The Classic - Cycle Oregon

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.

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  • Will Radik November 18, 2011 at 10:48 am

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

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    • tonyt
      tonyt November 18, 2011 at 1:13 pm

      Yea, not the only one!

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  • Nick V November 18, 2011 at 11:02 am

    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……

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    • Joe November 18, 2011 at 11:13 am

      Definitely agree. I think the US has way too many road signs in general. There is a limit to how many signs people can take in, not to mention watching for pedestrians, looking at the color of the other light, etc.

      I recall seeing some really cool yield lights in some video about Copenhagen used for the same situation. They were little red lights in the ground that flashed when a bike approached. The lights were only visible from the car lane, so as to not distract the people on bikes.

      This seems like a much simpler way to do it. Although, there would need to be education about what the lights mean which would be difficult.

      Can’t find the video right now, I’ll update if I do.

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      • Joe November 18, 2011 at 11:20 am

        Edit: See video here at 3 minute mark.

        Its tough to tell how effective they would be – but the cars are actually stopping!

        Interestingly, they are visible only in the side mirror, where people should be looking for bikes. Whereas the Portland sign requires people to look up and straight, not the place they should be looking at for bikes but a place more visible in general.

        Two very different approaches that really reflects the cultures of the cities (not sure if I would rely on Portland drivers to look for bikes & see flashing red lights in mirror).

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      • Bill Stites November 18, 2011 at 10:07 pm

        Agreed, there is too much information in the sign.

        As a practical matter, these signs are expensive. Perhaps there is a way of eliminating the upper portion in the yellow rectangle [keep the arrow?], to leave a clearer and brighter conveyance of the lower portion … yield+bikes.

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    • Jerko November 20, 2011 at 9:32 am

      I too agree. There is so much visual information on roadways as it is.

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  • Oliver November 18, 2011 at 11:39 am

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

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    • Alan 1.0 November 18, 2011 at 2:17 pm

      Donno about right turns but flashing yellow left-turn lights have not worked out too well for bike riders (Michael Frye, Yulia Shtutman, Clark Henry).

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  • pdxpaul November 18, 2011 at 12:06 pm

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

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  • A.K. November 18, 2011 at 12:18 pm

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

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  • BURR November 18, 2011 at 12:29 pm

    “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.

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    • A.K. November 18, 2011 at 12:32 pm

      Indeed, it’s stupid. Awful. Remove the bike lane, put sharrows in the right travel lane and be done with a design that INHERENTLY is going to get people injured, no matter how many bandaids you put over the top of it.

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      • Steve B November 18, 2011 at 1:16 pm

        Right hook threat aside, I like the bike lane here because it allows bikes to jump the queue to the front of the line. A nice treat, especially during rush hour.

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      • tonyt
        tonyt November 18, 2011 at 1:16 pm

        This, this, this. Pardon my French, but they are layering crap on top of a bad idea, hoping it’ll turn into a good one.

        Such a focus on signs seem to me to be an admission that the initial solution is wrong.

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  • Spiffy November 18, 2011 at 12:58 pm

    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…

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    • BURR November 18, 2011 at 2:04 pm

      plus there’s way too much sign clutter in that intersection already, there’s only so many things a motorist can pay attention to at the same time.

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  • Tourbiker November 18, 2011 at 12:58 pm

    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.

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  • Steve B November 18, 2011 at 1:17 pm

    Thanks for this innovative solution, PBOT!

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  • Greg November 18, 2011 at 1:37 pm

    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.

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  • q`Tzal November 18, 2011 at 1:49 pm

    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.

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    • Greg November 18, 2011 at 6:40 pm

      All of the signals & poles were upgraded as part of the couplet installation.
      You’ll note that in StreetView, Couch is still a two way street.

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  • Eric in Seattle November 18, 2011 at 1:53 pm

    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.

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    • BURR November 18, 2011 at 2:08 pm

      here’s a crazy idea. how about not putting bike lanes to the right of right turning traffic where you wouldn’t expect through traffic to be based on the basic rules of destination positioning and where motorists don’t expect them and can’t see them approaching very well.

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      • Andrew Seger November 19, 2011 at 2:30 am

        Or putting the bike lane to the right…and then building a physical barrier and moving the stop line back. Go dutch junctions!

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    • q`Tzal November 18, 2011 at 2:24 pm

      More insanity:
      encourage self-education by giving out large fines and actual legal verdicts of GUILTY for poor driving, injuries and deaths caused by these drivers.

      A free public driving education program.

      That’s all: just enforce the laws as they are.

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  • dwainedibbly November 18, 2011 at 5:33 pm

    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.

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  • Stripes November 18, 2011 at 6:21 pm

    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?

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  • Adam November 18, 2011 at 6:23 pm

    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?

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  • Andrew Seger November 19, 2011 at 2:06 am

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

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  • robert November 19, 2011 at 8:09 am

    For those of you who do not often leave Portland…’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.

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  • AdamG November 19, 2011 at 3:48 pm

    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.

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  • Kristen November 21, 2011 at 10:56 am

    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.)

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  • Jennifer November 28, 2011 at 8:32 am

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

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  • Tom November 26, 2012 at 1:52 pm

    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.

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