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To reduce right-hooks, City turns on illuminated bicycle sign at Couch and Grand

Posted by on November 18th, 2011 at 10:45 am

New sign went up yesterday.
(Photos © J. Maus)

The Portland Bureau of Transportation (PBOT) turned on an illuminated bicycle sign on NE Couch at Grand Avenue. As we reported last month, the intention of the sign is to reduce the risk of right-hooks at an intersection where several injury collisions have taken place.

A bike box has already been installed at the intersection, but collisions have continued. The problem is that, even though there’s no right turn on red allowed, that law — and the presence of the colored bike box and lane — don’t work as effectively to deter right-hooks during green lights. This sign is an attempt to address that issue.

The new sign was turned on yesterday and it’s the first of its kind in Portland. I observed it in action as people streamed down Couch during this morning’s rush hour.

This woman really likes it (see it in upper right of photo)…

And here’s how it looks from a different angle…

When you approach the intersection on a bike, here’s what you see…

The sign is placed on the northwest corner of the intersection at the same level as the main traffic signals. PBOT has installed sensors so that the sign only goes on when a bike is present. The sensors are very sensitive because I noticed one signal cycle that began with the sign unlit, but as a person on a bike approached the intersection, the sign illuminated immediately.

Peter Koonce, Manager of PBOT’s Signals Division, says they’re attempting to make sure the sign only appears when a bike is present. This sign cost $3,500; but the pole its mounted on had to be custom made at a cost of $5-6,000.

“If we can avoid one crash by spending $10,000,” said Koonce this morning, “that’s a good investment.”

I didn’t get a chance to talk with any people driving through the intersection, but my hunch is that it’s very visible. The lights in the sign are very bright and the red “Yield” triangle blinks on and off. People on bikes definitely seemed to notice it. I overheard one guy on a bike say, “Hey, look at that thing!” as he rode by.

One thing I noticed is that the sign illuminates several seconds prior to the signal turning green — that caused confusion with some riders. Maybe people are getting more used to bike-only signals (which look similar and are placed in a similar spot) and so they are conditioned to proceed. But in the case of Couch and Grand (a major arterial), you definitely do not want to jump the light.

Both of these guys rolled forward when the bike sign came on — even though the light was still red…

Have you experienced the new sign yet? If so, please let us know what you think.

NOTE: We love your comments and work hard to ensure they are welcoming of all perspectives. Disagreements are encouraged, but only if done with tact and respect. BikePortland is an inclusive company with no tolerance for discrimination or harassment including expressions of racism, sexism, homophobia, or xenophobia. 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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Will Radik
Guest

From a distance, the cyclist/arrow combination looks a bit, em, suggestive! I like it!

Nick V
Guest

Graphically, it seems as though there is a lot to digest and process from that rather small sign and, at least in the photos, it is hard to read.

How about a sign simply stating in large letters, “YIELD TO BIKES (or the graphic symbol for bikes)”?
The simpler, the better……

Oliver
Guest
Oliver

What about a flashing yellow right arrow similar to the yellow left arrow at intersections like we’re starting to see around town?

pdxpaul
Guest
pdxpaul

Will, I believe the ehupamism you’re looking for is, phallic.

A.K.
Guest
A.K.

I’ll continue to take the lane rather than risk a right hook in that particular intersection, but thanks for trying PBOT!

BURR
Guest
BURR

“The problem is that, even though there’s no right turn on red allowed, that law — and the presence of the colored bike box and lane — don’t work as effectively to deter right-hooks during green lights.”

This is the fatal flaw of the bike-lane-to-the-right-of-right-turning-traffic, and neither colored bike boxes nor that sign are anything but band aids on a ridiculous engineering design that the city should be held liable for in every one of those right hook collisions.

Spiffy
Guest
Spiffy

wow, what a waste of money…

if I were driving I would think it were a sign on the building in the background and completely ignore it… it’s not a standard traffic sign that I would be looking for as a driver…

even looking at in the pics and know what it is and that it’s there I still have a hard time seeing it…

and adding another sign while stating that a sign didn’t fix the issue, well, you’re just calling yourself out on that one…

Tourbiker
Guest

Think I’ll continue to take the lane, I would have positioned that sign on the same light standard as the other signals,
just to the right of the RH lane light.
appreciate the effort though.

Steve B
Guest

Thanks for this innovative solution, PBOT!

Greg
Guest
Greg

While I really hope this helps, it seems a bit busy to me. In fact, I suspect it will be misinterpreted by some who will think it says that bikes need to to yield.

q`Tzal
Guest
q`Tzal

Did this project cost include cost of upgrading the traffic light infrastructure for the entire intersection?

On StreetView I saw:
() all 4 of the existing support poles are/were wood
() wire suspended lights
() one I-5 directional sign
Now from the picture we see:
() at least 2 of the wood poles are now steel
() further costs material and engineering cantilevered poles
() a cluster of TWO I-5 directional signs (under new yield sign)

Agree or not about the value of this sign …
… it is dishonest to tack the entire upgrade cost for this intersection upon an experimental sign.

For good or ill this was a PBOT choice to upgrade the intersection hardware and include the sign as a PR bonus.

Eric in Seattle
Guest
Eric in Seattle

Here’s a crazy idea. How about an education campaign for drivers instructing them that it’s not a good idea to pass other road users and turn in front of them? Most drivers would never pass another car and then turn left 20 feet in front of them, but so many do that to bicycles.

dwainedibbly
Guest
dwainedibbly

I support the concept of trying out new things. In this case, though, I worry that the “automatic” nature of this sign will result in drivers relying too much on the sign and being careless when it isn’t lit.

Stripes
Guest
Stripes

Wait, **yesterday**?

Today, as I biked the one block along MLK to get from Ankeny onto the Burnside Bridge, I saw cars illegally entering the green bike box & illegally turning right onto MLK when their light was red. I remember this very specifically, because I thought to myself, “geez, i hope that flashing sign they talked about will be installed soon!”

Any news about proposed enforcement at this location now the sign is up?

Adam
Guest
Adam

Wait. What on earth happened to the “no right turn on red” sign I thought was going up here?????

I don’t see that anywhere. I guess that’s why all of the cars I see are still turning right on red at this location, huh?

Andrew Seger
Guest
Andrew Seger

Grr this is as useless as the Broadway/Williams light. Give us Dutch Junctions! The only thing car drivers respect is a physical bollard.

robert
Guest
robert

For those of you who do not often leave Portland…..you’re community is just about the only one in the United States still striping bicycle lanes to the intersection.

You have a straight thru lane (bike lane) to the right of a possible right turn lane (auto lane), so of course this is going to happen. It’s counter to our American traffic system and the green box or a lighted sign was not/is not going to fix the problem.

The bike lanes need to be pulled back from the intersections and bicyclists need to learn the very basic skills of signalling, scanning and taking the lane until they reach the other side. I’m not sure why the local culture in Portland refuses that model but I think someday you will exhaust all possible bandaids and will figure this out.

Always keeping one type of vehicle to the far right and another to the left side of it (even when wanting to turn right) is crazy.

You often think about car drivers, but honestly it’s nearly impossible for a truck driver to see bicyclists approaching along the right side at 20 mph. I would not want to have the job of driving a truck in Portland, that is for sure.

AdamG
Guest
AdamG

That’s a lot of green light for something that means ‘don’t go’
I second the calls for sharrows and the elimination of right hook traps. Motor vehicle operators need to be/are looking at about 180 degrees of road in front of them while making a right, adding liability for a blind spot by letting (requiring?) bicyclists pass on the right, was not a good idea in my opinion. In California this problem addressed on three fronts, Cars are allowed to merge right into the bike lane before turning, bicyclists are allowed to get out of the bike lane to merge left before the intersection, and the design guidelines suggest ending the bike lane xxx feet before the intersection. Everyone gets the power to prevent a right hook collision.

Kristen
Guest
Kristen

Most people ignore “No Right Turn On Red” signs.

There’s a great one down here in Tualatin for people turning right out of the Fred Meyers onto Tual-Sherwood aka Nyberg. It’s marked as no turn on red because you cannot see what’s coming around the bend from your left– semi trucks with trailers, cars, pickup trucks, all coming at a decent clip. The danger doesn’t seem to stop anyone. Except me, I sit there ignoring the horns/middle fingers/yells until the light turns green. I even point at the three signs saying no turn on red. Hopefully I’ve educated some people that way… but I doubt it.

As I’ve had to explain to several family members: just because you CAN turn right on red doesn’t mean you HAVE to.

(A good example of someplace where it’s not safe to turn right on red is the intersection of Durham and Upper Boones heading eastbound on Durham. You have to pull into the traffic lane to see what’s coming south on Upper Boones. So I don’t move until the light changes.)

Jennifer
Guest
Jennifer

I use the Burnside Bridge for my commute, and I just take NE Davis and take the lane. There are like zero cars.

Tom
Guest
Tom

What about having Portland abolish all that nasty bike lane stuff and treat cyclists as first-class road users instead of making them ride in the gutters, and how about holding other road users accountable for the damage they cause?

Taking both actions would simplify things immeasurably, so that fixes for bad intersection treatment that is done to fix poor lane management made to marginalize legitimate road users don’t have to gain Rube Goldberg status.