Support BikePortland

To prevent right-hooks, PBOT will take bold step and close Wheeler Ave

Posted by on August 10th, 2012 at 3:54 pm

PBOT’s Greg Raisman shares plans for Broadway/Wheeler.
(Photos © J. Maus/BikePortland)

The Portland Bureau of Transportation (PBOT) has announced plans to close auto access on N Wheeler Avenue where it intersects with Broadway. The surprise announcement — nothing short of a bold attempt to prevent right-hook collisions — was made at a special meeting of neighborhood reps, ODOT, and other stakeholders at the City of Portland building earlier today. The meeting was called to discuss “immediate” steps to improve what PBOT (and many others) see as an urgent safety issue: Right-hook collisions at N. Broadway and Wheeler.

“[A partial or full closure of Wheeler] was only solution we see that eliminates substantially the right-hook conflict existing in this location that we think is very likely to cause a serious injury or death.”
— Greg Raisman, PBOT

PBOT traffic safety project expert Greg Raisman led the meeting. He spoke with urgency. “Unfortunately,” he said at the meeting’s outset, “our efforts to date have not addressed the concerns to a level where it’s no longer a critical safety problem. It remains a critical safety problem that we’re focused on addressing in an immediate way.”

To further frame the issue, Raisman said analysis of the collision history at Broadway/Flint/Wheeler showed that in recent years it has never fallen out of the top five (and is often number one) in terms of reported bicycle/motor-vehicle collisions in the entire city (out of 22,000 total intersections). Raisman then detailed the perfect storm of factors that make this intersection unsafe: complicated geometries, high speeds, illegal riding and driving behaviors, non-standard turning movements, poor visibility, and so on.

Observing Broadway traffic-7

A PPS truck turns right on Wheeler as
people on bikes stream down Broadway.

Raisman said he and PBOT staff reviewed every recorded collision from the DMV and the Police between 2000 and 2010 and there were 20 serious bike/motor-vehicle collisions. 17 of those 20 were right hooks at Wheeler.

“There are a lot of safety issues in the area,” Raisman continued, “We have some other needs, but in terms of the one that is the most consistent crash type where we have the most significant concern that we’re going to see a serious tragedy is at Broadway and Wheeler; which is why we’re focused on providing an immediate, near and long-term strategy to address it.”

Raisman’s emphatic talk about the intersection is backed up by many factors beyond just collision data. The Portland Water Bureau was so concerned about the potential of bike/truck collisions that they’ve prohibited employees from driving on Wheeler since 2007. Today we learned that another business located near Wheeler, North Coast Electric, will also tell employees to not drive on the street due to safety concerns. Broadway/Wheeler/Flint has a very public record of bike collisions and it also has had years of effective citizen activism on the part of Besty Reese, co-owner of the Paramount Apartments (located on the peninsula formed by Broadway/Flint/Wheeler). Reese was at the meeting today.

Also at the meeting were a BTA volunteer, a man who owns a manufacturing business in the lower Albina area (which is accessed via Wheeler) and reps from the Boise-Eliot Neighborhood Association, the Rose Garden Arena, the Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT), the Lloyd TMA, the Portland Water Bureau, the Portland Bicycle Advisory Committee, and more.

Hanging over talks of immediate fixes, and making potential solutions even more complicated (both in terms of infrastructure decisions and politics), is the major N/NE Quadrant and I-5 Broadway/Weidler plans. As part of that process, the City of Portland and ODOT have drafted a new, $400 million facility plan that will add a lane to the I-5 freeway through the corridor and make surface street improvements. While ODOT has agreed to fasttrack some elements of that plan to improve Broadway/Flint/Wheeler issues, it was made clear today that all of them (removal of I-5 slip ramp, a new signal on Broadway at Wheeler) are at least several years and millions of dollars away.

Even with those plans in place, there’s been a growing sense that a fix to Broadway/Flint/Wheeler is too important to wait the many years before implementation. As collisions continue to occur and people continued to be harmed, the pressure for PBOT to do something has become too much to ignore.

Today, we learned that PBOT will step up and do the most obvious, low-cost, and effective thing to prevent right hooks: Close Wheeler to auto access. Back in June, frustrated by yet another person who had been injured at the intersection, I suggested at least closing Wheeler to right turns (northbound) from Broadway. Today, Raisman said they were convinced some sort of closure — either partial or full — is the only option that will work immediately.

View looking east on Broadway from Wheeler.

“[A partial or full closure of Wheeler] was only solution we see,” said Raisman, “that eliminates substantially the right-hook conflict existing in this location that we think is very likely to cause a serious injury or death.”

PBOT says they could put construction barricades up right away and would also widen curbs on the northwest and southwest corners of Wheeler/Broadway to discourage people from continuing to enter Wheeler from Broadway.

“Wheeler is one of only two access points for these businesses… And as much as every player down there prefers safety to non-safety, this is an important access route both from a productivity/travel-time point of view and from an emergency egress point of view too.”
— Eric Lovell, owner of Uroboros Glass

While many people at today’s meeting thanked PBOT for this decision and urged them to put up the barricades immediately, there are a few more conversations PBOT will have with nearby businesses before implementing the changes.

At the outset of today’s meeting, Eric Lovell, who has owned Uroboros Glass since 1984, expressed concerns about any reduction of access on Wheeler. Representing himself and other businesses in the Lower Albina area, he said, “I want to protect their access to their neighborhood.” “Wheeler is one of only two access points for these businesses,” he said, “And as much as every player down there prefers safety to non-safety, this is an important access route both from a productivity/travel-time point of view and from an emergency egress point of view too.”

Upon hearing PBOT’s plan, Heather McCarey (representing the City’s Bicycle Advisory Committee) turned to Lovell and asked, “Can this [closure plan] be an immediate solution to saving a life?”

Lovell responded by saying, “It’s pretty easy to see that closing Wheeler will prevent the accidents and it’s cheap, so it’s hard to take any position against that.” While he seems to accept the idea, Lovell made it clear that any closure (partial or full) would be a sacrifice for the businesses and he wants help with other issues in exchange for his support. “Let’s tie this in with some efforts to improve things for those manufacturing businesses in lower Albina,” he said, “These are the ones that haven’t gone to Hillsboro or Vancouver and it’s getting harder to do business down there all the time.” (Please note that Mr. Lovell was very reasonable and open-minded. I believe his heart is in the right place and that he will work for a good outcome.)

Interestingly, although she’s passionate about the safety concerns, Paramount Apartments owner Betsy Reese has opposed past suggestions to limit motor vehicle access to Wheeler. She’s concerned that the main entrance to her historic building would no longer be easily accessible to tenants and guests who arrive by car. But today, she surprised everyone by opposing the partial closure on the grounds that it wasn’t going far enough. “This is a half-measure,” Reese said, “I want a full closure of Wheeler.” Instead of a partial closure, which she described as a “significant concession for Paramount,” Reese would rather have a full closure so she can plan a “quiet cul-de-sac” and a “lovely spot” in front of her building. “Don’t jump across that chasm in two small hops,” she said, “Do it one big leap and close it this afternoon!”

Raisman initially said they would implement a closure following a September 6th meeting with the Water Bureau and other businesses and stakeholders in the lower Albina; but after hearing cries for quick action from stakeholders today, he was willing to change those plans and consider implementing either a partial or full closure even sooner than that.

Justin Zuelner, the Director of Sustainability and Planning for the Portland Trail Blazers and the Rose Garden Arena, said he wants action right away. “We feel almost a sense of guilt, and even potential liability because we’ve all sat in rooms and said this is something we need to address and yet we have not addressed it. If this is the immediate mitigation, I hope to see it today, because if it’s that great of a concern — and I agree with you that it is — we can’t stop short and wait until tomorrow because somebody could get killed today.”

Please note: This is a fluid situation and PBOT is actively having conversations with stakeholders about the best way to implement a closure. Whatever type of closure happens (and I feel confident saying some sort of closure is guaranteed), you can bet PBOT will continue to test how it works (or doesn’t) and they will be able to change course if necessary. Stay tuned for further developments.

Please support BikePortland.

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

  • Richard Masoner August 10, 2012 at 3:59 pm

    Wow. What’s the average daily traffic on that street? (asking as an outsider)

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • Zaphod August 10, 2012 at 4:02 pm

    This is really a triumph for safety and care for people. For this intersection, it’s really not a question of if, but who will be next to be injured or worse. Thank you PBOT

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • Woodstock_Cyclist August 10, 2012 at 4:08 pm

    This sounds like the best solution for this intersection, particularly since accessing most of the businesses in Lower Albina is fairly easy from Larrabee, and there is a turn lane there from Broadway. It’s encouraging to see some local business people supporting it, too. I don’t bike in this area very often (as my handle suggests). Looking at the map, though, I’m wondering what will prevent similar right-hook problems at Ross or Benton.

    Recommended Thumb up 0

    • John Lascurettes August 11, 2012 at 12:51 am

      Line of sight makes right hook problems less likely at more western intersections. In order, east to west, the cluster of Vancouver Ave, the I-5 offramp, the slip ramp off I-5, Flint and Wheeler are all within several yards of each other here – and they’re all hung on a curve. PBOT intends to close the slip ramp at some near date too (another good and appreciated idea). It’s about time they close Wheeler. The neighborhood is perfectly accessible from other outlets.

      Recommended Thumb up 0

  • Nick August 10, 2012 at 4:08 pm

    What a huge sigh of relief! The 17 of 20 statistic is insane. Thank you PBOT for finally doing this.

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • liddell August 10, 2012 at 4:13 pm

    I love Betsy Reese’s suggestions at the end! Can we not just make this a safer situation, but turn it into a much needed human space at the same time?

    Recommended Thumb up 0

    • Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) August 10, 2012 at 4:18 pm


      That’s what PBOT is thinking too… I’ll be able to report more in the coming days and weeks. But put it this way, if PBOT can get support for a full closure than they will test and tweak and analyze how it’s working and there is definitely potential for a variety of outcomes on the street — from a few planter and barricades to an all-out plaza with tables and chairs and other fun stuff.

      Recommended Thumb up 0

      • lavie.lama August 10, 2012 at 6:11 pm

        That would be lovely, and hopefully a bit less like the Ankeny alley closure, where they pretty much just cramped it up and turned it into private access dining. I thought she was perhaps being a bit alarmist at first, but Fritz really called that one.

        Recommended Thumb up 0

    • gl. August 10, 2012 at 4:48 pm

      yes, i love how it moves the conversation from “have to” to “want to” close wheeler!

      Recommended Thumb up 0

  • spare_wheel August 10, 2012 at 4:20 pm

    this simple and inexpensive solution may prevent more injuries than all of pdx’s cycletracks combined.

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • Steve B August 10, 2012 at 4:30 pm

    Bravo, PBOT. BRAVO!

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • Chris Smith August 10, 2012 at 4:57 pm

    It was very interesting to watch the interplay of the near-term and long-term timelines. I think the fact that we now have a pretty clear outline of what the NE Quadrant plan is going to look like made it easier for PBOT and ODOT to think about what short-term measures could be, because they can now do so without worrying that they were going to do something out of sync with the long-term intent. I think that freedom from uncertainty coupled with the continuing and rising set of voices calling for a solution intersected to create the wonderful sense of urgency that we’re now seeing.

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • Kirk August 10, 2012 at 5:48 pm

    “Wheeler is one of only two access points for these businesses…” said Lovell.

    Really? I looked on a map and see 3 access. Vehicles (bikes and cars) will still have plenty of options to access these businesses.

    For example, they could:
    – Turn right onto Ross
    – Turn right onto Benton
    – Turn right onto Larrabee

    For those that were cutting through the neighborhood diagonally on Wheeler, I am sure Larrabee will become the new route for them. Not that that would reduce the amount of right turns in the area, at least they won’t be as complicated as Wheeler and everyone’s movements will be much more predictable….(however, it would be even MORE predictable if they shifted the bike lane transition from between Benton and Larrabee to between Ross and Benton, because THAT is what people on bikes generally do in that stretch of the road – since it is safer to merge at that location before all the cars are queued up between Benton and Larrabee….but I digress).

    Recommended Thumb up 0

    • q`Tzal August 10, 2012 at 7:01 pm

      It will make access for long tractor trailers difficult.
      I’ve driven a 53′ trailer to a delivery at the Portland Schoold District warehouse down there and until I can get my eyes on the situation a 2nd time I’m not sure how to safely back in to their wacky dock entry area.
      Street view makes the Ross/Benton entry alternative for Wheeler look unsafe without the removal of on street parking.
      The logical entry is from Tillamook and Larrabee. From there you either blind back from N Wheeler Place (segment between N Kirby Ave and N Wheeler Ave) or just back all the way down N Kirby Ave.

      I’m sure there is a way to make it work but business interests are not used to not being worshed and fawned upon. That their interests are not considered first and formost above all else turns the stomach of the most Feringi business owner. Makes them whine and take their employment elsewhere. We want jobs just not at the expense of our community.

      Recommended Thumb up 0

    • Collin August 14, 2012 at 9:06 am

      Neither Ross, Benton nor Larrabee provide access to the area being discussed. Lovell’s business is on Kerby, between Thompson and Tillamook. Due to the Max rail line, southbound traffic cannot turn onto Thompson. That will leave Tillamook as the only street that provides access to his business. I worked next to Uroboros for several years and used Wheeler on a daily basis. My primary concern is that Tillamook is lined with loading docks, and when trucks load and unload, they often COMPLETELY block Tillamook. And leaves NO entrance or exit points to businesses in that area during those times. I agree that Wheeler & Broadway is a dangerous intersection and something must be done; however, it can be hell getting in and out of that area already. This is really going to screw things up for a lot of businesses.

      Recommended Thumb up 0

  • Rol August 10, 2012 at 8:39 pm

    Great news. Any bets on what the Oregonian & local TV news will do with the story, once they, y’know, catch up and finally report it? My money’s on “cranky diaper-rash hissy fit.”

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • jim August 10, 2012 at 8:59 pm

    Are they going to leave it so emergency vehicles can turn there when needed?

    Recommended Thumb up 0

    • are August 10, 2012 at 11:56 pm

      if the street did not go through to begin with, emergency vehicles would find another way in

      Recommended Thumb up 0

  • PPS bicyclist August 10, 2012 at 9:06 pm

    I go through that intersection on my way to work everyday, and it’s definitely a bicycle death trap that needs fixing. But I don’t see how closing Wheeler would solve the problem, wouldn’t it just move the danger spot to Ross or Benton? The same number of vehicles would still be making right turns on that stretch, and since Broadway is downhill right there, most bicyclists are moving faster than drivers expect by the time they reach Ross or Benton. That whole area is a mess and I’ve had close calls on my bike and in my car, but I really don’t see how closing Wheeler is going to help.

    Recommended Thumb up 0

    • are August 10, 2012 at 11:57 pm

      much of the difficulty is with motorists crossing paths with cyclists entering at flint. if you give people a block or two to sort things out, you will have less conflict.

      Recommended Thumb up 0

  • zefwagner August 10, 2012 at 10:54 pm

    It looks like most vehicles would use Larrabee, since it goes through the neighborhood. Ross and Benton only go a block and only access a few businesses. This looks like a great solution! Good to see some quick action without the usual 2-3 years of process.

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • dwainedibbly August 11, 2012 at 4:47 am

    Great outcome (probably, since nothing is finalized). I wonder: will the closure mean that people on bikes won’t be able to make a right turn there, too?

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • Vance Longwell August 11, 2012 at 7:36 am

    Have there been any fatalities at this site? No? The article itself sites, “…bicycle riders and motorists breaking traffic laws…” as the number one source of any so-called conflict here. Is it a good idea to address concerns over a few scofflaws with a policy which impugns an entire city’s residents? When informed by myself, and countless others, that breaking from a nearly century-old convention, and allowing bicycle riders the special, exclusive, privilege to pass Oregon highway users on-the-right; did we not state fairly clearly that this would injure, or kill bicycle riders?

    This policy has resulted in monumental levels of disorder, confusion, chaos, and now alleged injuries, and in Tracy Sparling’s case at least, death. Oregon’s highways were designed, and implemented for fast moving motorist traffic, slow moving pedestrians, and not the unforeseeable future where a bunch of self-involved tourists turn my mode into some sort of fashion statement.

    Talking…”quick, easy, solutions”…the quickest, and easiest solution to problems like this is to return to a policy whereby passing motorists on-the-right, while operating anything short of one’s own feet, remain a prohibited maneuver. So, instead, the already hyper-serviced mode will shove their Church agenda down the laity’s throat, yet again. Glad I’ve stuck by my decision to NEVER ride a bike in Portland again, and make ALL of my trips in my 1969 Ford f250, at 4-5 m.p.g.. Hehe.

    Recommended Thumb up 0

    • are August 11, 2012 at 9:40 am

      welcome back, brother, missed ya

      Recommended Thumb up 0

    • spare_wheel August 11, 2012 at 2:22 pm

      “is to return to a policy whereby passing motorists on-the-right, while operating anything short of one’s own feet, remain a prohibited maneuver”

      a very good point. motorists should never be allowed to turn across a lane. one solution would be to use sharrows or green paint to force cyclists to merge into the turn lane. another would be to require motorists to enter the bike lane if they want to turn right.

      Recommended Thumb up 0

      • GlowBoy August 12, 2012 at 10:54 am

        As pointed out by Vance, it’s super dangerous to allow turns across another lane of traffic, and force them to yield to that lane while doing so.

        Obviously we should ban left turns too! After all, they do make up a very large share of motor vehicle crashes.

        Recommended Thumb up 0

        • oliver August 13, 2012 at 8:28 am

          +1. Inefficient, inconvenient and dangerous, left turns are the devils work. That’s my position and I will be sticking to it.

          Recommended Thumb up 0

        • spare_wheel August 13, 2012 at 12:26 pm

          trying to remember the last time i cut across another lane at an intersection to turn left. and yes we were clearly discussing turns at intersections.

          Recommended Thumb up 0

          • El Biciclero August 13, 2012 at 1:58 pm

            I got the sense GlowBoy was referring to the oncoming lanes, which must be crossed over in any left turn from a two-way street.

            The only difference between left turns and turns across a bike lane is that the traffic to be yielded to comes from different directions. Granted, it could be argued that it is more difficult to look into one’s side mirror than it is to look straight ahead, but the concept is the same. Drivers wait for “overtaking” pedestrian traffic all the time at signalized crosswalks (often by pulling across the bike lane and stopping to wait for their destination lane to clear…).

            Recommended Thumb up 0

  • Andy August 11, 2012 at 10:08 am

    The bike community should show full support of this by supporting those businesses as best they can…

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • Adam August 11, 2012 at 8:15 pm

    Look at the third photograph down in this article.

    Those cyclists are about to get obliterated by that turning SUV.

    That is all the evidence anyone needs. Wheeler needs to be closed from Broadway immediately.

    I am very happy to see things moving forward here.

    Recommended Thumb up 0

    • are August 11, 2012 at 8:56 pm

      from the photograph alone, which incidentally appears to have been taken with a rather long lens, you cannot tell all that much. the kia may have stopped. it does have turn signal on. at least one of the cyclists appears to have a foot on the ground. both seem to have stopped. no one is about to get “obliterated.”

      did the cyclists just enter from flint? where was the kia when they did that? and did it already have its signal on? or were they coming down broadway and had already passed flint when that other wagon came out behind them (seems unlikely).

      because of the long lens and the presence of three large cars, the photo does have a certain dramatic effect, which i am sure was intended. but it does not seem to show anyone in a position of imminent risk.

      Recommended Thumb up 0

  • jim August 11, 2012 at 11:13 pm

    3 lefts = 1 right

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • Dave H August 12, 2012 at 12:50 am

    Endorsing Spare_Wheel’s comment that by actually looking at the specific problem that answer is so often NOT a cycling facility, and a cheap, simple traffic management measure.

    Is there still a left turn in to Wheeler? In which case a part closure is not practical.

    And closing one right turn means that somewhere else drivers need to make the same equivalent manoeuvre.

    Of course you won’t eliminate every right turn but you might consider the European design where the right turn lane merges with the flow of cyclists before the junction. A merging conflict leaves far more options for crash avoidance, and any impact is a glancing one. leaving the crossing of paths to the junction itself means the classic T-bone crash – with the cyclist, a highly manoeuvreable road user faced with a ‘wall’ of vehicle squarely across their path.

    A detail for merges which can be tested is to place a merge hazard sign above a vertically convex mirror in the forward vision zone of both streams of merging traffic. The mirror shows the traffic alongside you, and that coming up from behind, but the mirror should be framed in a reflective band, to avoiding the confusion likely at night when headlights are used.

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • Zaphod August 12, 2012 at 3:36 pm

    I’ve been thinking about the right hook risk for awhile and it’s really time we, as in all of us, collectively stand up and change it forever. It’s the #1 source of collision and some re-thinking is in order.

    There may be situations where it is expensive or approaching impossible but suppose… and allow me to dream for a moment…

    That the right lane is culturally accepted with laws in place such that the speed limit is set by the slowest vehicle and that’s it. So a cyclist rolling at 12mph or even 7 is always allowed and expected to ride dead center of the lane when more than one lane exists. Drivers understand that they need to pass on the left in a different lane or hang back until they can.

    It fits a lot of situations as most arterials have two or more travel lanes in each direction.

    Am I dreaming? Can we approach eliminating the absurdity of motorists turning from, effectively, the middle lane?

    Law change, educational campaign, culture shift?

    Recommended Thumb up 0

    • jim August 12, 2012 at 3:41 pm

      Right hooks hardly ever happen when the right lane is shared with cars.

      Recommended Thumb up 0

  • Alexis August 12, 2012 at 5:39 pm

    Bravo PBOT and bravado Betsy and everyone who has worked on this area.

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • batiya August 12, 2012 at 5:46 pm

    Which businesses, exactly? There’s an oncology clinic and an entryway into the offices of Portland Public Schools. Did I miss something?

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • aaron August 13, 2012 at 8:27 am

    Nearly saw an accident this morning…

    Waiting at the stop sign at Flint to turn onto Broadway this morning when the light released the cars upstream and on came the deluge of vehicles. I decided to wait it out. Kid on a fixie (no brakes, no helmet of course) decides he doesn’t want to wait anymore and decided to go for it. He doesn’t notice that a truck has its turn signal on and is either going to turn onto Flint or Wheeler. Truck turns on Wheeler just as the fixie is getting there.

    Good job on the truck driver for keeping an eye out on the right side of his truck.

    I then ended up following the fixie down Broadway on my way to work and watched as he blew every light and stop sign up to Burnside. Lost him after that.

    I couldn’t even legitimately SCR with the guy.

    Good grief.

    In other news I’ve heard reports that police are actively monitoring that intersection, so that’s good.

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • ME 2 August 13, 2012 at 10:26 am

    Great idea and given the tight municipal budget situation, one area PBOT and\or BTA should look into is whether they could get grant money from an insurance company to defray the costs. I can’t remember which insurer, but they implemented an innovative policy of identifying high collision areas that were a result of bad design and basically paid the cities the redesign costs. The insurer actually found that doing this lowered their overall costs because the number of collisions fell dramatically.

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • S. August 13, 2012 at 11:21 am

    Closed completely or only to motor vehicles?

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • SCM August 18, 2012 at 8:07 am

    Ounce again the city is going to make life harder for business in this area. Hello!, jobs create revenue. I agree this situation is a tragedy waiting to happen. Here’s an idea, give every cyclist a $250 ticket when they blow the stop sign at Flint. This is not a minority that disregard traffic laws, it’s the majority, 60%-80%. I have counted cyclist at that corner, several times now. I also find it interesting how when some people see an agenda in something for themselves, then their all for it. I for one will just have to take a right at Ross over to Dixon and then double back to Wheeler. This area is becoming more isolated….wake up folks.

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • Bryan Scott August 22, 2012 at 4:45 am

    Bike riders are the cause of all the incidents. How many four-wheeled vehicle drivers have been injured? The $250 ticket idea will change behavior, I’m sure.

    Recommended Thumb up 0