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After yet another right-hook, a fix is needed for Couch/Grand – Updated

Posted by on August 17th, 2011 at 11:07 am

The intersection of NE Couch and Grand as it stands today. After many documented right-hook collisions, perhaps it’s time to come up with a new engineering solution?
(Photos © J. Maus)

The intersection of NE Couch and Grand has claimed yet another victim.

“I do my best to be vigilant at intersections but I guess in this case I was not vigilant enough.”
— Owen Spencer, right-hook victim

Yesterday morning, 27-year old Owen Spencer was headed west on Couch. As he entered the intersection with Grand, he was struck by a pickup truck. It was a classic right hook. “I was thrown into the street,” recalls Spencer. Fortunately for him, the person driving the truck stopped and admitted guilt. With a few solid witnesses, the Police were able to issue the driver a $323 citation (for failure to yield to a bicycle in a bike lane).

Scene of right hook NE Couch and Grand-1

Scene of a collision last year.

Spencer banged up his elbow and badly bruised his hip and has been instructed to remain on bedrest by his doctor until full motion of his leg returns. Far from a novice rider, Spencer is a staffer for the Bicycle Transportation Alliance (heading up the Bike Commute Challenge program). “I do my best to be vigilant at intersections but I guess in this case I was not vigilant enough,” he told me yesterday via email.

Spencer’s experience is far too common at this intersection.

Laura Stanger was hit
earlier this month (she
took it in stride).
(Photo courtesy Laura Stanger)

Earlier this month Laura Stanger suffered significant injuries when she was right-hooked at the same location (hers was a hit and run).

Back in September 2010 Jill Michaelree was also right-hooked at Couch and Grand. She suffered a broken foot that required surgery.

Michaelree’s collision happened the morning after the Portland Bureau of Transportation identified the intersection as its #1 safety concern and put it atop a list to receive a colored bike lane and bike box. Unfortunately — as the two injury collisions this month (and numerous near misses that don’t get reported) prove — that solution isn’t working.

Every time I report about this intersection, comment come in from people who say they’ve experienced, witnesses, or narrowly avoided right-hooks.

Just yesterday via Twitter, Paul Manson wrote “I tried the Couch/Grand intersection for the first time last week, had to really dodge the right hooking cars.”

Yesterday on Facebook, Esther Harlowe wrote, “Almost got right hooked there this a.m. Per usual.” Harlow was responding to her friend Steve Pilson who wrote, “That intersection is the most dangerous one I pass through regularly.”

Many people choose to completely avoid Couch because of safety concerns.

Bikes on Couch -6

Many feel that taking the lane
on NE Couch is safer than
using the bike lane.

We experienced a similar, repeated right-hook risk at the Broadway-Williams intersection. After several reports of injury collisions and even after being identified by PBOT as one of the city’s most dangerous intersections, it took three yearsbefore the problem was addressed.

We shouldn’t have to wait that long this time around.

As I’ve detailed in the past, Couch was recently changed due to the East Burnside-Couch Couplet project. That project changed Couch to a one-way westbound (among other things). A gradual downhill, Couch has no bike lanes until NE 6th. Many people feel that it would be safer with no bike lanes at all.

“The bitter irony is that the bike lane itself makes it unsafe,” writes Steve Pilson.

Pilson’s opinion is shared by many people who think that NE Couch would be safer if people didn’t use the bike lane at all and simply shared the standard vehicle lane with cars. Taking the lane is feasible at this location because it is a slight downhill and the lights are timed for about 12-15 mph (meaning the speed differential between bikes and cars isn’t that great).

Here are some solutions for the right-hook risk at Couch/Grand that I’ve heard via comments, Facebook and Twitter:

  • a separate traffic signal phase for bike traffic; a bike-only signal like at Broadway-Williams,
  • a “pre-green” for bikes where they’d be given a 5 second advance to get out in front of cars at signals,
  • more signage to warn people in cars to yield to bikes prior to making a right turn,
  • remove the bike lane and bike box,
  • shared-lane markings (sharrows) on NE Couch to help encourage people to ride in the lane,
  • put the right-hand turn lane to the right of the bike lane,
  • remove Couch as the bikeway and put a two-way, separated cycle-track on E Burnside!

Do you ride on NE Couch? What are your experiences with the Grand intersection? Do you have ideas on how PBOT could improve it?

UPDATE: PBOT Director Tom Miller says via Twitter that they are working on a solution now. See his tweets below

Meeting now with PBOT technical staff to devise solutions to NE Grand/Couch right hook problem.

Field observations have begun. We’re gathering data now, and expect to have a package of improvements in about a week.

No easy solutions. We’re contemplating use of tools we’ve never used before. We appreciate everyone’s patience and support as we innovate.

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. Thank you — Jonathan

  • jeff August 17, 2011 at 11:16 am

    position yourself in between cars at intersections at appropriate speeds and always assume they’re going to turn in front of you. take the lane there. don’t trust anyone. glad he’s OK.

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  • ray August 17, 2011 at 11:26 am

    I agree, this is one of the most dangerous intersections I ride through regularly. I also agree that the bike lane, in it’s current placement, makes it more unsafe, as the vehicles don’t seem to even pay attention to you unless you’re in that bike lane. I’m glad Owen’s doing well. I’ve also had two similar incidents at this intersection where I’ve dumped my bike in the road (after jumping off mid-ride) and slammed my bike into the curb to avoid right-hook incidents. Both times the driver continued on without stopping. This intersection in particular is the reason I no longer ride with cleats in the city (in case I need to make an emergency dismount).

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    • A.K. August 17, 2011 at 11:45 am

      Interesting that you stopped riding clipless so you can dismount more easily.

      I rode my old bike with flat pedals the other week, though afternoon traffic in SE and NW Portland. It was the first time I’d been on it in a year.

      For me, *not* riding my normal clipless system made me feel like I didn’t have as much power available, and I had to worry about the position of my feet and making sure they didn’t come off the pedals on accident. I felt like I couldn’t keep up with traffic and didn’t have my normal nimbleness and responsiveness. I normally have no problem sharing the road with traffic in Portland and found this rather unnerving.

      Any ways, not trying to refute your position at all! Just an interesting observation from my own experiences last week.

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      • ray August 17, 2011 at 11:53 am

        No worries. I do feel like I have reduced power, but I feel a lot more comfortable, especially at this intersection (and a few others downtown) with the ability to ‘eject’, stuntman-style, in the case of an impending collision.

        I actually installed pedals with both a flat side and an SPD side so I can ride clipless in town, cleated out in the country. Best of both worlds for me.

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      • are August 18, 2011 at 7:17 pm

        with toeclips you do not have that problem

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  • Allan August 17, 2011 at 11:29 am

    I ride like Jeff describes, but I think that is only part of the solution, as it is too dangerous for new riders who haven’t had lots of close calls.

    solutions that don’t actually work:
    a “pre-green” for bikes where they’d be given a 5 second advance to get out in front of cars at signals,
    -> this solution is solved by the bike box we already have. the problem is when you aren’t at the light when its red, but you arrive during the green phase when cars are already moving. This would only work if you actually gave bikes a RED light when cars had a green, and that might suck because of how little time bikes would get.

    more signage to warn people in cars to yield to bikes prior to making a right turn,
    -> the problem is the folks who aren’t paying attention. they won’t see the additional signage until its too late

    this could be amazing if done right:
    remove Couch as the bikeway and put a two-way, separated cycle-track on E Burnside!

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    • Paul Souders August 17, 2011 at 11:54 am

      I wonder why we don’t have 2-way separated tracks on EVERY one way street in Portland. I think this all the time riding on SW Broadway: so wide, you could easily squeeze another bike lane in there.

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    • was carless August 17, 2011 at 2:48 pm

      How about this: have a counter-direction cycle track on Burnside from Grand to MLK, and merge onto the Burnside bridge where the funky crosswalk is.

      That way you can still take Ankeny > Grand, turn right, bike up the Grand sidewalk 1 block, cross Burnside, turn left on Burnside, then merge onto the bridge going west.

      I usually do this now, as I live on Stark and don’t want to bike 3 blocks out-of-direction to get across the bridge. For those of you who live in NE, however, it would likely be inconvenient.

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      • Mindful Cyclist August 17, 2011 at 3:17 pm

        I think this would be a good idea. I really miss how easy it was to get across the Burnside Bridge coming off Ankeny and having that big bike/bus lane between Grand and MLK. Now it is just a hassle to go have to wait for all those lights.

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        • Norbert August 17, 2011 at 9:45 pm

          Yes, getting from Ankeny to the bridge via Couch is a pain, and typically requires a couple of stops at red lights (to say nothing of the dangerous interactions with cars). I and several other cyclists have ended up just taking Ankeny straight across Grand & MLK, then take a right for a block on the sidewalk on the west side of MLK, cross Burnside, then left on the sidewalk there onto the bridge. Rarely requires a single stop, and very little interaction with auto traffic. I’d love to see the city consider making this official by turning part of the wide sidewalk into bike path.

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  • A.K. August 17, 2011 at 11:30 am

    Certainly bad design there has lead to this increase, because many people will use the bike lanes if they are provided, and some drivers will continue to fail to look/yield before turning.

    To me, the most simple solution, without complex new lights and whatnot that drivers and cyclists will need to learn and understand, would be to remove the lane there and put sharrows down the street to notify drivers that cyclists will be sharing the lane.

    Most of Couch doesn’t have a bike lane, so why bother to implement one in the most dangerous part of the street, exactly where you should be in-line with the traffic rather than beside it?

    Glad to hear Spencer didn’t break any bones and should make a full recovery, and that the driver actually did the right thing and stuck around.

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    • are August 18, 2011 at 7:19 pm

      remove the striped lane and put in sharrows? maybe this is one of the “tools we’ve never used before” to which tom miller refers?


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  • Reza August 17, 2011 at 11:32 am

    I always go to the left of cars in the right lane at high-risk intersections like this (WB on Multnomah St at Grand is another problem area). I don’t assume that just because a car does not have its right-turn signal on that it is going straight (if it has the option of doing so in the right-hand lane).

    I agree that the bike lane hinders more than it helps. Multnomah also has a bike lane approaching the intersection at Grand.

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  • John Lascurettes August 17, 2011 at 11:54 am

    Another solution that can be proposed. NO RIGHT TURNS at that intersection.

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    • whyat August 17, 2011 at 12:13 pm

      And vehicles going north take what alternative?

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      • John Lascurettes August 17, 2011 at 12:49 pm

        Three left turns. Since they’re all on one-way streets, it’s a simple maneuver.

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        • S brockway August 17, 2011 at 1:38 pm

          3 lefts works on the transit mall downtown it seems.

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    • q`Tzal August 17, 2011 at 12:39 pm

      Was gonna say that myself – in the same spirit as our wayward commisioner and Romans poisoning wells when retreating:
      “Why should our tax dollars go to subsidise an automotive transportation ecosystem that is consistantly the cause of death for tens of thousands of people each year for the last 30+ years?”
      “Show me a comensurate or even estimated extrpolation of how many injuries and deaths these scofflaw cyclists cause versus scoff law drivers.”

      What alternatives are there for 4-wheelers and big rigs?

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  • Schrauf August 17, 2011 at 11:59 am

    A flashing or steady lit sign TURNING VEHICLES MUST YIELD TO BIKES would be worthwhile. Other than that, we can all choose between the slower, lower risk option (taking the lane and potentially waiting behind cars) or the faster higher risk option (taking the bike lane and generally not waiting behind cars, but nevertheless watching carefully for drivers not caring if they kill other people, and being able to stop on a dime).

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    • q`Tzal August 17, 2011 at 12:43 pm

      That doesn’t work consistantly anywhere.
      Only special case retractable bollards stop ID10Ts every time.

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    • Psyfalcon August 17, 2011 at 1:11 pm

      Have you ever seen a school bus right hook a Max on the transit mall? Signs are useless.

      That bus was empty, going to pick kids up, but its really ingrained how people don’t read signs, and will make a quick cut to the right whenever they feel they need to.

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    • are August 18, 2011 at 7:22 pm

      the circumstance in which you would be waiting behind cars for a light to change would be pretty rare, considering the entire sequence of lights from 12th to MLK is timed to about 15 mph. maybe in an extreme rush, where motor traffic backs up through several intersections. (and in that situation, it would generally be a mistake to come cruising down the right at any appreciable speed anyway.)

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  • Kirk August 17, 2011 at 12:00 pm

    We can’t go backwards here. We have a bike lane in place, so let’s utilize the Right-of-Way already in place for bikes, and improve upon this.

    Let’s mimic as much as we can (we have to make it work for Portland) from the country that has done it the best – the Netherlands.

    This video easily explains how they have converted the bike lane into a much safer crossing: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FlApbxLz6pA

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    • are August 18, 2011 at 7:24 pm

      what you are illustrating is a forced right. at this intersection, motorists have the option or turning right or going straight.

      also, i do not see the logic of your statement that because PBoT mistakenly put in a striped bike lane where a shared lane would have been appropriate, and then compounded the error by putting in a bike box, “we can’t go backwards” by tearing all that crap out.

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  • Chris I August 17, 2011 at 12:00 pm

    What about removing the parking and creating a shared right turn lane for cars / bike lane. This would be similar to what we have out on NE 122nd. All you need is a sign saying “right lane must turn right, except for bicycles”. Paint it green, and you’re good.

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    • are August 18, 2011 at 7:25 pm

      they got a lot of pushback on taking out parking when this was in the planning stages

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  • Severin August 17, 2011 at 12:00 pm

    I don’t think removing a bike facility is addressing the problem, cyclists will still use the street when necessary and ALL streets should be safe for cyclists to begin with. Portland should try some ‘crazy experimental design’ that mirrors what the Dutch have done to increase safety better than bike boxes or switching right turn lane with bike lane. And by ‘crazy and experimental’ I mean proven method of increasing safety for cyclists for decades in the Netherlands.


    Someday, it would be nice if someone 8-80 could ride safely on this street, something not a lot of people think about when claiming sharrows, or removal of bicycle facility altogether is the way to go.

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    • Jay August 17, 2011 at 12:20 pm

      Wow, that dutch design is pretty sweet! I just imagine though that it’s probably only feasible on streets that are wide enough to handle it.

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      • Alex August 17, 2011 at 9:19 pm

        Check out the other video that was posted by Kirk. It demonstrates that no extra space is needed for this to be implemented.

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        • are August 18, 2011 at 7:26 pm

          yes, but what it does require is a forced right, which is not what we have here

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    • Alex August 17, 2011 at 12:25 pm

      +1 for Dutch junctions! This just makes too much sense!

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    • Andrew Seger August 17, 2011 at 3:26 pm

      Wow thanks for posting that. Would be great to use these+cycle tracks on the arterials.

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  • Stripes August 17, 2011 at 12:02 pm

    I feel like the engineering solution here is to make the Ankeny Street CAR boulevard into the Ankeny Street BIKE boulevard. The stretch of Ankeny between SE 20th & MLK/Grand sees more car than bike traffic – all of it intentionally taking the bike boulevard to avoid the new one way couplet on Burnside.

    If Ankeny wasn’t currently such a goddam shitty facility for bicycles during peak times, then perhaps more cyclists would use it, instead of Couch.

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  • K August 17, 2011 at 12:14 pm

    The signage here is VERY poor. Typically at a bike box location, the “no right turn on red” signage is placed in FRONT of the bike box (say, hanging from the traffic lights on the far side of the intersection).

    Here at this particular intersection, PBOT have placed their “no turn on red” sign BEHIND the bike box as you wait at the intersection – it’s on a telephone pole. Meaning, if you are in your car you can’t actually SEE the “no turn on red” sign as you are waiting at the intersection, because, it’s behind you.

    To me, the signage seemed like a bit of an afterthought. I think moving the sign to be hanging on the traffic light poles would help. Having it flash would double help.

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    • Opus the Poet August 18, 2011 at 4:31 pm

      The sign should be on the other side of the intersection by the MUTCD. signs prohibiting actions at an intersection must be visible from the front-most spot at the intersection, just over the crosswalk.

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  • bumblebee August 17, 2011 at 12:32 pm

    If motor vehicle operators are routinely violating right-of-way for cyclists why hasn’t there been more law enforcement at this intersection? I don’t watch television, but are there public service messages that inform the driving public about how to navigate bike boxes? I just don’t understand how people can blow through these intersections with so little awareness. This is Portland, for gosh sakes! It’s not like thousands of cyclists descended on the city overnight. I just don’t get it.

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    • ray August 17, 2011 at 12:38 pm

      There isn’t a bike box at this particular intersection. That’s a part of the problem.

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      • She August 17, 2011 at 12:44 pm

        There is a bike box, look at the picture…it is more that drivers are not sure what to do with the bike shop.

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        • ray August 17, 2011 at 12:46 pm

          You’re totally right, and I stand corrected. For some reason I was remembering the intersection in my head as it ‘used’ to look.

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      • are August 18, 2011 at 7:27 pm

        there is a bike box, and the bike box is itself a large part of the problem, because it lures these cyclists into an inherently unsafe situation.

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    • Stripes August 17, 2011 at 12:40 pm

      But that’s just it. Many of the cars that barrel through our arterial streets at high speed on a daily basis are not FROM Portland. They’re from Gresham, and Sandy, and Forest Grove, and Beaverton, and Vancouver. The way people drive out in the burbs is very different from the way many Portlanders drive. Perhaps we need to extend our outreach to these areas too.

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  • Mindful Cyclist August 17, 2011 at 12:42 pm

    I say make a bike light like the one on Broadway/Williams or putting a turn lane to the right of the bike lane. A cycle track on Burnside is an interesting idea and could work. I say we fund it by putting a red light camera to nab the No Right on Red violators if PBOT goes with the bike light on Couch/Grand.

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  • kent August 17, 2011 at 12:50 pm

    Remove the bike lane and the box – the problem with the lane and box is the downhill and minimal speed differential between cars and bikes. Even if the driver looks, they are not expecting the bike to be approaching as quickly as they are, and the driver hooks them. Cyclists should ignore the bike lane and take the lane.

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  • tonyt
    tonyt August 17, 2011 at 12:53 pm

    “With a few solid witnesses, the Police were able to issue the driver a $323 citation.”

    The citation is more the result of a change of attitude/procedure by the cops. In 2003 I was hit by a driver who ran a red light. The responding officer lectured ME for having the gall to expect the driver to be cited. And I had several “solid witnesses.”

    I know of many people who had similar experiences. Heck, it used to be that you had to be traumatically injured and transported by ambulance for the cops to issue any citation. If I’m not mistaken, that was the PPB formal policy.

    Glad to see the change in action.

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    • John Lascurettes August 17, 2011 at 2:32 pm

      It’s still the policy of the PBB to not write a police report unless the cyclist is transported to a hospital via ambulance.

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  • jocko August 17, 2011 at 1:25 pm

    I much like many others just take the lane at this intersection. I think that the bike boxes have lost their effect after a few years. I also imagine that there are countless near misses every day at this intersection and if the PPB would simply post a moto-cop there during rush hours for a few days we would once again see more compliance. I think that the fix is removing that stupid two block bike lane, it does more harm than good, since it give the motorist the green light to gun it (exceeding speed limit most of the time) past cyclists right before the intersection in question.

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    • Chris I August 17, 2011 at 1:51 pm

      It’s frustrating that this brand new street project was done so poorly. There should be a 3rd lane for bikes and busses from Sandy all the way to the bridge. The city caved to pressure for business parking on Couch.

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      • Unit August 18, 2011 at 12:05 pm

        Take away the parking, and this street becomes a speedway that’s hostile to pedestrians, bikes, and any viable economic development. The parking is what makes the sidewalks safe and comfortable to walk on.

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  • xtof August 17, 2011 at 1:54 pm

    Because of my route, I often land at the light just before it turns green. I make every effort to get my body in a place where the driver MUST see me before the light changes, however, I notice that frequently drivers have pulled completely into the green box, regardless of which way they are going to turn.
    I’ve not experienced a near miss myself but I credit that only to how aggressive I am about being visible to the drivers. The sheer number of drivers I see who’ve pulled into the green box leads me to believe that the effectiveness of this measure is diminishing. I’m not sure, but I think that a separate signal for bikes would be most effective here.

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  • was carless August 17, 2011 at 2:41 pm

    A couple of days ago, after reading the collision of Ms. Stanger, I found myself riding on this same street headed towards the bridge. However, I decided to take the lane, as the car in front of my pulled INTO the bike lane with its turn signal on. As I pass the car turning right, the drive leaned out the window and yelled at me, something to the effect of “ride in the bike lane you **** [expletive] cyclist.”

    That was the first time in about 3 years that someone has yelled at me cycling (I cycle year round, 5 days a week), and it was highly irritating, as the driver clearly was an idiot. His suggestion would have right-hooked me before I even made it to the crosswalk.

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    • Kristen August 18, 2011 at 9:09 am

      How did he expect you to ride in the bike lane when clearly he was driving in it?

      Or was he planning on right-hooking you and was disappointed that you thwarted his plan?

      By taking the lane behind him, it enabled him to make his turn without having to wait for you to go by– in effect, he could turn unimpeded (except for any pedestrians crossing); I would think that would be a good thing.

      Sometimes, other people’s logic escapes me.

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  • Livellie August 17, 2011 at 3:00 pm

    For years my bike commute route would take me down Burnside from Sandy. After the couplet was completed, I tried going down Couch a few times but…yuck! I find it safer and easier to maintain my smile by using Davis instead. Less traffic and congestion to deal with. There’s no bike lane or green box on Davis so I don’t know if it’s truly safer or not. But Davis is now part of my preferred route into downtown.

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  • q`Tzal August 17, 2011 at 3:00 pm

    It’s really heartening to see that the guilty party in this vehicular altercation had the guts to stand up and take responsibility for his actions and not plead the ol` standby “BUT HE CAME OUT OF NOWHERE!!!”

    So, actions that caused this: bad.
    Actions afterwards: great.

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  • Tony H August 17, 2011 at 3:00 pm

    In general: slow down. Maybe it was my motorcycle training, but I assume that the drivers will NOT see me. Also, locations (like the one pictured above) where the parking zone ends with a curb “bump-out” seem to create a squash zone. Maybe it’s just me, but it doesn’t feel safe. Be extra alert.

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  • Jason August 17, 2011 at 3:03 pm

    I ride to work five days a week down NE Couch to go over the Burnside bridge. This intersection is a nightmare. I would estimate at least two close calls per week as well as needing to ride overly aggressively/passively to make it safely through. The problem is (like I said) I either have to charge the intersection and likely make a driver have an “oh shit” moment, or I have to hang back and clog bike traffic INSIDE A GREEN BOX.

    Out of the 10 weeks I have been working downtown I can remember about 3 times where a driver yielded to me (or the cyclist(s) in front of me) before turning right. They always get a friendly wave from me.

    I have become very accustomed to my ride down NE Couch in the morning and down NW Everett on my way home (another green box at the freeway entrance). Overall, I’m disappointed. Green boxes are expensive and (in my opinion) almost useless.

    As far as solutions, I will probably continue to ride my route the same way I do every day. It’s just a decision you make to be overly aggressive, or overly passive, and which one is going to keep you safer. I do like the idea of taking the lane and ignoring the box, I’ll give that a whirl tomorrow.

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  • Esther August 17, 2011 at 3:19 pm

    Thanks for covering this Jonathan.

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  • mabsf August 17, 2011 at 3:46 pm

    Where is a sting operation when you needed? Why can’t a nice bike cop spend an hour next that corner and hand out advice/tickets to right-hooking cars?

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  • Mindful Cyclist August 17, 2011 at 3:51 pm

    Always just remember this: If you haven’t made eye contact, the other person does not see you! This goes for cars, SUV’s, pedestrians, and green machines!

    This intersection absolutely needs to be fixed (badly!!). However, if one doesn’t have the nerve to take the lane, just assume that car’s blinker light doesn’t work and they are going to make a right hand turn. Slow down, look over your shoulder to see if they have their eyes on the road or on their iPhone, and proceed accordingly until this thing gets fixed!

    Just don’t assume anything when going through this intersection.

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    • ray August 17, 2011 at 4:30 pm

      #1 rule of motorcycling – EVEN WHEN the motorists makes eye contact with you, they still probably don’t see you. Same goes for cycling. Drivers are conditioned by driving on highways and other high-speed roadways to look for other drivers, not smaller vehicles like bicycles and motorcycles. You can’t assume just because they look at you that they actually see you.

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  • beth h August 17, 2011 at 4:27 pm

    Just got back from a vacation that included three days in downtown Victoria, BC, where I observed the following:

    1. The mandatory helmet law doesn’t seem to keep people from riding bicycles. I saw HUNDREDS in the the short time I was in the city, and nearly all were clad in street clothes, riding fairly unremarkable bikes.

    2. There are relatively few bike lanes in downtown Victoria; on the majority of narrow streets, bike riders simply take the lane — and car drivers LET THEM, without so much as a honk or a finger out the side window.

    3. In a busy downtown district where taking the lane seems the favored choice, it appears to be that way because all road users accept it. Seriously, I spent an average of eight hours a day in downtown Victoria, over a busy tourist-season weekend with lots of wheeled and pedestrian traffic — and nobody acted out. Everybody behaved themselves and played nice.

    You want to get rid of bike lanes? Try creating a more civil society first.

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    • dan August 17, 2011 at 4:38 pm

      …You want to get rid of bike lanes? Try creating a more civil society first.

      I agree that this would go a long way towards curing what ails us. Sadly, it appears to be beyond our powers.

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      • are August 18, 2011 at 7:31 pm

        you want to create a civil society (in the particular context of motorists sharing the roads with cyclists), what you do is, you put cyclists on the roads. eventually the motorists learn to cope. shunting cyclists to the side merely reinforces the autocentric status quo.

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  • dwainedibbly August 17, 2011 at 6:12 pm

    I’m glad that the latest victim wasn’t seriously injured is going to make a complete recovery. It’ll be interesting to see what sort of treatment PBOT comes up with. The statement that “We’re contemplating use of tools we’ve never used before” is intriguing.

    And even though it’s sad that the standard has fallen so far that I’m going to write this, kudos to the pickup driver for doing the right thing. That’s a first step towards a more civil society.

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  • Ed Birnbaum August 17, 2011 at 6:26 pm

    It’s ancient history now, but I’m not aware of any problems the. “Couplet” solved. Whose idea was it and why was it done?

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    • Stripes August 17, 2011 at 6:48 pm

      I was told it was to provide better ped facilities on Burnside – wider sidewalks et al. Not a single sidewalk was actually widened (only curb extensions, which are not sidewalks, they are curb extensions!) when all was said & done.

      I was also told it was to improve traffic flow for cars. It certainly does that – on ANKENY & DAVIS. Seriously. I’d like my bike boulevard back now, thanks!

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  • Alex Reed August 17, 2011 at 7:59 pm

    Wow, the comments came up with at least two great ideas (No Right Turns and Dutch-Style Design) for fixing this problem! I wonder if PBOT engineers start brainstorm sessions on these problem intersections by reading the BikePortland comments 😉

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    • q`Tzal August 17, 2011 at 10:09 pm

      Errors keep getting repeated by DOT’s so I’d say – NO.

      One of those things that usually happens with engineering degrees is a unwavering belief that real solutions can only come from inside the cloistered intellectual confines of their specific specialty.

      We here don’t have the degrees and schooling in all the things they do so we could not possibly understand the nuances of the problem; what reason would they have to listen?

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  • TonyH August 17, 2011 at 9:03 pm

    Amen, Ray! That used to really get me angry. I would make eye contact with a driver, smile, they’d smile … and TURN RIGHT IN FRONT of me. In the motorcycle class, I remember thinking that if I didn’t ride a motorcycle, I’d still be a better (car) driver! In any event, the information has certainly applied to bicycling.

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    • Robin August 18, 2011 at 9:26 am

      That pisses me off too. Drivers need to realize that we aren’t pausing to relinquish right-of-way, but because we are afraid they aren’t paying attention.

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  • Jim Lee August 17, 2011 at 9:47 pm

    PBOT really tries, and sometimes they try too hard.

    A common error is to assume that engineering for bikes is just a slightly different version of engineering for cars. This is what happened on lower Lovejoy when the new tracks went in.

    Spend 10 minutes there watching cyclists ingeniously treating PBOT’s artistic installation as an obstacle course to be traversed in the most stylish and efficient manner possible.

    Few ride lower Lovejoy as it was drawn and built. Tom Miller, a committed cyclist, runs PBOT; Roger Geller seems thoughtful and dedicated. But does anyone else there understand anything?

    My recipe: eschew green paint and fancy engineering.
    Just keep it simple.

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    • Kristen August 18, 2011 at 9:16 am

      Few ride lower Lovejoy as it was drawn and built. Tom Miller, a committed cyclist, runs PBOT; Roger Geller seems thoughtful and dedicated. But does anyone else there understand anything?

      Maybe they came up with the design because that’s how THEY ride it. However, no one rides the same as another person, so their solution only works for them.

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  • Andy B from Jersey August 17, 2011 at 9:56 pm

    I’m glad to read of some better ideas than a bike box. I love innovative bicycle infrastructure but think the bike box should have been put out to pasture before it ever made it onto a street here in the US since these thing are right-hooks waiting to happen.

    The only time a bike box is safe is when drivers can’t make a right turn. NYCDoT rarely use them except at intersections with one-way streets where there is not a possibility of a hook.

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  • jim August 17, 2011 at 10:09 pm

    What seems to work better than putting the bike in the turning cars blind spot is to make the right hand lane at the light a shared lane. Bikes and cars are both in the same lane. If you are in front of the car it is not going to right hook you. It requires a little more patience as you can’t pass the car on your bike, you have to wait in line with the cars.

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  • David August 17, 2011 at 10:52 pm

    What about a flashing orange arrow/light for the right lane, like they do for left turn lanes?

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  • Ted Buehler August 18, 2011 at 12:53 am

    When I’m riding in the “right hook” zone and passing traffic, I turn my headlight on blink mode. That catches drivers’ eyes in the right-side side-mirror, and they generally give me lots more space than they do with no headlight.

    It doesn’t eliminate the right hook risk, but it reduces it, and makes it safer overall.

    It’s not a substitute for well-engineered roads, but it helps keep me out of the hospital.

    I’d recommend it to everyone. (At the risk of implying negligence for folks that don’t, and get right-hooked…)

    Ted Buehler

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  • mike August 18, 2011 at 8:30 am

    I don’t understand why it is ok to pass a right turning car on the inside, it doesn’t make sense to me even if the green box says it’s ok to do so. No other mode of transportation gets the ok to do this so for safety purposes should this be eliminated? Otherwise this will continue to happen. As a frequent driver of a car I know first hand how scary it can be when surrounded by cyclists. Even with my head on a swivel it can be very difficult to see everyone.

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    • Ted Buehler August 18, 2011 at 9:30 am

      I don’t know what the origins of the law are.

      It creates a distinct speed advantage for bicyclists, though. In other states there are shared bike lanes/right turn lanes, and in downtown traffic the bike lanes get clogged with right turning cars. But in downtown Portland you can get around pretty quickly by bike.

      But, it’s stated clearly in the Oregon Drivers Manual on page 38-39.


      Right Turns
      Well ahead of the turning point, check for traffic behind and beside you. Turn on your right turn signal at least 100 feet before the turn and before you need to brake. Get as close as is practical to the right curb or edge of the toad without interfering with pedestrians or bicyclists. A bicycle lane is considered the edge of the roadway . Do not move into a bicycle lane in preparation for a right hand turn.

      Just before entering the intersection, look to the left, front and right for oncoming traffic and cross traffic that may also be turning. Always check for bicyclists in your blind spot on your right before turning, especially ones you have just passed. Be alert for bicyclists who may ride up on the right side of your vehicle while you are preparing to make the right turn. You must yield to bicyclists in a bicycle lane or on a sidewalk as you turn across the lane or sidewalk.

      Pay special attention to the crosswalk on your right. Check and stop for pedestrians. Do not swing wide while turning.



      mike wrote
      “As a frequent driver of a car I know first hand how scary it can be when surrounded by cyclists. Even with my head on a swivel it can be very difficult to see everyone.”

      I agree, and I feel the same way when driving a car sometimes. As per the Oregon Drivers Manual, the correct action to take is to remain stationary in your car, checking for pedestrians in crosswalks and overtaking bicyclists until the way is clear to proceed. Not all that hard, really. It just takes good observational skills and a little patience.

      Ted Buehler

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    • jim August 19, 2011 at 10:58 am

      You are right on, this shows the bad part of bike boxes. Normally it is illegal to pass a turning vehicle (on their turning side) with the bike box it makes it legal. It is still not a safe thing to do, the bike box only makes it legal to do stupid things and put the blame onto the driver

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  • Robin August 18, 2011 at 9:22 am

    more signage to warn people in cars to yield to bikes prior to making a right turn,
    -> the problem is the folks who aren’t paying attention. they won’t see the additional signage until its too late

    The best “signage” is turning around and staring down the driver. People are wired to notice someone staring at them. Yes, stare-downs require slowing down before entering the intersection. Given that intersections have the most potential for being hit in addition to right hooks (someone taking a left turn of opportunity from the oncoming traffic, someone whizzing over the crosswalk/bikelane from the cross-traffic on your right) I figure it doesn’t hurt to slow down and stare down the drivers. Maybe you’ll get to work a little slower, but you’ll get there in one piece.

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  • Ted in Eugene August 18, 2011 at 9:35 am

    In real cycling cities, the bike lane would be colored through the intersection, and the bikes would maybe get the 5 seconds lead time. The bike lane would be further to the left of the traveling cars, to give the drivers more time to notice the people on bikes.

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  • Owen S August 18, 2011 at 9:56 am

    First of all thanks for all the support out there, I am healing up nicely and hope to be back good as new in no time. I think the main issue at that intersection is that the bike lane appears only a block or so before Grand and a lot of drivers are caught off guard.

    I make it point to look a driver in their eyes but in this case it was a short driver in a pickup truck and by the time we made eye contact it was too late. I had positioned myself in front of the vehicle but due to the nature of the blind spots in this situation it apparently was not far enough. I don’t believe that giving bikes a leading light will help much since on that road the lights are timed and rarely do I sit at the red at that intersection.

    The issue comes when all traffic has a green. Perhaps this is a road that would benefit from a turn only lane like on madison and grand. It makes people more aware of the bike lane and I believe is a safer alternative to what we have now.

    Thanks again for everything, I love Portland and especially love our amazing cycling community. Ride safe and watch those intersections 🙂

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  • Mike Quigley August 18, 2011 at 10:02 am

    Looks like a left hook to me.

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  • Unit August 18, 2011 at 12:09 pm

    One solution could be to install detector loops in the bike lane approaching Grand, and have a blankout sign on the signal pole that activates when cyclists are detected to warn drivers that cyclists are coming.

    The sign could say ‘CAUTION YIELD TO CYCLISTS’ or something similar. It could have a flashing strobe like the No right turns on red sign at NE Interstate & Oregon (at the bike signal on the east end of the Steel Bridge).

    Cost: Less than $10,000.

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  • ray August 18, 2011 at 12:24 pm

    Another solution is we could have sharks with frickin’ laser beams on their frickin’ heads to zap drivers who make unsafe maneuvers.

    Come on guys. If it were cut-and-dry, or a simple solution, it would’ve already been implemented. Every intersection/potential road-user interaction point is different. Everyone’s got great ideas, but let’s not continue to make the implication that our solutions are better than others, that PBOT/ODOT don’t care about cycling users, or that Portland isn’t a ‘real cycling city’. None of that is accurate.

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  • kathy August 18, 2011 at 12:48 pm

    TAKE THE LANE. If you cannot ride safely then it is your right to take the lane regardless of paint. Everyone who rides through this intersection should take the lane. PERIOD. Stay safe, you guys!!!

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  • Gary August 18, 2011 at 1:58 pm

    I might recommend simply placing one or two bicycle stencils (without the arrow) right at the point where the conflict occurs, i.e. where a car would hit a bicyclist. I think drivers pay more attention to a symbol on the road than a sign in the air, particularly a symbol as identifiable as a bike. Subconsciously, I think drivers will start to make a habit of looking for bikes when they see the stencil or see actual bicyclists.

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  • Opus the Poet August 18, 2011 at 4:27 pm

    I think stationing a sniper with a .50 cal AP sniper gun to take out vehicles making illegal right turns would be the most cost-effective long-term solution if all you want to do is keep cyclists from getting hurt (.50 cal AP rounds will stop a car engine cold with a single round) as I don’t think there will be more than 2 shots fired. Now something a little less satisfying would be a curb that runs beside the bike lane about a half-lane(if the HTML didn’t work put a line through from”about” to “-lane”) a couple feet into the intersection, with a tall bollard on the end. Not far enough to block people coming straight through that lane from getting through but far enough that right-turning vehicles will have to turn very carefully and watch where they are going, and you know, pay attention to the road. You have to put something in the road at eye-level or higher to catch drivers’ attention, because drivers in the US have a collective IQ that just barely breaks into the double digits. Or we could revoke everyone’s license and require a re-test (written and road with much higher standards) every 2 years like they do for pilots. A mandatory physical wouldn’t be such a bad idea either.

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  • Joe Bashaw August 20, 2011 at 11:44 am

    I commute through this intersection every day. It is an unbelievably dangerous intersection. I’ve almost been right hooked a half dozen times at this intersection. Cars do not look back for bikes at this location. The car traffic slows considerably at this location and bikes in many cases are able to travel faster than the cars while traveling in the bike lane. So, a bike is able to sneak up quickly on a car preparing to take a right turn. I usually slow down and match the speed of traffic at this intersection so I can avoid cars cutting me off. I also have a Airzound air horn mounted to my bike and I often have to use it to warn cars I am there. I think it would be a good idea to add a dedicated two-way bike lane down E Burnside and avoid Couch completely. Otherwise, I think eliminating the bike lane and adding giant Sharrows to the right lane would be the second best option. Too many bikers try and squeeze between parked cars and traffic east of 6th where there isn’t a bike lane and this is a bad habit as well.

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  • Tom C August 21, 2011 at 10:26 am

    NE Broadway and Larrabee redux.

    The issues raised here are very relevant to the redesign that took place at the westbound access to the Broadway Bridge between N. Benton and N. Larrabee on N. Broadway.

    See http://bikeportland.org/2011/06/17/city-changes-dangerous-lane-configuration-on-n-broadway-55047

    My comments at bottom of that post for a different view on the safety of the new design.

    The design there (bike lane to left of right turn lane) is also problematic and hopefully will not serve as the solution for the problems at Couch and Grand.

    Kudos to Kirk above for the link to the Dutch design solution. We can also learn from the west side of the Broadway Bridge, where a bike signal and a right hand turn signal pretty effectively keep bikes, continuing on Broadway, and right turning cars, heading onto Lovejoy, apart.

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