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

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 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.

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:

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.

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