It seems to be working perfectly. Here’s some photographic evidence…

The photo below shows the view from the standard vehicle lane to the left of the bike lane. At this moment, the bike lane has a green light but notice that you can’t see any hint of green from this lane…

… But when you’re in the bike lane you can see the green light no problem.

The new bike signals are experimental treatments that have yet to be approved by the Federal Highway Administration. While Koonce acknowledges that, “There’s no national standard for this that’s one of our problems,” he also says, “we’re not going to rest until we feel like it’s as safe as it can be.”

This is a good improvement and hopefully signal compliance will continue to get better in the coming days and weeks.

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