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New stop signs installed at NW Broadway and Couch

Posted by on March 27th, 2012 at 9:18 am

New stop sign at NW Broadway and Couch-1

PBOT’s new stop sign at on NW Broadway at Couch. (More photos below).

As promised, the Portland Bureau of Transportation (PBOT) has installed new stop signs on NW Broadway at Couch.

Like we shared when this project was announced a month ago, PBOT had flagged this intersection due to a high rate of collisions. There have been 103 collisions (seven involving bicycles) in the past five years. The preferred solution is a traffic signal, but those are too expensive and the signs are considered an interim solution.

The plans were met with skepticism by both commenters and by members of the City’s Bicycle Advisory Committee when they were first unveiled last month. As for compliance by people riding bicycles, PBOT traffic engineer Rob Burchfield didn’t have too high of hopes, telling the BAC that, “I wouldn’t be surprised if we put the stops in and then hear about cyclists not being compliant.”

Turns out that Burchfield might be right. During my observations this morning, I found that compliance was nearly 100% among people operating motor vehicles, but only about 50% of the bicycle operators came to a complete stop (an estimate). This isn’t a surprise. For one thing, it’s a crowded intersection and there’s often not much room for cars on the other side of the intersection (thus lowering the motivation to roll through).

Overall, while the intersection is still a bit chaotic and this isn’t the most elegant solution, I think the new stop signs are a net positive for safety. They heighten the awareness of cross traffic and they make it more likely that cars and bikes and will stop for people trying to walk across the street.

What do you think?

— Below are a few more photos looking south on Broadway…

New stop sign at NW Broadway and Couch-2

New stop sign at NW Broadway and Couch-3

New stop sign at NW Broadway and Couch-5

New stop sign at NW Broadway and Couch-6

New stop sign at NW Broadway and Couch-4

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  • NF March 27, 2012 at 9:39 am

    I totally dig this. I love the orderly confusion of a 4-way stop on active streets. It works particularly well at NW 11th & Couch, but I do wonder how successful it will be at a multilane street like Broadway.

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    • eb March 27, 2012 at 11:53 am

      11th/Couch doesn’t work particularly well. As a walking commuter through that intersection for several years, it’s one of the most likely intersections to be hit by a car in the entire Pearl District.

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  • lavie.lama March 27, 2012 at 9:48 am

    Now if only people could remember the right of way process for coming to 4-way stops at the same time. [Operator on left yields to operator on right.]

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  • Andyc March 27, 2012 at 9:54 am

    I am pretty skeptical of this, and think there should probably be no traffic crossing Broadway at this intersection, but then again now that there are crosswalks I want to try walking across Broadway here, as opposed to going a block over to Davis or Burnside like I have become accustomed to the last couple years. Maybe this will actually alleviate some of the pain.

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    • lavie.lama March 27, 2012 at 10:13 am

      But there already were crosswalks there – street corners are crosswalks, striped or not. The intersection has been terrible for pedestrians, but I would argue that it’s partially due to them choosing to break the legal flow and give up their right of way until they can cross without making a car slow down/stop for them.

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      • matt picio March 27, 2012 at 7:51 pm

        It’s very hard for pedestrians to *get* legal right-of-way at that intersection due to the constant traffic. It’s illegal for a pedestrian to cross in the crosswalk if traffic is close enough for the pedestrian to constitute a hazard (ORS 814.040). Multnomah County courts have in the past interpreted that to mean ” within 110′ ” (source: Share the Road Safety Class, 2010) Pedestrians in Oregon cannot legally step into the crosswalk until it is safe to do so. That’s presuming no stop sign – now with the stop signs, it is safe to do so.

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  • Kristen March 27, 2012 at 10:10 am

    Maybe the police need to sit out there and hand out tickets to people who can’t figure out that STOP means exactly that– STOP, regardless of mode.

    Oh, and you have to stop for pedestrians, and stay that way until they get into the next lane over from where you are.

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  • 9watts March 27, 2012 at 10:10 am

    “I found that compliance was nearly 100% among people operating motor vehicles, but only about 50% of the bicycle operators came to a complete stop (an estimate).”

    I’ve observed similar ratios on other lower-traffic intersections. One thing that struck me is that as an observer of this behavior it quickly became pretty clear that the majority of folks on bicycles who didn’t STOP completely did seem well aware of their surroundings, and in the absence of cross traffic did a variation on the Idaho Stop thing.
    Whether this is prudent or not depends on whether one wants to take a strict or a pragmatic view of this situation. I’m not familiar with the traffic volumes at this Broadway/Couch intersection so can’t judge cyclist’s noncompliance.

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    • are March 28, 2012 at 9:05 am

      i think it is also the case that a motorist who slows to three or five mph is perceived as having stopped, while a bicyclist is perceived as having rolled the stop.

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  • dan March 27, 2012 at 10:10 am

    Hmm, what’s going on in that top photo? It looks like red backpack is about to T-bone the other cyclist.

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    • twistyaction March 27, 2012 at 10:20 am

      It’s called the Idaho T-bone.

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  • encephalopath March 27, 2012 at 10:18 am

    I would imagine all the vehicles pictured are going about 2mph.

    If that’s the case then things have improved even if none of them fully stop.

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  • oliver March 27, 2012 at 10:26 am

    That’s BS. It should have been a signal.

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    • oliver March 27, 2012 at 10:29 am

      How many stop signs are there on Broadway? Burnside? Sandy? How many stop signs are there on any of the major thoroughfares downtown?

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  • MossHops March 27, 2012 at 10:34 am

    It’s a mess. I DID make a complete stop here this morning but it was mostly because it was obvious that I was entering a chaotic intersection. Everyone seemed confused and I can definitely see the potential for cars to inadvertently run the stop sign completely when traffic is light.

    As it currently stands the cure is worse than the disease. It’s downright tragic that they aren’t putting a signal here.

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    • liddell March 27, 2012 at 11:23 am

      I think the biggest improvement for this current solution is that it is now much more apparent that it is an intersection, and that it is not acceptable to stop inside of it. The “DO NOT BLOCK INTERSECTION” signs really did not do a thing. I cross this intersection both ways every day, and far more than not, someone’s car is sitting in the middle, blocking cross-traffic.

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      • BURR March 27, 2012 at 6:11 pm

        NYC paints the areas in intersections you are not supposed to block with crosshatched white lines.

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        • Paul Johnson March 27, 2012 at 8:47 pm

          New York also has a propensity for unusual intersection geometry which can sometimes make spotting this area trickier. In Oregon, you’re never supposed to stop in an intersection. If you can’t clear the intersection, you don’t enter it.

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  • 9watts March 27, 2012 at 10:39 am
  • Paul Manson March 27, 2012 at 11:09 am

    I think its an improvement, and considering budgets it is the best that can be done at the moment. I’ve had so many close calls biking north, and cars thinking that a break in south bound Broadway meant they could zip across on Couch. Often I would have to slam on brakes to avoid them t-boning me. This makes everyone stop, look and think (a little at least.) Now, lanes going north would also be really nice…..

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  • Frank March 27, 2012 at 11:10 am

    Dag. Just when I had the light timing along that stretch of Broadway down. I don’t think I’ll blow through this intersection at at 20 MPH. Instead I’ll coast through at about 10 MPH feeling guilty.

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    • John Lascurettes March 27, 2012 at 11:45 am

      Frank, the light at Burnside was not coordinated in its timing with the rest of the lights from Hoytt to Davis. But, yeah, the lights from Hoytt to Davis are timed perfectly such that if you hit one green doing 20mph, you won’t hit a red until potentially Burnside (which was hit or miss). Now you’ll have to stop at Couch every time. Silly solution. They really should have just diverted traffic from Couch onto Broadway and prevented turns from Broadway onto Couch.

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      • Paul Johnson March 27, 2012 at 12:08 pm

        A diverter won’t help pedestrians, which given the high pedestrian volume, is likely the reason the signs were installed. The Idaho Stop is clearly ineffective in terms of safety at this intersection, as well.

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  • wsbob March 27, 2012 at 11:33 am

    There are a lot of hours of the day when traffic volume on Broadway at Couch is low, making crossing the streets not a big problem. During those times, the stop signs aren’t going to be welcome, but during high traffic hours, people attempting to cross Broadway from the cross street, Couch, are probably going to really appreciate the stop signs.

    Plenty of people tend to drive too fast on NW Broadway, so the signs may help with that problem.

    Four way stop signs work quite well and efficiently on two lane roads. With multiple lanes, it can be tricky for road users to keep track of the order in which people arrive at the intersection and have the right to proceed after stopping.

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  • John Lascurettes March 27, 2012 at 11:42 am

    It would have been cleanest to simply have put a diverter for east-west traffic on Couch to have to turn right on Broadway. And no left turns from Broadway onto Couch. Period. No other traffic control device was needed. And this would have been safety improvement for everyone (expect maybe pedestrians crossing Broadway who would have netted no worse). Adding the marked crosswalks would have also improved it for pedestrians.

    Regarding stop sign compliance. Sure, I saw cars stopped at it this morning, but as Jonathan points out, it was because the block in south of Couch was filled from Burnside to Couch and cars couldn’t have made it through the intersection. That it took putting a stop sign there to get this basic traffic compliance from cars is pretty sad. One is not supposed to block intersections anyway. However, from my office on the third floor at the corner of Oak and 9th, I watch the 3-way stop sign there and I see near zero compliance with the stop signs from EVERYONE. Cars don’t even get close to stopping. And when you compare the inertial energy in a car going 5mph and a bike going 5mph through a stop sign, the difference is huge. Also add that cars have more blind spots and sensory (aural) deprivation.

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    • Steph March 27, 2012 at 12:02 pm

      Fun fact: I suggested this in my very nice email conversation with a PBOT staffer – Carl – and this design had been considered but shot down because Couch is considered a bikeway starting at this block.

      Maybe I’m the only person who had no clue that this crappy stretch of Couch could ever be considered a bikeway, but I was shocked to hear that the diverter that could eliminate the entire cross-traffic issue (pedestrian crossing would still be tought, for what it’s worth) was out of the running because someone previously decided to make Couch the “connector” in this radius.

      I pass through here during prime rush hour times each way. Coming in, cars were stopped with a clear intersection, but that meant I had to inch up after my full stop to see if there was a car coming across Broadway from my left side. Tough sight lines here, especially with the TriMet stop in front of Embers that always seems to stack up two buses at a time (six lines all have stops here). Plus, stop signs are pretty bad contro devices on anything more than a two-lane road. The crossing speed of pedestrian, bike and car are very different and I am incredibly concerned about people busting through the intersection when they think they are clear (due to impatience/trying to make the light at Burnside or Davis/bad sight lines) and hitting someone who was crossing with the actual right of way.

      Moral of the story: Safety is awesome, and I’m glad the city was concerned but it’s a nasty compromise to drop in a four-way stop (oh, also, it was installed during the workday, meaning it was a surprise for the commute home!) where there should be a timed signal. I understand budgets are crappy – I work for a government organization, in fact – but we all know that a patch, while sometimes functional, is no substitute for a real fix. The staffer was really great, for what it’s worth, and was not defensive when I brought all these issues up in my series of emails to him.

      /end extremely long and ranty post.

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  • Paul Johnson March 27, 2012 at 12:05 pm

    Hit by a bicyclist this morning while using the crosswalk. Brakes, people! Use them!

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  • Joe Rowe March 27, 2012 at 4:09 pm

    This is a burden on bikes. The lights when headed South on Broadway are timed great for the large volume of bikes. Burnside and Broadway is the one exception. Adding a 2nd exception makes this even more problematic for bikes. It creates a safety risk for bikes clumping up with cars.

    I’m guessing the history of accidents is cars hitting object x. X being ped, bike or car. So why punish bikes?

    Put in a flash beacon for peds who don’t get compliance from cars or bikes when crossing broadway. Give tickets to bikes and cars that ignore the flash beacon.

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    • Paul Johnson March 27, 2012 at 8:58 pm

      Or, everyone can stop and pay attention. The four way stop works. Obviously, not stopping for a stop sign at a crosswalk doesn’t, or I wouldn’t have bruises all up and down my side and road rash from getting hit by someone this morning who thought barreling past a UPS truck that did stop like they were supposed to was a good idea.

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  • toddistic March 27, 2012 at 4:36 pm

    First a redesign of Williams and now a stop sign on a main arterial street in downtown. The Handicapper General would be proud!

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  • dwainedibbly March 27, 2012 at 4:38 pm

    A little intersection confusion is a great way to get people to slow down.

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  • Scott March 27, 2012 at 5:11 pm

    Now if only people could remember the right of way process for coming to 4-way stops at the same time. [Operator on left yields to operator on right.]

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    That only applies when two vehicles arrive at the stop at a four way at the same time. First to stop, first to go, regardless of who is on which side.

    All this is going to do is create a horrible intersection where drivers try and play traffic cop and wave whomever they see fit through and do not take the time to understand law and that courtesy does not supercede the rules of the road.

    The most courteous way to drive is to know the rules and follow them quickly and efficiently so that everyone on the road knows what you are doing because you are all doing it the same way.

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    • Paul Johnson March 27, 2012 at 9:05 pm

      Common courtesy is who stops first goes first. The law is to the right. By the way, new issue of the driver’s manual points this out on page 43.

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  • Joe March 27, 2012 at 7:46 pm

    This is a cluster.. Stop signs don’t belong on roads with more than two travel lanes in any direction since you can’t always see to the left. Better than nothing, I guess.. Very sad the transportation bureau can’t afford a traffic signal, but there are probably dozens of these situations around the city. Transportation is in a world of hurt..

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  • matt picio March 27, 2012 at 8:14 pm

    Broadway is a District Collector. I can’t think of any DC in the city other than this one which *has* a stop sign. Is that a permissible element for that street classification? I mean, maybe it is better than nothing – time will tell, but a signal would be far more appropriate.

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  • k. March 28, 2012 at 12:51 pm

    Signalizing that intersection would probably have run over $500,000 probably much more. Four mast arms poles + 12 signal heads..it all adds up. (You do remember PBOT’s well publicized budget woes, right?) Plus..is there even room within the existing sidewalks to put signal pole bases? The stop signs may not be perfect but it’s by far the best bang for the buck. It’s seemed to work better than I supposed it would the past couple of mornings riding through. It’s new right now and people will settle down once they get used to it. And for whom ever said this was a “burden” on cyclists? Get real.

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    • are March 28, 2012 at 1:03 pm

      how much would it have cost to put in a diverter to prevent left turns off broadway onto couch?

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      • k. March 28, 2012 at 5:31 pm

        I’m not sure although much less expensive then signals, but more than stop signs. One of the problems with diverters is they limit choice (i.e. you can’t go where you want to go) and I suspect that the easiest and cheapest way to have done that, by using those lame wands, wouldn’t have worked so well. As PBOT has discovered, they are a maintenance issue, people run over them etc. The best way would have been to have put some sort of raised barrier or island. That would have taken some engineering and a bit of money. The stop sign idea is easy enough to do with minimal work before hand. And it’s easily reversed if it doesn’t work, or they come up with something better.

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  • was carless March 28, 2012 at 2:53 pm

    Chaotic intersections FTW! I drove through there yesterday during rush hour and (yes), came to a complete stop. It worked smoothly and safely. I didn’t see any “close calls” or dangerous moves. Didn’t need to worry about T-boning cars, peds, or bikers darting across Broadway.

    I was really surprised how well the stop sign works downtown.

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  • Steve B March 29, 2012 at 1:07 pm

    While I share skepticism of this intersection treatment, it’s encouraging that PBOT is focusing on short-term and long-term solutions to this safety issue. Thank you, PBOT!

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