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Ray Thomas on the unintended consequences of “ambiguous intersections”

Posted by on August 29th, 2012 at 1:36 pm

What you see driving north on MLK Jr. Blvd at NE Going Street.

Noted local lawyer, bike law expert, and veteran advocate Ray Thomas has penned a new article about what he feels is a safety issue at the intersection of Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd (MLK) and N Going Street. Thomas is known for his writing and has published a number of articles on legal topics. He usually doesn’t write about intersection design, but he has made an exception this time.

“[The intersection’s] ambiguity creates a troublesome situation for those it most seeks to help as bicyclists are encouraged to assert a right of way they do not possess by law.”
— Ray Thomas

Thomas has shared the article with us; but before reading it below, let me offer some quick context. The MLK/Going intersection is a key connection in the Portland Bureau of Transportation’s Going Street neighborhood greenway, which they have said is the best one in the entire system. Going is also currently the subject of a PBOT marketing campaign to encourage more people to use it. The crossing treatment at MLK (which is a major arterial thoroughfare) a non-signalized median barrier with a cut-through for bike traffic. There are also painted crosswalks, advanced stop bars and signage to warn that people on bikes and foot might be present.

Below is Thomas’ article, which he titled, “Ambiguous Intersections”:

It was early one warm spring evening when our old blue van filled with dog and family was headed northbound on Martin Luther King Boulevard (MLK). As we approached the intersection with Northeast Going Street, I saw two bicyclists stopped at the stop sign on Going, waiting to head eastbound across the throughway of MLK. To my surprise, the car in front of me slowed down and stopped before the marked pedestrian crosswalk at Going to let the bicyclists ride across MLK.

Irritated, I applied the brakes, thinking I should not move from the A in to the B lane and drive around the stopping car because the bicyclists were starting to cross MLK in front of us. Suddenly, we heard the screeching of skidding tires behind us. I looked up and saw a pick-up truck skidding in my lane, then sliding into the B lane and up onto the curb. The skidding lasted for a second or more and I estimated that the driver had skidded about 30 feet after coming suddenly upon our two vehicles stopped for the bicyclists. Fortunately, no one was hit or hurt. I decided that the pick-up truck driver had not been paying very close attention and was surprised that we were stopping for cross traffic when MLK was a through street with no stop sign.

Ray Thomas.
(Photo © J. Maus/BikePortland)

It was such a close call that I could smell the burned rubber.

After determining that everyone inside was okay, I rolled down the driver’s window, leaned my head out and said to the driver in front of me, “you know you really didn’t have to stop there as the bicyclists had a stop sign!” My 18-year old daughter then yelled at me, “Dad, they were just trying to be nice!” I began to try to explain to her how I felt that the near collision had been caused most obviously by the pick-up truck driver who failed to see that we were stopping, but that I also felt the motorist who stopped in front of us had needlessly endangered us.

Later I returned to the intersection to think about what had happened. The intersection of Northeast Going and MLK Blvd has a new type of design that includes marked crosswalks and an intermittent divider that prevents cars on Going from crossing MLK, but has cut outs to allow bicyclists through.

The signs for traffic approaching Going on MLK contain a symbol for a bicyclist and a pedestrian, but traffic on Going has a stop sign. As I watched traffic flow at the intersection, I saw that it had been configured to combine a marked pedestrian crossing with a bicycle corridor. Clearly, the designers of the intersection attempted to facilitate crossing of MLK by bicyclists. To the extent there was ambiguity about whether bicyclists shared the crosswalk right of way with pedestrians, it was an effort to aid bicyclists.

However, outside the crosswalk, bicyclists are still required by the Oregon Vehicle Code to stop at the stop sign on Going before crossing MLK and then to “yield the right of way to any vehicle in the intersection or approaching so closely as to constitute an immediate hazard.” (ORS 811.260 (11)).

“Intersection design ambiguity that encourages cyclists to exercise a right of way they do not legally possess, and motorists to surrender their rights of way, can create dangerous situations for all traffic.”

When I observed the intersection, I discovered that a number of motorists stop for bicyclists that are waiting at the stop signs. When a motorist stops without legal basis to do so on a through street like MLK, it creates a hazard for overtaking traffic and is arguably illegal. ORS 811.550, “Places Where Stopping, Standing, and Parking Prohibited”, provides that a person commits a Class D traffic infraction if “a person parks, stops, or leaves standing a vehicle in any of the following places:”, which include “(12) On a throughway”. ORS 801.524 defines “throughway” as “every highway, street or roadway in respect to which owners or occupants of abutting lands and other persons have no legal right of access to or from the same except at such points only and in such manner as may be determined by the road authority having jurisdiction over the highway, street or roadway”.

It seems that when a person stops unnecessarily, even if they have proper working brake lights, they may be violating ORS 811.550 if the street on which they stop is a “throughway”. I believe MLK qualifies as such. While my daughter was correct that the primary fault of any collision would have been created by the driver of the pickup truck driving too fast and not keeping a proper lookout, the motorist in front created the potentially dangerous situation by stopping unnecessarily.

“Employing technical or design inducements to encourage more bicyclists to ride is a laudable goal, but design alone cannot change the requirements of the Oregon Vehicle Code.”

Of course the main problem with this intersection design is that it is confusing. It’s ambiguity creates a troublesome situation for those it most seeks to help as bicyclists are encouraged to assert a right of way they do not possess by law. During my observations, approaching drivers tended to yield for bicyclists and wave them through, as if they did not know whether motorists are required to yield the right of way to bicyclists crossing the intersection even though the bicyclists have the stop sign. Sometimes, when the bicyclist saw a car slowing to stop, the bicyclist began riding across MLK. If a bicyclist was to move across the road in front of a slowing motorist who then changed their mind (or never intended to stop in the first place) and started moving again, causing a collision, we would have both an unnecessary collision and a legal question: would the bicyclist be charged with failing to obey the stop sign by not yielding the right of way to an approaching motorist?

Employing technical or design inducements to encourage more bicyclists to ride is a laudable goal, but design alone cannot change the requirements of the Oregon Vehicle Code. A better solution would be to route bicycle traffic to an intersection with a traffic light or install a traffic light that can be triggered by bicyclists pushing a button to trigger a red light for approaching cross traffic, such as the traffic signal located at East 41st and Burnside in Portland. The traffic on Burnside gets a red light to stop when bicyclists want to cross.

Modern traffic planners are attempting to create new designs which have evolved beyond the old models for intersections. Sometimes ambiguity about who has the right of way is good. It’s what keeps pedestrians in crowds from crashing into each other. However, intersection design ambiguity that encourages cyclists to exercise a right of way they do not legally possess, and motorists to surrender their rights of way, can create dangerous situations for all traffic. While it is more expensive to create a traffic-signal enhanced intersection (PBOT regularly estimates the cost between $250-500,000 for one signal), for bicyclists on NE Going and MLK, the additional investment is probably worth it to remove the confusing ambiguity that presently exists in the intersection.


— Ray Thomas is a partner in the downtown Portland law firm of Swanson Thomas Coon & Newton. You can read more of this work on their website. (Disclosure: Swanson Thomas Coon & Newton is a BikePortland advertiser.)

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117 Comments
  • Avatar
    Nik August 29, 2012 at 1:48 pm

    Ray Thomas himself writes:

    “While bicycles are considered to be vehicles under Oregon law and must, therefore, yield the right-of-way to pedestrians just like any other vehicle, bicycles may also be operated in crosswalks. While on the one hand Oregon law allows bicyclists to have the right-of-way in crosswalks like a pedestrian, the law also sets a speed limit for bicycle riders that conditions the right-of-way on proceeding no faster than a “walking speed”. ORS 814.410.” (source: http://www.stc-law.com/crosswalks.html)

    It’s very reasonable to therefore stop for people on bicycles waiting at a marked crosswalk. Sure it’s ambiguous. Cyclists operate in an ambiguous quantum state being both vehicles and pedestrians at crossing treatments like that. Does it matter where, precisely, the cyclist is? Is the cyclist a pedestrian only if they wait at the end of the zebra striping?

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      Nick August 29, 2012 at 1:54 pm

      But they’re not stopped at a crosswalk. They’re stopped in the middle of the street, *near* crosswalks.

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        Craig Harlow August 29, 2012 at 3:47 pm

        “..stopped in the middle of the street”…I’m not sure what that phrase means. Ray’s account says, “the car in front of me slowed down and stopped before the marked pedestrian crosswalk at Going”.

        The law requires vehicles approaching from behind–when a car is stopped at a crosswalk in front of them (painted or not, i.e any corner)–to also come to a stop and not pass the stopped vehicle, until they can confirm that it is safe for them to proceed.

        It’s not possible to reliably ascertain, in just one or two seconds, whether the car ahead is “legitimately” stopped to allow a pedestrian crossing.

        For one thing a pedestrian could be crossing from any of the corners at the near or far side of the intersection The driver approaching from the rear of the stopped car would have to scan all of these corners carefully before judging judging whether a (waiting or active) crosswalk user was visible to them.

        For another thing, pedestrians who may be waiting to cross, or who are actively crossing, may not be visible to all approaching cars, because the view of them may be blocked by other cars or trucks, or by other other elements commonly on the sidepath such as cars trucks, lampposts, mailboxes. Pedestrians may be small children or in wheelchairs, putting them well below anyone’s view from the other side of the car which is already stopped.

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          Craig Harlow August 29, 2012 at 3:52 pm

          Sorry, my opening remark was in error. I though you meant that the car wasn’t stopped at a crosswalk. Now I see you were talking about the bike(s).

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          jim August 31, 2012 at 11:16 pm

          buses stop next to crosswalks all the time and cars seldom stop next to them.

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      Charley Gee August 29, 2012 at 1:59 pm

      The scene here puts the bicyclists on a street between two marked crosswalks, facing a stop sign. The bicyclists are not in the marked crosswalk.

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        Craig Harlow August 29, 2012 at 3:25 pm

        I completely agree. That’s the problem. That’s why I don’t cross in-between, I use the painted crosswalks, and I use them legally.

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    jram August 29, 2012 at 1:52 pm

    I run into similar situations with some of the crossings on N Concord. Cross traffic at Rosa Parks and Killingsworth often stop for me, and I am always wondering if that’s a good thing or not (i.e. if a person on a car stops for me, are they being courteous, or are they assuming that I have the rights of a pedestrian, and should ride on the sidewalk once i cross?).

    It can also lead to odd situations where traffic in one direction stops for me but the opposite direction continues as expected, with the good samaritan stopping traffic for no reason at all.

    But what is the solution? A sign that reads “Stop for bikes not required” or similar would likely lead to MORE assumptions that folks on bikes don’t belong on the road. It’s an odd situation all around.

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    NF August 29, 2012 at 1:57 pm

    The anecdote is not a very good one. True, they did not have to stop for the waiting bicyclists, but it could have just as easily been a pedestrian waiting there and the stop would be required. The story sounds more like one about a driver not paying attention to the road.

    But perhaps the real issue is that the spirit and the letter of Oregon’s crosswalk law is difficult to live up to on our fast, wide roads.

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      John Lascurettes August 29, 2012 at 2:22 pm

      Indeed, the exact same situation could have been applied to a pedestrian in the crosswalk and there would have been no legal ambiguity. The danger still would have been there.

      For what it’s worth, when I use that crossover, I use it as intended. I cross into the median when the near side lanes are clear to wait until the far side lanes are clear. Almost without fail though, both lanes of approaching traffic will stop and wave me through. It’s kind of nuts. I mean, it’s great that it’s training people to be a bit more courteous and patient, but I do expect to wait until the lanes are clear.

      Also anecdotally to contrast Ray’s anecdote: I’ve never seen anyone act huffy about stopping for me, nor have I seen any unsafe stops at this intersection.

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        Carl August 29, 2012 at 2:33 pm

        Legal question: I know you can WALK to a pedestrian refuge island and wait there but is it legal for a bicyclist to cross to an island like the one on MLK if they know they can’t get all the way across the street (read: if there is not gap in traffic in the far lanes)? This also happens at SE Ankeny/Sandy/11th. Bicyclists eastbound on Ankeny ride out to the median on Sandy and wait. I don’t think you could legally do that (cross half way) in any other vehicle… Is there a special provision allowing bicycles to do this?

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          John Lascurettes August 29, 2012 at 2:52 pm

          Not sure. But I do know the median you describe at Ankeney was specifically marked for cyclists to do this. I believe it was covered by Jonathan when the markings went in.

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            John Lascurettes August 29, 2012 at 3:23 pm

            Same as I don’t know of any special provision that allows for some vehicles to use a median as wide as the vehicle as a crossing or turning barrier, I’m not familiar with any laws the prohibit any vehicle from doing that. As far as I know, the only law that would prohibit it would be the one that states that you as the vehicle leaving the controlled part of the intersection must not impede or block the traffic of the uncontrolled direction of the intersection. If you had a median large enough to say shield a car, I don’t see how it would be any different (think NE Ainsworth).

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          Charley Gee August 29, 2012 at 3:16 pm

          I can’t think of any, Carl.

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          lavie.lama August 29, 2012 at 3:19 pm

          There is an intersection at the Rose Quarter transit cluster with a median in the middle of a two way that has a green box for bicycles to do a two-phase crossing, so I assume it is indeed legal.

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          Spiffy August 30, 2012 at 8:30 am

          I think it’s legal as long as you’re not blocking cross-traffic…

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          El Biciclero August 30, 2012 at 11:15 am

          I found this in the ORS (emphasis mine):

          “811.346 Misuse of special left turn lane; penalty. (1) A person commits the offense of misuse of a special left turn lane if the person uses a special left turn lane for anything other than making a left turn either into or from the special left turn lane.
          (2) A person who turns into a special left turn lane from an alley, driveway or other entrance to the highway that has the special left turn lane is in violation of this section if the person does anything other than stop in the lane and merge into traffic in the lane immediately to the right of the person’s vehicle.
          (3) As used in ORS 811.345 and this section, a ‘special left turn lane’ is a median lane that is marked for left turns by drivers proceeding in opposite directions.
          (4) The offense described in this section, misuse of a special left turn lane, is a Class B traffic violation. [1997 c.468 §2]”

          Also this:

          “814.410 (6)(b) A pedestrian shall not start to cross the roadway in the direction of a signal showing a ‘Wait’ or ‘Don’t Walk’ or any other symbol approved under ORS 810.200 and 810.210 indicating that the pedestrian may not proceed. A pedestrian who has started crossing a roadway on a signal showing ‘Walk’ or any other approved symbol to proceed shall proceed with dispatch to a sidewalk or safety island while a signal is showing ‘Wait’ or ‘Don’t Walk’ or any other approved symbol indicating not to proceed.

          So the questions then, are:
          1. Is a cyclist a vehicle operator or a pedestrian?
          2. Is a painted median or “special left turn lane” considered a “safety island”?
          3. Does special signage or design which intuitively invites a “half-crossing” trump any interpretation of ORS at such a location?
          4. Why don’t auto drivers need lawyers to determine where they can drive or how they can cross an intersection? (Apparently they only need them to figure out when they have to stop…)

          There doesn’t appear to be any special provision for nor prohibition against crossing at an unsignalized location, yielding to vehicles, and using a painted median in lieu of a “safety island”.

          A good name for a kids’ traffic education video series would be “Safety Island”. “Welllcome….to Safety Island!”

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          matt picio September 3, 2012 at 11:28 am

          There’s enough space in that median to accommodate the only vehicle type which can *legally* use it – that sort of implies that it would be legal to stop there while waiting for traffic to clear, though I think it also implies that the median should accommodate a stop sign.

          That crossing, all respect to PBOT, sucks. It should *not* be held up as a gold standard for intersections in the city. It’s an accident waiting to happen. When cyclists cross to the center, more often than not oncoming traffic will stop for them, completely counter to the intent of having the island in the first place. That crossing needs a signal to be safe, and Ray Thomas’ criticism is well-said and spot on.

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    Craig Harlow August 29, 2012 at 1:58 pm

    When on Going, I always dismount at MLK and then use the crosswalk, precisely because of the ambiguity Ray describes.

    Few drivers seem to know or care about their legal obligation to stop and stay stopped (as Ray wisely chose to do, though he hemmed and hawed–for shame!) when a vehicle in front of them has already done so, until they are able to determine that it’s safe for them to proceed. Because of this ignorance or reckless apathy, I don’t rely on one vehicle’s stopping to trigger others to do the same, especially when I haven’t invoked any legal right to make them stop.

    The crosswalk, however, when used legally (entered at a walking pace, and with enough advanced warning for cars so as not to constitute an immediate hazard) does invoke the legal obligation for cars to fully stop and stay stopped until it’s safe for them to proceed.

    However, even when in the crosswalk, I still don’t rely on one car’s stopping to make other cars stop, so I cross one lane at a time as I deem it safe to do so, waving my hand in front in order to be highly conspicuous.

    It’s a strange sort of pas de deux (or trois, etc.) to go through just to cross the street, but people drive fast on MLK (and the current design of the streetscape in this section encourages this mentality, making MLK feel like an airport parkway), and I want to survive that crossing 100% of the time, so I do it.

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      Spiffy August 29, 2012 at 3:19 pm

      yes, exactly!

      and when I’m in the street and somebody stops to let me cross when they shouldn’t then I generally like to dismount, move to the crosswalk, and then cross… makes them think…

      but now I have a helmet cam so if they decide to start moving again I’ll have video evidence that they waved me through…

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    Andrew N August 29, 2012 at 2:02 pm

    Nice article, thanks. Every time I cross that intersection I wonder who the first person to be seriously injured (or worse) there will be. Definitely a poor design — either MLK needs a road diet/traffic calming project or, yes, that crossing needs a light. Time for a VMT tax, we need new funding sources asap!

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      John Lascurettes August 29, 2012 at 2:30 pm

      I disagree that it needs a light. It’s perfectly designed.

      I cross into the median when the near side is clear and wait for the road on the far side to clear. Unfortunately or fortunately, depending on your perspective, one lane of the far side traffic will often stop and wave me through. I will not budge unless both lanes of traffic stop and wave me through – and I’m perfectly willing to wait until both lanes are clear (as I’m legally obligated to do). Once in a while, if there’s only one car in the far lanes coming toward me and they’re making eye contact, I will vigorously wave THEM through so they don’t delay themselves and I can be on my legal, properly-timed way.

      I would not want an unnecessary light here to be tripped at every request of a bike on the detector. That would cause every type of traffic to unnecessarily wait longer, pedestrians included. If you want a controlled intersection, there’s one immediately to the south at Prescott and another at Skidmore. I prefer the un-signalled crossings at Prescott (and at Mason).

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        aaron August 30, 2012 at 12:00 pm

        Even it’s designed perfectly legally does not mean it’s perfectly designed. The very fact that this discussion exists and that there are obvious problems with the way cyclists and drivers view how to handle this crossing implies that there are design issues with the crossing.

        I *could* use this crossing everyday, but choose not to and go down to Holman because I’m never sure if people are going to stop one way, or the other. If I’m going to cause breaks to squeal… again.

        So while I may agree with you that the substance of the design meets all legal requirements and has been deemed to be appropriate for this crossing, IMHO it is not meeting the needs of drivers or cyclists.

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        matt picio September 3, 2012 at 11:30 am

        John – if it were “perfectly designed”, then cars wouldn’t be stopping for bikes in the roadway portion of the crossing. It’s ambiguous, and ambiguity in design can make an intersection extremely hazardous.

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      Spiffy August 29, 2012 at 3:26 pm

      they just did a road-diet redesign on MLK a few years ago… not sure if people are driving slower now but it’s harder to see people on the sides of the road now with all the extra trees they put in…

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    Steve B. August 29, 2012 at 2:05 pm

    This is an interesting analysis through a legal framework, thanks Ray. I do have to say that I am consistently pleasantly surprised with the willingness for vehicle drivers to stop here. I think in this case, the ambiguity plays into favorable conditions for people crossing on foot and bike.

    It may be anecdotal, but I think drivers are much more prepared to yield to bicycles attempting to cross MLK at unsignalized crossings. The taming effect of this intersection without traffic signals–and the willingness for drivers to stop without having a legal reason to do so–gives me hope for the human race.

    My question is, when I cross MLK on my bicycle in a painted crosswalk at walking speed, does that get rid of the legal ambiguity?

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      Charley Gee August 29, 2012 at 2:08 pm

      I’m not answering for Ray here, Steve, but in that situation you are a bicycle in a crosswalk, allowed the same rights as a pedestrian under ORS 814.410(2), rather than being in the street, which places you under the Oregon Vehicle Code under ORS 814.400.

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        Steve B. August 29, 2012 at 2:42 pm

        Thanks Charley! I wonder if this is where PBOT is aiming with the cross-bike concepts. Makes me wonder if we could simply connect the painted crosswalk lines on Going to make one large crosswalk. Likely not compliant with MUTCD but could be an interesting experiment case.

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          Spiffy August 29, 2012 at 3:36 pm

          I like that idea… no clue if it’s legal or up to code, but it would seem to make the entire intersection a crosswalk that motorists would be required to yield to…

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        matt picio September 3, 2012 at 11:31 am

        Charley – sorry to nitpick, but as soon as he dismounts, doesn’t that actually make him a pedestrian in a crosswalk, despite the fact that he’s pushing a set of wheels?

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          matt picio September 3, 2012 at 11:32 am

          Nevermind, I misread the comment – he never said he’d dismounted. (need to not read so fast) :-/

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      Carl August 29, 2012 at 2:26 pm

      Hi Steve. I understand that you are pleasantly surprised when MLK traffic stops for you on Going. It’s a tough street to cross without a light.

      My question, though, is are you as pleasantly surprised when, on quiet neighborhood streets, motorists with the right of way stop for you and wave you through a stop sign? Sure, the intention is swell but it’s confusing and, sometimes, dangerous.

      By encouraging motorists on busy streets to stop for bicyclists when they don’t have to, I think PBOT ends up encouraging the same behavior on quiet streets. As someone who has taught bike safety to elementary school kids, I know how confusing and frustrating this behavior can be, particularly for young riders. What am I supposed to tell them? “Always stop at stop signs…unless a nice driver waves for you to go?”

      I’ll take crossing MLK at Skidmore over Going any day.

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        Steve B. August 29, 2012 at 2:39 pm

        While I understand cars stopping for bikes when they don’t have to can be annoying at times (especially after you’ve come to a full stop with a heavy loaded bike trailer), I don’t find this to be as infuriating as some folks do. I think these random acts of road-kindness should be encouraged!

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          Charley Gee August 29, 2012 at 2:43 pm

          I always just say “Thanks for stopping but I have a stop sign” and then when they persist/insist I just repeat “I have a stop sign, I have to wait”.

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            John Lascurettes August 29, 2012 at 4:59 pm

            I had a woman lay on the horn and start swearing at me when I did that at NE Stanton and 21st. She rolled down the window and insisted I had right of way even though I had a stop sign. I believe it’s because PBOT has one of those combined “ped/bike” info glyph warning signs at the zebra crosswalk there. It is a greenway. But legally speaking, I’m still a vehicle at a stop sign. Meanwhile, while she was waiting for me on the right, cars were zooming by from the left at 30 mph.

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          lavie.lama August 29, 2012 at 3:25 pm

          The problem, Steve, is that when one motor vehicle stops to wave you through, neither the traffic coming from the opposite direction of the stopped motor vehicle, nor the other lanes of the same direction of the stopped motor vehicle have to stop or are even aware that an unmarked crossing situation is occuring. Therefore in accepting a wave-through, you are encouraging them to create unsafe and illegal situations in the future for others.

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        Steve B. August 29, 2012 at 2:43 pm

        As for the education peace, there are a couple different responses but the example you give is pretty good. Maybe add to proceed with caution, or remind new cyclists that it is their right to sit there and wave the car on instead — especially if there is concern about other traffic that might not be stopping for you.

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    Patrick August 29, 2012 at 2:08 pm

    A similar thing happens on SE Clay where it crosses SE 11th and 12th.

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      Charley Gee August 29, 2012 at 2:10 pm

      I’ve seen several people have close calls at these intersections because they pulled out when the car in the closest lane stops for them but the car in the second lane doesn’t stop.

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    Heidi August 29, 2012 at 2:09 pm

    Thanks for this. I am bothered at any ambiguous intersection when cars stop for me as if I’m a pedestrian and I’m trying my best to be a vehicle. If I wave cars through, inevitably another car stops. Most of the time I take advantage of that second stop, especially when there’s only one lane in each direction and I can see there’s no conflict in the lane beyond. I love crossing MLK in the morning when there’s no traffic, and in the afternoon I try to be part of a group of cyclists, thinking there’s safety in numbers. And then I wave at everyone who stops, and just realized I’m thanking people for something they shouldn’t do.
    Obviously both drivers and cyclists need education on this issue — and something to make these intersections less ambiguous. I like the idea of a light at the MLK intersection, maybe that cyclists could activate.

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    Phil Kulak August 29, 2012 at 2:12 pm

    The problem is that damn bicycle on the caution sign with the pedestrian over the crosswalk. It lumps the two together even though one is a vehicle and one is not, and makes drivers think they have to stop for both. There are a half dozen of those things on Going St.

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      Steve B. August 29, 2012 at 2:46 pm

      I suspect this effect was intentional — a warning that both bikes and pedestrians are crossing here. Maybe we need to work towards codifying the cross-bike concept so there is no legal ambiguity. The priority at these crossing should be bikes and pedestrians on neighborhood greenways.

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      Art Fuldodger August 30, 2012 at 9:53 am

      Phil, use of the bike warning sign – a bike in a yellow diamond -is fairly standard (as is Ped crossing sign) :

      MUTCD Section 9B.15 Bicycle Crossing Warning Sign (W11-1):
      The Bicycle Crossing Warning (W11-1) sign alerts the road user to unexpected entries into the roadway by bicyclists, and other crossing activities that might cause conflicts. These conflicts might be relatively confined, or might occur randomly over a segment of roadway.

      So I can’t see that 2 separate signs would alleviate any confusion – But your point is well taken: what kind of conflict or abberant cyclist behavior are motorists being warned of by the use of this sign, either in conjunction with the pedestrian symbol or separately?

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    J-R August 29, 2012 at 2:17 pm

    I agree with Ray. It is especially bad with streets with more than two lanes. As a cyclist I am very reluctant to accept the “kindness” of a motorist stopping for me at such locations. It’s even worse when they stop for me and wave me through a four-way stop at which I would be stopping anyway. In my case, I think the motorists’ kindness is based on kids in the trailer or on the back of the tandem.

    I don’t think PBOT’s current approach is a good one for the reasons Ray explains.

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    Smedley August 29, 2012 at 2:23 pm

    This is a problem. There could be a light, but I use extreme caution. There is always a situation when a car in one lane stops, and the other cars are coming up from behind and can’t see the bicyclists and pedestrians. Riding west the buildings shield the drivers view north, and tress block the view south. If traffic is heavy I will wait for cars in all four lanes to stop. This is one place I will not run stop signs.

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    Allan August 29, 2012 at 2:25 pm

    The real problem with this intersection is having 2 lanes in each direction- double threat from both sides. What is this highway doing in our neighborhood? Oh right.

    In my opinion, we should do a better job enforcing the stop if the guy next to you is stopped rule. But we’re terrible at enforcement. Just simply terrible. Perhaps we could create a 2nd class of cops that make almost nothing and just write traffic tickets all day long for like $10/hr.

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      Chris I August 29, 2012 at 2:54 pm

      As a driver, I always will turn on my hazard flashers if I am the first to stop for a pedestrian crossing on a busy street. I’ve noticed that drivers in the adjacent lane are much more likely to stop if I do this. This should be part of the law.

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        Craig Harlow August 29, 2012 at 3:56 pm

        I stick my arm out of my open window, wave it, and then leave it in the “stopping” hand signal position. Comes up nearly every time I drive a car.

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        are August 29, 2012 at 9:49 pm

        yes, it continually amazes me how almost no one uses their hazard lights.

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      Craig Harlow August 29, 2012 at 3:55 pm

      C.I.C., baby!

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      Peter Michaelson August 29, 2012 at 4:01 pm

      I’m with you there, Allan.

      Would love to see strict enforcement of traffic laws and it seems to me it could be done at a profit for the city. Would love to see a mayoral candidate run on that concept.

      Look at me, I’m for law and order now! Who would have thought?

      The laws are on the books, but its considered normal and acceptable to break them constantly.

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        John Lascurettes August 29, 2012 at 5:03 pm

        But this is the ambiguity of which Ray speaks. The car in the second lane is NOT obligated to stop for a vehicle (bike in this case) crossing the street. It is obligated to stop for a pedestrian (or a cyclist behaving as a pedestrian).

        If you are in the crosswalk, proceeding slowly on your bike, you are a “pedestrian” in the eyes of the law.

        If you are between the crosswalks, using the greenway cut throughs, you are a vehicle.

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    Ely August 29, 2012 at 2:29 pm

    yeah, sorry, Ray, the pickup driver would have been wrong if there had been a person on foot in the crosswalk, he’s still wrong here. If you can’t intelligently slow down for stopped vehicles ahead of you, for ANY reason, maybe you shouldn’t be driving.

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      matt picio September 3, 2012 at 11:41 am

      He would – if traffic is stopped at a crosswalk, same-direction, other-lane traffic has to stop – and all traffic is required to not run into the people in front of them – the pickup driver was definitely not paying attention and would be in the wrong. But the person in front of Ray was in the wrong as well, for stopping in the roadway with no legal reason to do so. The point is, the design of our intersections should be such that ambiguous situations like this don’t happen – that’s why we have the MUTCD, that’s why we have roadway design standards. This intersection may be correct from a technical standpoint, but if the behavior of the average driver is such that the design doesn’t work, then we need to either change the design standard or change driver behavior. Historically, it is simpler in most cases to do the former rather than the latter.

      What is it with infrastructure in Portland that we are implementing all these new designs, yet we NEVER remove one that isn’t working up to par? Have any bike/ped infrastructure improvements EVER been removed? If not, why not? They aren’t all working as designed, and the ones which are not should be addressed. Please tell me I’m missing something here, and that some have been changed.

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    CaptainKarma August 29, 2012 at 2:44 pm

    Don’t know if this would be legal – stripe the entire intersection, make it one big crosswalk. No ambiguity.

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      Steve B. August 29, 2012 at 3:02 pm

      Was thinking the same thing! Like this: http://ow.ly/i/TgfB

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      Sunny August 29, 2012 at 3:13 pm

      For all intents and purposes, this was probably what the designers of the greenway had in mind but were not allowed to implement under MUTCD rules.

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    Chris I August 29, 2012 at 2:52 pm

    41st and Burnside should be the model; I love that intersection. If it’s outside of peak hours, I can roll up *make a legal stop at the stop sign* and proceed across without waiting for a traffic light. If it is during peak hours, I can hit the button and proceed safely once all of the cars stop. Perhaps the only problem with this solution is that on occasion, a driver will ignore the signal and cruise through on a red; but this issue will improve as more signals like this are used around town.

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      Craig Harlow August 29, 2012 at 3:59 pm

      That H.A.W.K. signal is, I believe, the only one in the state. Peter Koontz can tell us why those are no longer being implemented. Peter?

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        Chris I August 29, 2012 at 9:58 pm

        There are similar ones along the new section of the Gresham/Fairview trail, although it is just a MUP and not a full street crossing.

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    Travis Fulton August 29, 2012 at 2:54 pm

    I use this crossing at least 10 times a week on bike and it’s always a bit unnerving when stuck in the middle waiting for a person in a car in the furthest lane over to stop. A person will stop in the nearest lane and you creep out gingerly to see if someone decides to change lanes from behind the stopped people in cars and gun it through. To be fair, though, most people do stop and it’s not a problem.

    A stop light would do the trick, but would be annoying to people driving south who then have to stop at the light at Prescott one block awa. You might get some huffy stares then.

    Such a dilema, but still better than before the cut out was put into place. At least now I have a chance of crossing MLK in under five minutes.

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      aaron August 30, 2012 at 12:22 pm

      How about a user triggered flashing red? Only lights up when cyclists/pedestrians press for it? Set it up with a delay so it has to wait a few minutes between being triggered again?

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    WheelTalk August 29, 2012 at 2:55 pm

    Beyond the statute implications and the legality of stopping as the operator of a motor vehicle on MLK, is there really a problem when design interventions create an ambiguous environment in which all road users must slow down and be more aware of their surroundings? Intentionally designed unpredictability in the ROW can encourage slower speeds and more attentive road users of all kinds. Additionally, I believe this section of MLK is ODOT owned ROW which imposes additional restrictions on design treatments like signalized pedestrian crossings that impede the flow of vehicular traffic.

    Like many folks who commute to the Central City and beyond from the NE, I cross MLK at this location daily and it is rare that I feel like there is conflict between myself as a bike commuter crossing MLK and motorists traveling north and southbound. I have also noticed an increase in frequency of vehicles that stop for cyclists at the crossing, which as a user of this stretch of road is a good thing.

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      David Sweet August 29, 2012 at 3:37 pm

      I agree completely. Ambiguity does slow traffic. For that reason, I always wave at drivers going too fast in my neighborhood. It confuses them, and confused drivers go slower.

      I find crossing MLK at Going Street feels quite safe and comfortable to me now–much safer than before the treatment, when I used the signalized intersection at Skidmore. There I had a number of close calls with drivers turning left onto MLK.

      I find it rare that drivers stop for me when I am waiting at the stop sign on Going, and rare that they fail to stop for me once I have crossed to the median island. I know they are not required to stop, but as others have noted, this is no more a safety issue than drivers stopping for pedestrians as required by law.

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      michael_pdx August 30, 2012 at 2:53 pm

      I also agree. I find it a little mystifying that Mr. Thomas cuts inattentive drivers any slack here – especially the one that almost took him and his daughter out!

      There are MANY legitimate reasons why one might need to come to an unexpected stop on MLK (or anywhere else), and drivers need ALWAYS to be prepared to bring their vehicle to a stop at a moment’s notice.

      It doesn’t matter why the car ahead of you stopped. If you plow into it, saying afterward “well, he wasn’t legally required to stop right then” is a heroically lame excuse.

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        matt picio September 3, 2012 at 11:50 am

        Does he? I can’t see where he justified the truck driver’s behavior. In fact, he specifically said “I felt that the near collision had been caused most obviously by the pick-up truck driver who failed to see that we were stopping”. Yes, if there were pedestrians there, everyone would be required to stop. Yes, everyone should drive prepared to stop, and giving enough distance to react and stop safely. None of those facts make it ok for anther driver to disobey the law – and the law says you can’t just stop suddenly in the middle of the road for no reason. (or in this case, “to be polite’) The whole point of traffic law is to provide a specific set of circumstances where everyone behaves predictably, so that any unpredictable behavior is easily spotted and reacted to. In practice, people frequently don’t obey the law, so the intent of the law is undermined.

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    Alex Reed August 29, 2012 at 3:09 pm

    As described above – why not extend the crosswalk to cover the whole intersection? Then bicyclists going at walking pace (which is the only safe pace to go at this unsignalized intersection of a busy street) will be legally justified in crossing the street even if there is traffic coming (as long as the motor vehicles are a good ways away. I would love this solution to become widespread!

    As an added bonus, pedestrians would get more freedom to cross diagonally, etc.

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    stace August 29, 2012 at 3:11 pm

    This happens at Rosa Parks and Willamette as well. Most cars tend to stop and let NW bound bikes through the intersection and the same pedestrian/ bike crossing signs exist and I have always wondered if cars were obligated to stop or not.

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    John Landolfe August 29, 2012 at 3:12 pm

    I appreciate Ray’s thoughtful musings but I also need to hand it to PBOT. The current design is far, far better than the old design. I actual lived on NE 7th & Going before the change, through construction, and after the change. It’s a monumentally positive difference in safety. There is no good east-west route for bicycles on any adjacent blocks. The law may or may not add up, but as an act of human decency, under the current design I’d emphatically argue that cars SHOULD stop for anyone in the crosswalk. During busy hours, there is little or no break in traffic and the previous solution was to quickly dart through fast moving traffic. I’d sooner people in cars (which I sometimes am) risk car-to-car fender benders than a car hit a bike at 30mph.

    And again, I’m no traffic lawyer, but my understanding is that if a person steps off a bike and walks the bike through the current crosswalk, motor vehicles must stop for the pedestrian-with-bike or risk a ticket. I like this solution: “install a traffic light that can be triggered by bicyclists pushing a button to trigger a red light for approaching cross traffic, such as the traffic signal located at East 41st and Burnside in Portland.”

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    Ted Buehler August 29, 2012 at 3:20 pm

    It’s ambiguous because the yellow diamond sign shows a pedestrian and a bicyclist with equal weight. But the law says you “must” sto for a pedestrian, but you “shouldn’t” stop for a bicyclist.

    The sign is approved my the Manual on UNIFORM Traffic Control Devices, yet it the meaning it coveys fails the “uniformity” test.

    I was appalled at the intersection when it first went in a couple years ago, expecting multiple serious crashes of the type Ray describes. But it’s working out fairly well, because of the “err on the side of caution”. Approach taken by drivers in the MLK corridor, which has about 20 well-marked crosswalks in a 3 mile stretch.

    Certainly a Half Signal, like 15th and Shaver is a much safer solution. And replicable to other cities and other corridors.

    But Portland’s aim here is to “Amsterdmize” the city. Creating am expectation of cars yielding to bicycles out of caution and courtesy. Which is a new experiment in the Us, and is having some success.

    Thanks for bringing this to the forefront, Ray and Jonathan.

    Ted Buehler
    (posted from my iPhone, ‘scuse the typos)

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    Jeremy Cohen August 29, 2012 at 3:21 pm

    I am with Ray on this issue. While I don’t get *irritated* by drivers that stop unnecessarily for me, I always tell them “I have a stop sign” and continue to wait. I appreciate the kindness, but I think drivers don’t often consider that their kindness is dangerous. Not only is there danger from the other lanes that may not understand the random stop, but there is also danger created from the unpredictability of the right of way. Much like the great Portlandia skit, “yugo (you go)” the right of way rules are designed to keep ambiguity out of the equation. Predictability is more important than courtesy for my commuting experience. I would rather wait patiently at a stop and go when I feel safe than feel compelled to go when someone stops (and can’t ensure the other lanes are clear or stopping). When drivers do this I am fine to wave them on, but when the intersection encourages this conflict, I try to avoid it.

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      Sunny August 29, 2012 at 3:39 pm

      Keep in mind that drivers will encounter all sorts of cyclists from teens on bmx’s, elementary/middle school students, and other cyclists that may never have had a driver’s license or don’t understand right of way. A driver may not be able to decipher a cyclist’s intentions and so err on the side of caution and try to get the ambiguous cyclist out the way. As a driver, I encounter other drivers seemingly clueless about right of way all the time.

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    JF August 29, 2012 at 3:33 pm

    At other intersections which are similar (where rosa parks turns into willamette), if there is too much traffic to try and ride my bike across the road, I just get off the bike and assert myself as a pedestrian in the cross walk. This (almost) eliminates any ambiguity of who has the legal right-of-way.

    However, being a pedestrian would not help the situation above in the article because three cars back from the interection is where the truck slammed on the brakes and hit the curb. That person driving was not paying close attention to the traffic in front of them.

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    shirtsoff August 29, 2012 at 3:35 pm

    When I come to this intersection as a cyclist, I stop first at the stop sign and when there is sufficient stopping distance for approaching vehicles (somewhere over 75 feet away is my best guess), I slowly at no faster than a pedestrian rate of velocity enter into the marked crosswalk. This way, I figure, I am adhering to the stop sign and *then* engaging the pedestrian right-of-way in a marked crosswalk while exercising due-care in my crossing attempt. Thus, vehicles (that are paying attention) are legally obligated to stop and the situation is no longer ambiguous as far as I understand.

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    Spiffy August 29, 2012 at 3:45 pm

    this kind of motorist behavior drives me crazy… I feel very unsafe when crossing after they give up their right-of-way… now I know that I should feel legally unsafe…

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    Spiffy August 29, 2012 at 3:47 pm

    another confusing intersection is a MUP with a stop sign that crosses a street without a stop sign…

    since I’m on a MUP I’m technically a pedestrian, so why is there a stop sign? and is the stop sign on the MUP holding me to the same rules of right-of-way as one on a street, or can I ignore it and proceed as a pedestrian since it turns into a crosswalk?

    I had a very long standoff with traffic once crossing a road on the I-205 path… cars kept stopping for me to cross, and I stayed at the stop sign telling them I couldn’t cross because I had a stop sign…

    but now I’m wondering if I had pedestrian rights to cross the street since I was about to be in a crosswalk…

    so confusing…

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      Sunny August 29, 2012 at 3:52 pm

      Have you ever thought that the stop sign is to prevent people(especially little kids) from just jumping out into traffic without pausing first for traffic? Sure a yield sign would be more appropriate but not everyone understands what they mean.

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        Spiffy August 30, 2012 at 9:22 am

        I had never thought that because a stop sign is never for pedestrians… also, kids are (hopefully) taught to stop and look both ways before crossing…

        I think a yield sign would be just as confusing…

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    o/o August 29, 2012 at 3:49 pm

    many time drivers stopped even if they had a right of way while I had a stop sign. i prefer drivers keep going in caution while I am waiting till the road clears. i hate that sometimes because I had to make sure everybody else stopped first before I could safely proceed. I dont mind waiting for safety and legality sake. Most of time I gave it up and proceeded it against my wish. Other times I just ignored and looked at something else till they grumbly moved on.

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    maxadders August 29, 2012 at 4:21 pm

    I cross in this intersecton twice daily, once in each direction. As someone who’s lived an adjacent neighborhood for close to six years now and commuted downtown by bike most days throughout that time, let me say that the crosswalk and traffic island installed on Going is a HUGE improvement over how things used to be. I previously crossed at a crosswalk a few blocks north, at Sumner. With jog in the street and two nearby traffic lights on MLK (Alberta and Killingsworth), it often made for a very dicey situation. That car traffic has been made more aware of bikes (and peds too!) on Going is huge, and not to be understated. Props to every driver who stops to let bikes or peds through.

    The ambiguity is definitely a factor here, and I’ve witnessed at least a couple of fender-benders here due to inattentive drivers not watching the traffic in front of them. Drivers wildly changing lanes or driving distracted is the problem, not drivers slowing to allow a bike to cross the road out of courtesy. Same would have happened if a pedestrian was in the crosswalk.

    PBOT needs to take the next step and put in cyclist / bike activated signal lights here. No excuses about who had a stop sign, no more whining about people being nice to one another cramping the style of poor and agressive drivers. Make this a reality,

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    Erik E August 29, 2012 at 4:51 pm

    I wouldn’t be opposed to putting in a bike light to help get across here (been a part of my commute). When I look on google maps for bike directions, it always tells me to go down to Skidmore to cross MLK, which I prefer not to do…Going is a much more friendly bikeway.

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    resopmok August 29, 2012 at 4:56 pm

    I wish the design “experts” at PBOT would stop experimenting with new treatments that haven’t been vetted in any way. Why couldn’t they just do it right in the first place? There are signalized bike crossings all over the city (39th + Lincoln, 39th + Clinton) that seem to work just fine. Seems like the real motivation is to try saving money by going the cheap route instead of doing the job right.

    And since when does a traffic signal cost a half million dollars? Seriously? There’s a few metal poles with some lights hooked on them. You might have to break some concrete, pour more, and hire an electrician to hook it all up for you.. It’s not like we’re building a new 2500 sqft house.

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    Bjorn August 29, 2012 at 5:01 pm

    I just visited Vancouver BC and one thing that struck me is that they have installed HAWK like signals at pretty much every major greenway/arterial street crossing. These signals are great as they allow you to push a button without leaving the street and trip a signal almost immediately stopping the cross traffic. Portland should begin implementing signals like that at many of our tricky neighborhood greenway crossings including this one.

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      Spiffy August 30, 2012 at 9:25 am

      cars wouldn’t be required to stop at a HAWK signal for bikes that aren’t in the crosswalk…

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    Kevin Wagoner August 29, 2012 at 5:04 pm

    This is an issue. There are 4 similar pedestrian cross walk intersections on my commute on Barber-Front avenue. I’ve actually seen first hand someone fail to stop and fly over a cement medium and hit a pedestrian on SW Barber. I’ve also seen two instances of rear end collisions on Barber due to these poor designs. There needs to better control systems at these intersections. These intersections are not safe.

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    dwainedibbly August 29, 2012 at 5:15 pm

    Paint the entire intersection as a crosswalk, if the intent really is to give bicyclists an advantage. It’s cheaper than a light and it removed the ambiguity.

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    Hugh Johnson August 29, 2012 at 6:19 pm

    Again, not “world class”. Sorry PBOT you can do better than this mess of an intersection.

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    Mike August 29, 2012 at 7:25 pm

    A design ‘experiment’ similar to this exists where the I-205 MUP trail crosses SE Division. On the trail – BEFORE the SE Division sidewalk -a white sign with a giant bicycle logo and a tiny replica of a stop sign. I assume it means to stop for pedestrians on the sidewalk, given it’s mounting location. Then at the curbline of the street, there is a button to press to activate blinking beacons on a sign mounted on a gantry-type support out above the middle of the roadway. The overhead sign has pedestrian and bicycle glyphs on it. I have been there many times when cars stop for bicyclists, whether the beacons are activated or not. The marked ‘ladder’ crosswalk is actually the official path of the MUP. Auto traffic is so heavy at this location that MUP crossing would be close to impossible at certain times of the day if cars did not stop and voluntarily (??) yield the right of way. I always dread getting to that spot, but actually have never had to wait more than a minute before a driver stops and others follow suit.

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      Spiffy August 30, 2012 at 9:27 am

      it’s not similar because there’s no cross-street… it’s just a crosswalk and Division…

      but I’m surprised at how often cars stop for me when I’m crossing it…

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    kp August 29, 2012 at 7:31 pm

    I live off of Going street, daily bike commuter to downtown, and I absolutely avoid this crossing, it’s not good; I have seen and experienced far too many close calls.

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    Glen K August 29, 2012 at 7:43 pm

    From an out-of-towner (heck, out of country…), who’s had the privilege of riding this location, there seem to be two separate issues here:
    (1) Irrespective of whether we are talking bikes or pedestrians, the first thing that struck me about this location is the use of a “zebra crossing” across two lanes of traffic in the same direction. For the same reasons as outlined in the incident in the article, best practice guidelines in my jurisdiction say that is a big NO-NO; the chances of one lane stopping and the other not are too great. So I just wouldn’t have it there.
    (2) Having removed that, the question then becomes whether you need anything else to help peds/bikes cross. Central median islands on their own do a fantastic job of simplifying the crossing task and reducing average delay; that’s why they’re great on neighbourhood greenways. I suspect however that here the traffic flows may require some additional help. It could be a conventional signal, but I’d say that a HAWK or “half-signal” is probably the best approach. Someone else mentioned the ones along Vancouver’s local street bikeways; I saw them a couple of months ago and they were fantastic.

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    Benjamin Teasel August 29, 2012 at 8:07 pm

    I live nearby, but don’t use this intersection much, I usually cross at Wygant, a couple of blocks North, where there is a crosswalk, and break in the median. I’ve been a little confused about the fact that the crosswalk stripes don’t go through the median break (am I still on the crosswalk while in the median?), but find that cars on the second side of the crosswalk are almost always aware and ready to stop for me, even though I’d expect to be hidden by all the trees in the median strip.

    Now, a few blocks south, at Failing and Beech, is a confusing crossing. There seem to be concrete strips across MLK there, but no crosswalk markings. There are a lot of pedestrians crossing in this area, particularly since a couple of large buildings went in, but no support for anyone to cross without walking double-long blocks up to Shaver or Fremont.

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    Sunny August 29, 2012 at 9:31 pm

    There is an extra few meters of braking buffer for crossing in the middle rather than the crosswalks before an inattentive driver notices a crossing pedestrian/cyclist. The buffer is much less for someone in a crosswalk.

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    are August 29, 2012 at 9:58 pm

    i try never to use this intersection. there are signalized intersections a block away in each direction, where everyone’s movements are predictable. when i am compelled to use this intersection, or the one at 33rd and going, because i am riding with someone who prefers it, i dismount and cross as a pedestrian, no ambiguity.

    as others have noted, the problem with motorists stopping or failing to stop is not specific to bikes crossing. same thing could happen with a pedestrian.

    but i still do not like the design.

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    Terry D August 29, 2012 at 10:08 pm

    Nice attempt to save money, but main auto corridors like MLK and Burnside need to have HAWKs for traffic control. I know PBOT is trying to build as much as they can safely with little resources but sometimes you just have to spend the money. I have only gone through this intersection at off times, not at “rush hour,” so I do not know how often conflicts occur. I crossed at Holman the other day and a woman in a fast moving SUV honked at me…I had plenty of room but she was just wanting to speed up.

    The HAWK at 41st and Burnside is right down the street though and it works really well. It was really nice when it went in.

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      Spiffy August 30, 2012 at 9:33 am

      the one at 42st and Burnside is not a HAWK signal, it’s a stop-light… a HAWK signal wouldn’t work for bicycles there as they are only for crosswalks…

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        Terry D August 30, 2012 at 11:32 am

        You are thinking of Glisan. The light at 41st and Burnside is the experimental bike light with the flashing beacon that is usually dark unless a cyclist activates it from 41st. The planners called it a HAWK, at least the ones do that run the outreach panels (they called it that in the NP Greenway meeting since they are thinking of placing one where the future MUP crosses Columbia HWY). This is the experimental signal that the city put in a few years ago, it is NOT a full traffic light since cars can not activate it from 41st….you have to press the button meant for bikes. It is also different since it has THREE lights facing Burnside that are usually dark completely then they flash yellow once a cyclist hits the button, then red. Once the bikes pass, then they flash red again and then go dark until needed once more.

        I read from the city that they only cost about 150K compared to 250-500K that a full traffic light costs. We need to buy about 100 of them in bulk and place them all around the city at strategic locations.

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    esther c August 29, 2012 at 10:14 pm

    I don’t think that this intersection is any different than others. People are always stopping and yielding the right of way to me as if i was a pedestrian. I find that if I get out in the middle of the lane as far away as possible from the crosswalk as possible it does help a bit to decrease the incidence.

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    Richard August 29, 2012 at 11:00 pm

    In Vancouver, BC these types of intersections with only median barriers and no signals haven’t proven to be particularly safe for cyclists, pedestrians or motorists. The city has been adding signals to many of them. The median barriers are still important to prevent through motor vehicle traffic on the bicycle route.

    Signals are especially important important for children who have trouble judging the speed of motor vehicles.

    On one new one, there so much bicycle traffic the signal will be timed so cyclist don’t have to press a button or trigger a sensor. Hopefully, this will be the trend for future signals.

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    Thomas Le Ngo August 30, 2012 at 6:29 am

    I completely agree with Ray. That’s why I cannot in good conscience stop for cyclists when I’m driving through crosswalks like the one he described. The only time I’ve stopped for cyclists at crossings like that is when another car has already stopped.

    To make these crossings feasible, we need HAWK signals. Unfortunately, those are expensive and Congress just passed a federal transportation bill that is still in the stone age.

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    Alex Reed August 30, 2012 at 6:46 am

    Everyone keeps saying how “expensive” new signals are – without the context that our government is currently choosing to spend billions of dollars on improvements for autos and next to nothing for bikes/pedestrians. $500,000 is a bargain for a motor vehicle project yet it is extremely expensive for a bike project. Stop the CRC project and literally BILLIONS of dollars (that is thousands of millions) will be freed up. Just one BILLION dollars could pay for 2,000(!) HAWK signals in the Portland area.

    I know that there are strings attached to federal funding, yadda yadda. The Oregon contribution is at least 500 million dollars, which would pay for at least 1,000 HAWK signals.

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    ME 2 August 30, 2012 at 7:52 am

    This is a great article and thanks for posting it Jonathan. Its good to get clarification about whether this type of stop is legal or not. On my commute home I frequently encounter “a bike friendly” motorist heading southbound on NE 33 that stops and waives me across even though there is no way I can cross the intersection since the northbound traffic isn’t stopping. I’ll see other riders basically go in the middle of the street and shield themselves by an island until they can get across. I’m so afraid someone is going to get hit or a driver rear ended because of this type of stopping.

    Its not that I don’t appreciate the gesture, but often times the “portland nice” actions of drivers don’t realize the hazard they’re creating to the cyclist and to other drivers.

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    Todd Boulanger August 30, 2012 at 9:47 am

    Yes – this is one of the major long term weaknesses of the City’s Bike Blvds network – as a transportation network geared to novice users – the crossing of major arterials without full traffic signals.

    In cases were a traffic signal will not be installed then other enhancements should be considered and added: advance stop bar, single lane approach (dropping one lane), speed cushions/ raised crossing in addition to the refuge already there. (For BikePortand readers: The research by Charlie Zegeer gives guidance to evaluating these crossings and adding mitigations.)

    The suggestions about adding a bike crosswalk for this trail also has merit – the Dutch do it very often with the “Elephant tracks” striping treatment. Traditionally the traffic engineering profession in the US is very conflicted/ confused with how to deal with bicycles as a vehicle or as a pedestrian – especially in retrofit facilities.

    All and all — MLK is a broken arterial (like Hawthorne, Division, etc.) – one that I neither like to drive, park or bike on or cross by foot or bike. It needs a redesign…then much of these problems will go away or could be dealt with much easier and affordably vs. ad hoc piecemeal treatments.

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    Ted August 30, 2012 at 10:27 am

    tl;dr: Going needs a light for bicyclists. Got it.

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      are August 31, 2012 at 12:13 am

      that is not going to happen one block south of the light at alberta, one block north of the light at prescott

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    Zaphod August 30, 2012 at 10:57 am

    I appreciate this article. Ambiguity equals risk and this intersection is very ambiguous and all parties are left to “play it by ear.”

    A motorist stops in error and then all other parties are then left with a lot of nuanced decision making when there’s potential for injury or worse.

    Or a cyclist grows accustomed to motorists stopping and proceeds when it’s dangerous.

    I personally like the treatment but it seems a partial measure. Improvement yes but let’s go the whole way.

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    El Biciclero August 30, 2012 at 4:11 pm

    Haven’t read all the comments in detail, but I don’t think we need ambiguous intersections to create driver confusion–driver confusion exists regardless. Two examples from last week:

    1. On my way driving home, I passed a cyclist in a bike lane just before arriving at a right-turn-only lane into which I needed to merge. The bike lane continues in a straight line from its position at the far right prior to the right-only lane to a position between the right-only and through lanes (as it should). Knowing I had just passed this cyclist, I waited with my right turn signal on for him to pass me before merging across the bike lane. Obviously confused, the lady in the car behind me nearly sideswiped the cyclist (I was watching in my rear-view) in her eagerness to come around on my right into the right-only lane. So, despite the facts that I was signaling to turn right and that there was a cyclist right next to her, she decided to pass me on the right, in the bike lane, and give me a dirty look of “WTF?!” as she did so.

    2. On my way to work (on the bike this time), I had merged leftward in preparation to make a left turn from a two-way collector with one lane in each direction. I had signaled to merge into the lane, and as I approached the actual turn, raised my arm again to signal my intentions. Guy in oncoming car comes to an abrupt stop and makes a grand, sweeping gesture, as if to say, “by all means, Mr. Biker, after you!”. His facial expression and body language seemed to suggest that he thought I was expecting the world to come to a halt so I could make a Royal Left Turn.

    Stuff like this happens all the time, even when the rules are clear. The problem is that Oregon drivers don’t know the rules, and either don’t care, or attempt to cover it up by acting like they are trying to be “nice”. Either that or they have become so confused by prior experiences with or stories of bad cyclist behavior that they expect me to be suicidal. It’s actually probably a combination of the two.

    Intersections such as the one in this posting just add another layer of confusion on top of what already exists. I know there are some who think that confusion is a good thing, because it slows drivers down, but the fly in the ointment there is that if only some drivers are confused, it can lead to badness. I would think that predictability is better than confusion, but that requires everyone to know the rules.

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      dr2chase August 31, 2012 at 7:58 pm

      One criticism of the article is the suggestion that it might be illegal for the driver who stopped, to stop. It would seem that it is always prudent to stop whenever one feels that the situation is ambiguous or not well understood; the only thing that stopping makes worse is a rear-end collision, and that is understood to be unambiguously the responsibility of the person behind. What looks like drivers being illegally polite, could just be a case of them working to resolve what they regard as an ambiguous situation.

      Your right-turning woman in #1 is an example of not behaving properly in an ambiguous situation; you were signaling for a right, yet seemingly, not proceeding — what on does THAT mean?. Rather than stopping to make sense of this confusing situation, she elected to proceed, dangerously.

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    esther c August 30, 2012 at 5:27 pm

    I have a theory that the very same people that yield when they shouldn’t at intersections also right hook you. If they don’t know one rule they probably don’t know any.

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    Owen Walz August 31, 2012 at 6:30 pm

    While as a cyclist I’ve been pleased with how smoothly this intersection seems to work, I do understand the need for more specific directions.

    I agree with a previous statement that waving cyclists through against the right of way is really unproductive in most situations (particularly low-volume four-ways).

    What makes this intersection different is that during rush hour it basically depends on the improper auto yield to work. Cyclists would sit there for a very long time, or risk a tight squeeze, to get through otherwise.

    Perhaps a triggered beacon is what’s necessary, but I’ll be sad to see the driver-biker communication automated once again.

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    Tom Shillock August 31, 2012 at 11:19 pm

    Ray Thomas makes a good argument for changing ORS 811.550, as well as adding lights similar to NE 41st and Burnside. The law was probably enacted in the golden era of auto mania when even neighborhoods lacked sidewalks because we were supposed to drive everywhere, walking or cycling were gauche.

    Custom and natural behavior is often a good starting position for law. When a law contravenes that and its associated disposition, in this case acts of consideration by people in cars for more vulnerable people on foot or bicycle, it can become anti-social and perhaps immoral. Ray Thomas would have drivers not stop (and be prosecuted?) simply because of a law that privileges motorized vehicles. Apparently Thomas would have drivers continue when people in wheel chairs or scooters were trying to cross the street.

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      matt picio September 4, 2012 at 11:01 am

      It doesn’t privilege motor vehicles, it makes the road safer by prohibiting traffic from stopping for no reason. It’s a cognitive processing issue – people can’t maintain focused attention all the time at every moment. The system is designed so that the majority of operator behavior is expected, routine, and predictable. When 99% of the driving/riding experience is predictable, it makes it easier to be alert for and react to anything that is unpredictable.

      Where that breaks down today is that we now have LOTS of unpredictable events, and also in-car distractions from attention – radio/CD (sometimes DVD/TV), cellphones, etc.

      ORS 811.550 is also the same law that makes it illegal for a car to stop in the middle of the road directly in front of a cyclist to deliberately piss them off. How is that privileging motor vehicles?

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    jim August 31, 2012 at 11:31 pm

    If they put in a stop light, they could open going for cars again.

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    Kris September 4, 2012 at 5:44 am

    The real danger are the 2 lanes of traffic in eacht direction.
    If 1 car stops on the first lane, cars on the second lane don t allways see what is happening….sollutions here in Belgium……
    Reduce to 1 lane at dangerous intersections much safer for crossing traffic , espacially pedestrians and cyclists.

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