Police enforcement at Ladd Circle, N Flint ruffles feathers once again

The scene at Flint/Broadway last week.
(Photos © J. Maus/BikePortland)

Once again, two of the city’s most infamous stop sign locations are being targeted by the Portland Police Bureau (PPB). This morning, and two other days this week, multiple motorcycle cops have stationed themselves at the intersections of N. Flint and Broadway and SE Ladd Ave at the circle. These locations have gotten bicycle-focused police attention for many years, but the behaviors that bring them there — a high rate of non-compliance by people riding bicycles — continue to be problematic.

At Flint and Broadway, I have confirmed with the PPB that they are working the intersection due to a request by the Portland Bureau of Transportation (PBOT). The request comes as part of the move by PBOT last week to partially close N. Wheeler Ave (which is just a few yards west of the Flint/Broadway intersection). One vocal business owner who was opposed to the closure felt that the collisions at Wheeler were the direct result of people running the stop sign at Flint. Even though PBOT analysis shows a myriad of dangerous factors that contributed to the Wheeler right-hooks, media coverage of the closure then adopted this business owner’s perspective, thus cementing the idea with their audiences.

According to reports from readers, four or five motorcycle officers are working the Flint/Broadway intersection this morning. I am also hearing that local TV news cameras are on-scene and doing interviews. Given what happened last week when the police showed up to patrol this intersection, I expect they’ll stay very busy.

“One time I stopped at the sign at Ladd’s and nearly got rear-ended by the car behind me. Guy cursed at me and everything.”
— Brian Davis

According to Sgt. Ty Engstrom with the Traffic Division the enforcement at Ladd Circle began on Tuesday (8/28) and comes in response to a recent “uptick” in neighborhood complaints (I would not be surprised if all the media attention on Broadway/Flint reminded Ladd’s Addition residents of their pet issue). Two officers worked the location for about one-and-a-half hours the first day. Sgt. Engstrom says they stopped three people driving cars and handed out one citation and two warnings. In that same time they stopped 12 bicycle operators and wrote six citations and six warnings.

Yesterday, another officer went to the same location. According to an internal PPB email from that officer, “Only about one out of about 100 cyclists that I saw made an attempt to stop.”

But in addition to residents’ concerns, the PPB reports that their presence at Ladd Circle is being received well by all road users — including at least one woman riding a bike. Here’s more from that PPB officer who worked the mission:

“I had numerous thumbs up from several motorist and pedestrians that saw me working the Ladd Circle. One cyclist that I cited thanked me and asked that I do more enforcement to the cyclist. I thought that it was as a little unusual after being cited and we talked further. She stated that she used to stop, but felt weird being one of the only ones that stopped at the stop signs so she just started doing the same to blend in and not get hit from behind for stopping. She would like to see everyone stopping at the stop signs.”

On a similar note, reader Brian Davis shared this morning via Twitter that, “One time I stopped at the sign at Ladd’s and nearly got rear-ended by the car behind me. Guy cursed at me and everything.”

The stop sign at Ladd Ave and the Circle.

The officer also said he spoke to a man walking by who identified himself as a resident of Ladd Circle and a member of the Mt. Tabor Foot Patrol (a neighborhood group formed in partnership with the City that focuses on livability issues). The officer reported that the man told him, “Good, it’s about time… ” “He said it is totally out of control/dangerous,” wrote the officer, “and thanked me for being there and requested that the Circle area gets more service for enforcement.”

Sgt. Mike Fort, a 20-year PPB veteran whose familiar with bike-related issues, called me this morning to inform me about these enforcement missions. “It’s inevitable it will blow up negatively,” he said, “But what I hope people understand is we focus on different areas throughout the city all the time.” Sgt. Fort said the Ladd Circle issues is more about livability than safety. He acknowledged there’s a lot of near-misses at the location, but not many reported collisions.

Both of these locations have long and controversial histories in Portland.

A look at the “Ladd Circle stop signs” story tag in our archives shows over a dozen stories on the issue since 2007. There has been a major discussion about swapping the stop signs for yield signs and updating the circle to become a modern roundabout. PBOT issued a statement in 2007 that made it seem as though that’s what they’d like to do, but they lack the funds to do it properly (not to mention, they’d have to convince the neighborhood that it’d work).

At Flint and Broadway, our city has been struggling with stop sign compliance since at least 2006. At that time, I reported on an “uproar” over enforcement that resulted in statements by the PPB and the Mayor. (I also wrote, “I think it’s time for PDOT, the BTA and the Police Bureau to all come to the table and figure out a more constructive way to deal with their shared concerns for traffic safety.” So much for that, huh?).

For their part, the Bicycle Transportation Alliance shared with me this morning that they feel that while the goal should be to improve safety for everyone, “We should be targeting the most dangerous activities with enforcement,” and that, “Statistics support that the most dangerous behaviors involve speeding, distracted driving and driving while impaired.”

More specifically on the Flint/Broadway situation, the BTA wants Police to take a “holistic approach” to enforcement. They’d like to see a focus on enforcing the new right-turn prohibition onto Wheeler and the I-5 off-ramp stop sign just east of Flint.

Scene from a ride-along I did with PPB Officer Ron Hoesly in 2006.

At both of these locations, it’s blatantly clear that poor engineering and roadway design is a very large culprit. In both instances, PBOT themselves has acknowledged this fact. Until we muster the political will to fix these intersections so they work better for everyone, the police will continue to do their jobs and I’m afraid the low compliance will continue. This means the finger-pointing, confusion, media frenzy and public rancor will continue as well.

I urge everyone to try and see the bigger picture here. This isn’t about police hating bike riders, which type of vehicle users are more lawless than the other, or which ones cause the most public safety concerns. This is about imperfect humans using imperfect roadways. Those imperfections will always exist; so we need to do a better job accepting them and policing our behaviors and our attitudes — both towards these issues and towards each other.

Note: Several people in the comments are asking what the city hotline is for requesting enforcement. A specific number for that does not exist. Calling the general livability hotline, 823-SAFE, will get the job done. Better yet, show up to your neighborhood association meeting and talk to your local patrol officers and they can run the request up the flag pole.

UPDATE: 2:05 pm: KOIN TV is reporting that one of the people ticketed for not stopping at the Ladd Circle stop sign this morning was former BTA Executive Director and current Transportation Policy Director for Mayor Sam Adams, Catherine Ciarlo.

UPDATE: 2:45pm The PPB has sent out an official press release about today’s enforcement mission. I have pasted it below…

Today, Thursday August 30, 2012, the Portland Police Bureau’s Traffic Division conducted a “Share the Road” mission in the area of North Broadway and Wheeler Avenue. Officers also focused efforts along North Flint Avenue, from Russell to Broadway.

A team of four motorcycle officers and a sergeant started the mission at 8:30 a.m. and finished up at 10:30 a.m.

During the mission, officers encountered mostly cyclists who were in violation of the law. Every cyclist who was stopped and cited was offered the “Share the Road Safety Class” in exchange for a dismissal to the citation.

A total of 53 citations were issued, along with three written warnings.

50 cyclists and four motor vehicles were stopped.

Most citations were for Fail to Obey a Traffic Control Device (Stop Sign) from the North Broadway and Flint intersection; however, there were some citations for the same violation at the intersection of North Flint and Tillamook.

Of the four motor vehicles stopped, two violated the newly constructed “road closed” area at North Broadway and Wheeler.

The majority of those stopped and cited understood their mistakes and were appreciative of police efforts to help improve safety in the neighborhood. [PPB says of 50 people on bikes stopped, only two were “antagonistic” and 48 others were given option to dismiss their $260 fine by taking the Share the Road Safety Class.]

The Portland Police Bureau Traffic Division will continue to perform traffic safety missions throughout the city in a continual effort to improve public safety and awareness to “Share the Road.”

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