Posted by Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) on February 15th, 2012 at 9:53 am
The Portland Bureau of Transportation (PBOT) is planning to add stop signs to the intersection of NW Broadway Blvd and Couch streets downtown. City traffic engineer Rob Burchfield brought the plans to the Bicycle Advisory Committee last night, saying that PBOT is concerned about the high collision rate — of both cars and bikes — at this busy intersection.
Burchfield said last night that PBOT would prefer to install a traffic signal; but with money very tight these days, that solution would be several years off. With 103 collisions at the intersection in the past five years — seven of which involved bicycles — PBOT doesn’t want to wait that long.
Burchfield said 90 of the 103 collisions have been “angle crashes” (meaning people collided during crossing attempts) and that most of them occurred when vehicles traveling east or westbound on Couch attempted to cross and were struck by north or southbound traffic on Broadway (Broadway has two standard vehicle lanes in the southbound direction and one in the northbound direction at this location).
“That’s a pretty high crash rate,” said Burchfield, “They don’t tend to be severe, but the frequency is really high. We shouldn’t be having that many crashes there. It’s out of the norm and we want to do something about it.”
As an interim solution (until a signal can be installed), the current plan is to make the Burnside-Couch intersection a four-way stop. In addition, plans call for striping crosswalks in all directions and adding signage warning of cross-traffic. Burchfield shared the plan drawings below:
Even with additional signage, it’s likely that many people won’t fully comply with the new signs given the proximity of the signal one short block away at Burnside and the plethora of visual clutter that is the norm on downtown streets. “I wouldn’t be surprised,” commented Burchfield at the meeting last night, “If we put the stops in and then hear about cyclists not being compliant.”
“This strikes me as something that doesn’t fix a problem, but converts a problem.”
— Ian Stude, BAC member
PBAC member and head of transportation options for Portland State University, Ian Stude, voiced concerns over the plans. “This strikes me as something that doesn’t fix a problem, but converts a problem.” Stude is concerned that a four-way stop at a multiple lane intersection like Broadway and Couch would “introduce a complicated situation” for road users, and could potentially be difficult for PBOT from a PR perspective. “I see a lot of issues,” he remarked, “and I have a hard time seeing the benefit.”
Other BAC members agreed with Stude, saying the problem with the intersection is poor sight lines and that adding stop signs won’t help. Some also spoke to the general confusion that overcomes some people when bicycles arrive at a four-way stop at the same time as cars.”While those things may be awkward,” said Burchfield in response “They are typically not unsafe. They may be inefficient, but they don’t translate into crashes. I’m confident this treatment will reduce crashes and I’m aware there is some sacrifice in terms of convenience.”
Once this new stop sign is installed, NW Flanders will be the only intersection (our of six) between the Broadway Bridge ramp and Burnside without any traffic control and this will be the only stop sign (all the others have signals).
While they have concerns, the BAC seemed to offer tepid support of the plans. Member Mark Ginsberg said, “We don’t love this… So if it needs a light, let’s get there as quickly as we can.” Committee Chair Matthew Arnold added, “I feel this is better than what’s out there today.”
From PBOT’s perspective the high number of crashes is a big concern. “I feel compelled that we have to respond to this,” said Burchfield, “Not doing something is not an option.”
The new stop signs and other changes are set for installation by April.