PBOT plans new stop signs on NW Broadway at Couch

Posted by on February 15th, 2012 at 9:53 am

If all goes according to plan, this intersection — NW Broadway and Couch — will be a four-way stop by this spring.


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.

One thing that makes this intersection problematic is that traffic backs up at the Burnside signal, thus making visibility difficult. Can you find the woman trying to bike across Couch in this photo? (taken from southwest corner of intersection)

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.

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. Also, if you comment frequently, please consider holding your thoughts so that others can step forward. Thank you — Jonathan

41 Comments
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    matt picio February 15, 2012 at 9:57 am

    Can they actually do that without violating city guidelines? What is the roadway classification of Broadway in that area? If it’s an arterial, I thought there were city guidelines that restricted the types of intersection control that can be used.

    Don’t get me wrong, that intersection desperately needs improvement – but Ian’s concerns are valid, and frankly, there’s no guarantee that traffic will keep the intersection clear there even with a 4-way stop.

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      Andyc February 15, 2012 at 10:10 am

      True. I don’t believe this will keep anyone out of the intersection. The light one block away will make sure of that. My girlfriend was hit on her bike here last week. Anything that helps is a good thing, but this intersection is just horrible for all users. I’m glad they’re at least looking at it, and I hope putting in a stop sign for now will alert more people of the treacherousness they are about to encounter.

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    Graham February 15, 2012 at 10:11 am

    This is a ***deleted – JM*** idea. Couldn’t they get the same effect by just stopping left turns right there (something like at 20th and Alder)? Trying to figure out the right of way with 8 lanes of motorized traffic and two bike lane is going to be an absolute cluster****. And this is going to block up north-bound Broadway back past Burnside. FFFFffuuuuuu….

    What else? How long is the “temporary” bus stop in front of Embers going to be there? That’s just making a bad situation worse.

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    Alex February 15, 2012 at 10:17 am

    Why in the world don’t they just mark a white line across the intersection with a huge sign reading “do not block intersection”?

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      Spiffy February 15, 2012 at 10:27 am

      we don’t need more signs and paint to state the obvious…

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      Anthony February 15, 2012 at 5:56 pm

      The intersection being blocked isn’t the problem; the intersection being *unblocked* is actually the issue. Cars waiting southbound on Broadway let bike or car traffic go through, neglecting to realize that there is oncoming northbound traffic. That is the major cause of collisions at this intersection.

      That said, a stop sign is going to be really annoying. Trying to coordinate who gets to go with 2 cars and potentially bikes going southbound, 2 cars and potentially bikes going northbound, and cars and bikes trying to cross east and west (and adding in the aforementioned temporary bus stop) sounds like a nightmare.

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    Spiffy February 15, 2012 at 10:31 am

    “I wouldn’t be surprised If we put the stops in and then hear about cyclists not being compliant.”

    given that only 7% of the crashes are with bicycles I think it’s more accurate to focus on the 93% of automobiles that are currently not being compliant… his focus is in the wrong place and you don’t go blaming bicycles at a BAC meeting for a problem that is 93% motor vehicles…

    thanks again for making us the problem when it’s still the fault of the motor vehicle… have they thought about how many crashes would be eliminated if they got rid of motor traffic there? no, they haven’t, because that’s too easy…

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      Chris I February 15, 2012 at 11:46 am

      I also found this statement to be completely ridiculous. The problem here is auto traffic blocking the intersection, reducing visibility and creating a hazardous situation. My concern would be lack of compliance by auto drivers, who will continue to block the intersection. Cyclists blowing the stop sign won’t be the problem.

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    MossHops February 15, 2012 at 10:49 am

    Agreed that it’s a bad intersection right now. Also agree that a stop sign is going to make it worse. They really should be installing timed lights on Broadway that at least include Davis, a new light at Couch and Burnside. If they had better light timing, there wouldn’t be such backed up traffic for the Burnside light.

    As an alternative, why don’t they do more to divert traffic to Davis? It’s just one block down and could be made far more bike friendly. Davis could be made a true bike boulevard from 5th up through the Pearl. There are so many bike commuters in this area, and so much to do to make the area more bike friendly.

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    encephalopath February 15, 2012 at 11:04 am

    Median on Broadway. Right turn only for north-south traffic.

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      encephalopath February 15, 2012 at 11:04 am

      I mean right turn only for east-west traffic… stupid compass.

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    Ben Guernsey February 15, 2012 at 11:25 am

    This is is a troubling intersection. I see cyclists and pedestrians dodging cars and buses a lot. I think a stop sign is an acceptable band-aid with the current funding situation. It will at least clear the intersection more so people can look and make a better judgement to cross.

    Davis is a good alternate. BUT the city needs to fix the timing on the light on 5th. If the Max is within like 2 blocks it will not turn green, it just sits there rotating the South light to green letting nothing East/West go by. Infuriating trying to get to work in the morning. Especially when Everett is timed so well.

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      MossHops February 15, 2012 at 11:51 am

      Yeah, definitely agree with the Max light needing to be fixed. The light at couch and 1st is also incredibly frustrating as they cycle the right hand turn light (1st to westbound Couch) after the Max goes by, even though nobody ever turns right there.

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      Reza February 15, 2012 at 1:08 pm

      Agreed on the Davis/5th light. While I despise biking through Chinatown, I usually take Davis because of the light at Broadway. But the light on 5th will constantly skip the green phase for Davis traffic if there are MAX trains nearby. I almost never run red lights on a bike but I’ve had to a few times when I was in a rush after waiting over a minute here.

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    Sigma February 15, 2012 at 11:26 am

    PBOT can’t afford $250K for a stop light at the most dangerous intersection in the heart of downtown.

    PBOT will increase its subsidy to run the streetcar by $2 million (every year, in perpetuity) when the east side line opens in September.

    Sam Adams’ legacy, ladies and gentlemen.

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      Chris I February 15, 2012 at 11:50 am

      Gas tax revenue is down.

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        Steve B February 15, 2012 at 12:34 pm

        And we’ve overcommitted to pay for big projects with PBOT funds. Gas tax revenue has been going down for years.

        http://blogtown.portlandmercury.com/BlogtownPDX/archives/2011/12/07/overcommitted-sams-big-projects-will-lead-to-harsh-pbot-cuts

        As I have come to understand it, Mayor Adams walked away from pushing the street maintenance fee revenue source (Safe, Sound and Green) in part because it would have ended up on the same ballot his name would be on for the Mayoral election.

        I have done some searching for a definitive wrap up of what happened with SS+G but can’t find one to confirm where it landed. Any thoughts, Jonathan?

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          Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) February 15, 2012 at 12:42 pm

          PBOT says they committed to those big projects based on revenue forecasts from the state that the money would be there.

          As for Safe Sound and Green. That was an extreme disappoint for me that Adams bailed on it after so much effort. I never did a full wrap-up on it here on BikePortland… But from what I remember, a lobbyist for gas stations and convenience stores who opposed it on grounds that the fees weren’t fair to his clients scared Adams away from it.

          I haven’t ever heard the contention that Adams was afraid of having it on the ballot along with his name for Mayor… but you never know. This stuff gets so complicated and political it’s frustrating to try and cover.

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            Steve B February 15, 2012 at 12:53 pm

            Thanks for the follow up. Considering new revenue sources will be a topic of conversation in the budget process, it would be really interesting to revisit the last time Portland tried to create a new revenue stream for transportation, Trimet ballot measures notwithstanding.

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        Sigma February 15, 2012 at 1:53 pm

        No it isn’t. It just hasn’t grown as fast as projected.

        And so what? We’re still committing $2 million, every year, in additional streetcar subsidies. No matter what happens with gas tax receipts, that’s money that could go to new bike and led safety improvements. But it’s not.

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    NW Biker February 15, 2012 at 11:29 am

    What will make it more interesting is that Oregon drivers don’t seem to know how to use a four-way stop. They seem to think that the right of way changes for left turns, as opposed for left turns where there’s no stop sign. When I lived in Colorado and Washington, a four-way stop was a clean, efficient way to manage an intersection. I’ve had more close calls at four-way stops here in Oregon than anywhere else.

    Having said that, at least they’re trying, and that’s not a trivial thing.

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    daisy February 15, 2012 at 11:31 am

    This is definitely a problem intersection, and this might actually work until they can install a light. I bike through here every work day, and the problem I see is that many cars do leave room at this intersection when traffic backs up from Burnside–and then cars start to go across Couch, when not everyone has stopped. If all the cars going south (ie away from the bridge on Broadway) stop to let traffic cross, bikes don’t necessarily have to stop because we’re not backed up. My concern is getting hit by a car who thinks everyone has made way for him or her.

    A stop sign isn’t ideal–but at least it should prevent this problem when traffic is backed up at the Burnside light.

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    yoyossarian February 15, 2012 at 11:48 am

    Seriously, the answer that seems so obvious it’s painful is to just install a median on Broadway to preven cross traffic. There’s no bus lines that cross Couch here and traffic wouldn’t be affected by simply having to go one block north to use the light at Davis to head West.

    A four way stop is going to be a total cluster****, impede traffic and create another situation where bikes are suddenly going to be the scapegoat every time someone runs a stopsign.

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    Mike Meade February 15, 2012 at 12:07 pm

    I saw one of those bike crashes a couple years back. Traffic was backed up heading south towards Burnside. A cyclist came zooming down the bikelane towards the Couch intersection. A frustrated driver decided that he no longer wanted to wait in line for the light and made a quick right turn up Couch to get away from the traffic.

    The car ran over the front wheel of the cyclist who only just managed to fall out of the way. He was inches from being run over by the car. It was a frightening slow speed accident as the car couldn’t have moved more than 5 feet from stopped until it hit the cyclist and stopped.

    I was deposed by the insurance company’s lawyer who said off the record that they had one other witness blaming the whole incident on the cyclist moving too quickly near an intersection where there were pedestrians and cars crossing, and cars backed up for three lights.

    It’s a crazy intersection that I don’t like to cross on bike, foot, or car. However, I find myself in that neighborhood often, as it is great way to get where I need to go. I applaud any effort to improve it.

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    are February 15, 2012 at 12:21 pm

    the stop sign southbound will probably have some slight effect on motorists blocking the box, but that will still not give a cyclist heading east on couch a sufficient sight line to see who is coming north, or a northbound motorist a sufficient sight line to see the cyclist coming east.

    i asked burchfield straight out last night whether they had considered simply forbidding east-west cross traffic here, and he said we looked at it but we figured there would be “compliance issues.” he did not explain why not put in a median, which would certainly get rid of the compliance issues.

    this intersection is navigable from east to west, not so much so from west to east, and i would suggest to anyone who is looking to make a safe crossing to head north a block or two to a signalized intersection.

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      Steve B February 15, 2012 at 12:56 pm

      I’m with you on this. Forbidding cross traffic here seems like a better short term solution than going with stop signs. This shows an interesting glimmer of inconsistency with PBOT’s approach to the use of stop signs. Often we are told they don’t like to use them, or they don’t want to put them in temporarily, but here we have I guess the crash numbers to back up a temporary stop sign solution.

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    Paul February 15, 2012 at 12:42 pm

    4-way stops are about the most worthless traffic device to grace the streets of America. You should not be able to cross Broadway there at all in a motor vehicle. Diverters with curb cuts would be a much better solution. There are far too many 4-way intersections in this city already.

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    Steve B February 15, 2012 at 12:43 pm

    If the BAC went from “tepid approval” to “resounding disapproval” would that have had an impact? With all due respect, I have been trying to understand for years now what the BAC’s actual mission or influence is.

    In the BAC’s I have attended, their feedback is rarely incorporated into the designs and those who present the projects generally do not come back to follow up. Additionally, many projects are never brought to the BAC for input.

    I mean this to be more of a reflection on how the BAC is sanctified and managed by the city, not its very capable members. My hope is the BAC becomes the end-all-be-all of advising project teams on how to best design for and around cycling in this city, but the quasi-governmental nature of the committee seems to not serve this purpose well. I’d welcome push back and further analysis on this!

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      Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) February 15, 2012 at 12:58 pm

      Yes it would have an impact… The problem is that after years of trying to figure it out, the BAC seems only a bit closer to knowing what type of group they should be.

      I’ve advocated for years that they become a stronger voice for bicycling and less of a PBOT rubber-stamp. I’d love to see the BAC put forth their own ideas, disagree with things more forcefully, and support things more forcefully too for that matter.

      They have changed the membership significantly recently — adding more women, new riders, and other underrepresented constituencies.

      Right now the Chair, Matthew Arnold, is a very veteran advocate with long and deep ties to PBOT (he’s also an architect at a local firm who works on transportation projects) so you can see the difficulty in the group ever adopting a more independent voice that might one day effectively challenge the status quo.

      There’s hope though. Just last night, they debated adopted their own project evaluation criteria, separate from the criteria adopted in the bike master plan.

      To sum up… I think they should have a higher public profile, a Twitter account, maybe a Facebook page even. They are very smart and engaged group of people and we need their voices in the community… But I also realize they are volunteers with a lot on their plate already.

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      Alexis February 15, 2012 at 5:41 pm

      I was also at the BAC meeting and was somewhat surprised both by the way the stop sign treatment was presented as a fait accompli (done deal) and by the fairly low level of opposition. There was some addition concern — verging on opposition perhaps? — that Jonathan didn’t mention, from people who bike with their kids and are concerned because there is ambiguity at stop signs as to how groups of cyclists should behave (as a single vehicle, or as a queue) and they don’t want to be worried about what could happen if the kids cross separately and/or more slowly. With groups moving straight through, this concern doesn’t arise.

      It seems to me that PBOT and many other agencies (we’ve seen this with Streetcar as well) sometimes wait until late in the process before bringing an issue to interested advocates, stakeholders, or relevant committees. I’m not sure why this occurs, although one possibility is that they think they are “doing it right” and so don’t need input. But that’s not always true even when the intentions are good, and I’d absolutely like to see earlier presentation of possible treatments to interested parties by every agency, for two reasons: it’s much easier for any group to voice strong opposition earlier in a design process, before it’s all set up and most of the work is done, and it prevents agencies from going off on the wrong track and wasting time and creating sunk cost on bad options (e.g. Broadway Bridge pole).

      I’m not sure exactly what the relationship of the BAC to PBOT is supposed to be — who they represent, and what their goal is. Maybe that’s officially stated somewhere and someone can clarify it, but given what Jonathan says below about the BAC exploring its own role, maybe not. At any rate, I certainly felt last night that my concerns and opinion as a regular user of the intersection — which are similar to those expressed in most comments here, and which I guessed would be widely shared — were not strongly represented, although I appreciated Ian and others raising the concerns they did (and I buttonholed Rob afterwards to raise another concern I had about right-hook issues). To what extent I should feel represented by them, I don’t know.

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    BURR February 15, 2012 at 12:45 pm

    Another SNAFU, glad I don’t have to ride this way very often, I usually cut over to 3rd on Flanders to avoid the hill on B’way, but I realize that doesn’t work if, for example, you’re headed to PSU.

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    John Lascurettes February 15, 2012 at 3:14 pm

    There is no need for cross traffic at couch with more major cross streets across NW Broadway at both Burnside (one block away) and Everett (two blocks away). Cross traffic at both Couch and Davis should be blocked by a median.

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    John Lascurettes February 15, 2012 at 3:17 pm

    Additionally, the stop sign at Couch, will just push the backup to Davis which will have the same accidents then happening.

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    dwainedibbly February 15, 2012 at 4:30 pm

    Let’s give it a try and see what happens. Eventually there might be money for a proper signal.

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    charley February 15, 2012 at 10:59 pm

    This is going to be a nightmare. This is how I ride to work EVERY TIME. So when 8 riders all line up there after coming down from the Bway Bridge, do we all have to wait and stop and then move forward and stop again, and then move forward, and then stop again, and then move forward. . .? This is the main way downtown for thousands of riders. It’s going to be a mess, and surely there will be compliance issues (from drivers and riders both).

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    Allan February 16, 2012 at 10:11 am

    There better not be alot of enforcement at this intersection or I foresee alot of angry cyclists

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    ac February 16, 2012 at 12:44 pm

    davis has a signal

    put a north/south curb in to eliminate cross traffic at couch

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    Ian Stude February 16, 2012 at 1:15 pm

    To clarify/amend my comments from the BAC mtg: I understand from a traffic engineering perspective that the addition of stop signs at this location is likely to reduce the types of crashes currently taking place. However, I think this will lead to other types of issues for bicyclists, many of which have been pointed out in the comments here. Most importantly, compliance will certainly be an issue, which is both a safety concern and a public relations concern.

    PBOT has stated that the preferred solution is a full traffic signal at this intersection. This would take longer to implement (9-12 months vs. 2 months for stop signs) and require that money was “found” in the ailing PBOT budget to pay for it. My primary disagreement with the plan as presented is that it was offered to the BAC as a temporary solution with no idea of just how temporary it would be. PBOT acknowledges that the stop sign solution is not ideal, but did not commit to any timeline for making the full improvements.

    Furthermore, PBOT Director Tom Miller told us in person last December that PBOT would be implementing a new system of criteria for future spending, and that SAFETY would the most heavily weighted of those. Given that 107 crashes (5 involving bikes) have been “reported” at this location in a 5 year period, how does this intersection not qualify for the safest solution available — a new traffic signal — being installed as soon as possible? If anything, this should be addressed as a priority for driver safety, not just bicycle safety. And if money needs to be moved from another project, it should be coming from one that is a lower-priority auto-focused project, not from any projects designated as bicycle improvements.

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    k. February 17, 2012 at 10:20 am

    I agree with the comments here that crossings should be prohibited. Both of the Couch approaches to Broadway should be signed as “right turn only”. The Davis/Everett couplet is only a block or two north and both are signalized to provides safe crossings of Burnside.

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