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View from a Williams Avenue resident: “A weary pedestrian”

Posted by on July 22nd, 2013 at 2:37 pm

Bikes on N. Williams Ave-2

(Photo © J. Maus/BikePortland)

From a livable streets perspective, Williams Avenue has a lot of problems. Its outdated bicycle lane is so inadequate that the City of Portland prioritized it for an upgrade a few years ago. That upgrade won’t happen until next year, and thankfully, that’s not the only thing that will be be changed. The North Williams Traffic Operations and Safety Project will also come with many other design changes that should make it nicer to walk and bike on the street.

In the meantime, a longtime BikePortland reader who frequently walks on Williams says the way many people ride on the street has made him a “weary, weary pedestrian.” He wrote us via email to share his perspective and I’ve pasted it below:

I have lived off of Williams (N of Skidmore) for over 10 years and fully embrace anyone riding a bike on Williams or anywhere for that matter. I’m a huge bike fan and love nothing more than admiring a great vintage bike or beautiful lugwork on a frame.

Unfortunately my love of bikes is slowly diminishing due to more than a handful of cyclists who choose to ignore traffic signs and markers. I can be found walking my dog, or by myself, at all hours, and find myself more and more astounded by the behavior of folks who fly through stop signs, lights, around corners and most especially through very visible pedestrian crossing areas all over Williams.

I’d love to acknowledge this is nothing more than the musings of one cranky late 40s guy, but more and more folks in our neighborhood are starting to take notice and wondering how to take action about this reckless behavior. It’s not just 20 somethings riding fixies while wearing headphones who do this – it goes across the spectrum of riders. (Although I will exclude cargo bike people because they tend to be the most aware riders out there.)

Any thoughts, ideas, recommendations about this? I’m tired of cyclists nearly hitting me and or my dog on an all too frequent basis. Not an easy question, I know, and I am not expecting you to be the ambassador for all things bike related in Portland, but any input you have would be greatly appreciated.

Cheers
T.B.

I shared with T.B. that the new design changes coming to the street might help a little. When people ride (or drive for that matter) on streets like Williams (with relatively high speeds and lots of other vehicles), they become stressed and anxious. That stress can lead to illegal actions and lack of respect for others. I’d like to think that the design changes arrived at by PBOT and the project stakeholder committee will improve behavior; but I’m not convinced they will.

And of course it’s not all about design. There are larger cultural forces at work here having to do with how people treat each other in public spaces. I’ve noticed that many Americans ride bikes the same way they drive — with speed and selfishness defining the experience.

What do you think? Do you walk on/around Williams much? If you do, do you experience the same thing T.B. does and what (if anything) can be done to make things better?

NOTE: We love your comments and work hard to ensure they are welcoming of all perspectives. Disagreements are encouraged, but only if done with tact and respect. BikePortland is an inclusive company with no tolerance for discrimination or harassment including expressions of racism, sexism, homophobia, or xenophobia. 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

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David
Guest
David

Stories like this seem to come out a lot more often in the Spring/Summer. There are a lot more people out riding in general, which makes things a lot more crowded, especially on Williams. Pretty soon, things will calm down a little more and T.B. will likely start to feel safer again…until next Spring.

dan
Guest
dan

Those riders are jerks. Kind of like the people who can’t be bothered to look to the right for pedestrians when rolling into Ladd Circle. They seem to have this attitude of “Look, I’m riding my bike! I’m a special snowflake! I can do anything I want!” Wish they would grow up and realize they’re operating a vehicle.

Curious — are things better in the winter months when the dilettantes have hung it up?

Craig Harlow
Guest
Craig Harlow

Amusing for me to notice that “wary” and “weary” both work, in consideration of this story :^)

Blake
Guest
Blake

Besides the awfulness to bike on Williams generally, I would agree that people just don’t stop for pedestrians and I am sometimes worried that when I do stop, someone with headphones on behind me is not going to see me and ram me over for stopping for a pedestrian.

Sigma
Guest
Sigma

I asked this the other day but never got an answer: why do some cyclists think it’s ok to blow through stop lights (especially when doing so involves passing other cyclists who are stopped at the light)? I’d really appreciate a window into the mind of someone who does this.

JL
Guest
JL

Did you mean to say that people in America tend to ride the way they drive?

Babygorilla
Guest
Babygorilla

I think part of it is that sometimes there is confusion about whether a pedestrian intends to cross. Now, most people see someone standing at a crosswalk should assume that they want to cross, but unfortunately that legally doesn’t trigger the obligation for the vehicle operator to yield.

Given the on-street parking in this corridor, its actually safe for a pedestrian to get off the sidewalk and on the street, triggering their signal that they intend to cross and obligating vehicles to yield.

Of course, that doesn’t solve the problem entirely. I came to a gradual stop complete with hand signal at the crosswalk right before HUB a few weeks ago because a pedestrian was doing just as I explained and beginning to cross. Someone on a bike behind me wasn’t paying attention and rear ended me (second time I’ve been rear ended by someone riding a bike this summer – previous was at a read light on NE Broadway). No damage to me or the bike thankfully and hopefully the person who ran into me and heeds my advice to “pay F-ing attention.”

Dan
Guest
Dan

I’d like to complain about all of the pedestrians who step in front of me without looking, or see me coming and step in front of me anyway (and I don’t mean at a corner, I mean just ANYWHERE, just seeing me riding along and walk right out in front of me as if I’m not there). Pretty sure you wouldn’t mindlessly stroll out in front of a car like that. Who do I send this complaint to?

Dan
Guest
Dan

BTW, I am more than happy to stop and wait for you and at the numerous crosswalks on my commute. Really, I don’t mind in the least. Just please watch where you’re going.

Carlos
Guest
Carlos

I’m a weary cyclist when using Williams. There’s just too much bike, car and pedestrian traffic between Russell and Skidmore. Those upgrades can not come soon enough.

Esther
Guest
Esther

Not long ago PBOT did a traffic safety enforcement action with a PBOT employee/decoy crossing the street, and they ticketed drivers AND bikers who didn’t stop for her. “T.B.” and hir neighbors and concerned community members should call 823-SAFE and request another safety action. Pedestrians have the right of way!

Indy
Guest
Indy

“they become stressed and anxious. That stress can lead to illegal actions and lack of respect for others.”

So like car drivers. Are you excusing bikers but not the same people you rant about regularly? tsk tsk…

Todd Hudson
Guest
Todd Hudson

This article highlights the very real problem with small-ish subgroup of cyclists that break every rule of the road with indifference. They exist and they hurt the image of those of us who work hard to follow the rules.

Since I’ve moved to Portland, I’ve had two close calls with motorists. I have one or two close calls *a month* with other cyclists.

Anne Hawley
Guest
Anne Hawley

I’m about a 75 percenter: I stop for all red lights and slow way down for all stop signs so I can make a complete stop at need. Cyclists blow past me at red lights routinely–sometimes one on each side. Clowns to the left of me, clowns to the right… It looks bad for all cyclists, not to mention the safety issues.

spare_wheel
Guest
spare_wheel

“with speed and selfishness defining the experience.”

I’m fairly certain that its possible to cycle at high speeds and still be generous to your fellow vulnerable road users.

Chris I
Guest
Chris I

Carry a big walking stick. Don’t be afraid to walk into a crosswalk. You have the right of way.

o/o
Guest
o/o

whenever I walk I watch out for cars and bikes, whenever I pedal, I watch out for cars, cycles, bikes and peeps, whenever I drive, I watch out for cars, cycles, bikes, peeps and critters. Weary, weary and weary.

daisy
Guest
daisy

I live just off of N. Williams and have a few theories: first, it can be quite difficult to see pedestrians on that corridor, especially if they are coming from the right and cars are parked close to the corner. So sometimes it’s poor design.

Next, I think cars and cyclists in Portland often don’t stop if they think they can get away with it, like on higher speed corridors like N. Williams. Once, riding up N. Williams, I stopped for a pedestrian who was waiting to cross near Metropolis Cycles, not at the cross walk but at the other corner. I stopped and a bike or two stopped behind me. The cars didn’t stop. Then, when the cars didn’t stop, the bikes started going. I even tried scolding people (that didn’t go over that well, heh).

I think the more bikes and cars are assholes, the more everyone acts that way.

Reza
Guest
Reza

I stop at every stop light.
I slow down to <5 mph at every stop sign.
I almost always yield right of way to pedestrians waiting to cross, if it's safe to do so.
I wear headphones when I ride.

Is your mind completely blown?!

Paul
Guest
Paul

Look, I agree that pedestrians have the right-of-way and I obey that rule, usually, but I have to vent toward the peds that wait on a street corner a block away while I’m pedaling my 45 lb bike UPHILL at almost zero velocity, and the person just stares at me for literally years upon my approach waiting for me to stop. Then, as I finally approach wondering if they’re ever going to cross, I’m waving them to cross, with perhaps a “go ahead” verbal (I’m still at least a full intersection away at this point), and they’re still standing there looking like they just got whacked in the head with a 2×4 waiting for me to come to a complete stop. Finally, 30 seconds later they begin their journey across Clinton.

This probably doesn’t relate to T.B.’s situation, but still. People have weird space issues. Just cross the street! You’re 24 inches wide. A bike is a fraction of the width of a car and can go around your measly girth provided you’re not stepping directly in front of them and the bike is moving at a reasonably slow speed.

Now that my rant is over, people on bikes: show some respect and let the people cross 🙂

Chris Sanderson
Guest

Likewise, I am weary from all the loud, glass-packed mufflers that rumble down SE Cesar Chavez and Belmont. Sometimes I am awakened at 1:30 am by “conscientious” drivers, who feel a need to burn rubber when the light turns green. Ah! Cheerful noise that REM sleep enjoys!

I am weary of all the drivers who roll through this same intersection peering down at their cell phone in their laps. Occasionally, I ride by (and over) debris from a collision at this busy intersection… I hope the drivers were okay. Moreover, I hope someone didn’t miss that important text message.

I am weary of garbage discarded from cars passing by. Cigarette butts are such a lovely decor in the gutter.

I am weary of the pollution that I breathe in everyday. I am weary of the brake dust particulates that fan out from the wheels and into the beds of plants that I have in the front yard. I am weary of the rainbow-streaked colored water that flows into the drains, and eventually into our rivers. I’d imagine that those scintillating swirls stem from leaky brake and power steering lines, damaged coolant hoses, and a blown motor seals.

To this date, I have yet to grow weary from one single bicyclist at this intersection. Maybe T.B. would like to switch places for a month.

Skid
Guest
Skid

Clear intersection = safe to go IMO. I don’t want to hit pedestrians so I look for them, I even assume they are going to step off the curb without even looking.

Robert Burchett
Guest
Robert Burchett

As an occasional cargo bike rider, thanks, I guess. I also find Williams tiresome to the extent that I take it 20% if the time, maybe less.

I have noticed that the light timing on that street rewards brisk riding. Not a racing pace, but steady pressure. People know this. They also know that if they stop for a pedestrian it’s all up, they’ll hit a red.

There are many perverse incentives involved with traffic signals. Wait times at controlled pedestrian crossings are often quite long. Often people push the button, wait a while, the traffic clears, they jaywalk, the light changes, cars stop while nobody crosses the street.

Neither of these observations is meant to justify rude or dangerous behavior.

y8
Guest

Did you mean to say that people in America tend to ride the way they drive?

Anna
Guest
Anna

I have noticed this lately too in my part of town. It’s becoming so common to have a bike whip past me when I’m in a crosswalk. (Of course, there are tons of bikers who do follow traffic rules – thank you so much.) Part of it is that there are so many bikes overall, there are now more of these rogue bikers too. I don’t think they even notice – it makes me want to yell at them just to get their attention.

esther c
Guest
esther c

Occasionally when I ride I blow past people at crosswalks waiting to cross and am then embarrassed by my mistake. I think what it is I’m so keyed in to looking for drivers that are trying to kill me I forget to look out for the people I might maim.

confident but concerned
Guest
confident but concerned

I’ve noticed that on both Williams and Vancouver it takes an extra mental calculation to determine if people intend to cross the street or are just waiting for the bus. On Vancouver it’s no big deal because there’s more room to maneuver and less going on overall. But on Williams it’s just one more factor adding to the general mayhem.

I’m normally conscientious about stopping for pedestrians. But on Williams, — especially along the restaurant/condo row — I’m so focused on not getting doored and not bumping into other bikes that I sometimes fail to notice pedestrians at crosswalks until it’s a beat too late to stop.

Hopefully the redesign will reduce some of the cognitive overload and (at the very least) give us more room to react.

jim
Guest
jim

Waiting at my daughters school I often see cyclists finding the open hole when the crosswalk is full of kids crossing, they stop when they see a bike coming at them. It isn’t right though that they have to stop in the middle of the street for a Lance wanna be that has a $2,000 bike and racing graphics on his clothes. If you confront them about it they tell you to f” off.

jim
Guest
jim

That was my rant.
This is a question.
If you have to stop fast and use both brakes/ hands, how are you going to signal so you don’t create a pile up?

kittens
Guest
kittens

I guess i dont see what the big deal is. Williams/Vancouver are the best North/South in the city, they are fast and they are smooth. They have timed lights. They have a ton of bike traffic which makes people in cars notice and anticipate. Some pedestrians are so timid they will not cross unless the whole world comes to a stop before them. Cross the street! It is not that difficult people.

maxadders
Guest
maxadders

Can I get some cheese with that whine?

Dan
Guest
Dan

First, I completely agree that cyclists need to do a better job of watching out for pedestrians, stopping at crosswalks, and generally stopping for lights/stop signs. It is unnerving to be ‘nearly hit’ by another moving vehicle, whether it’s a semi truck or a skateboard.

However, I think we need to remember to keep those incidents in the proper PERSPECTIVE.

1) Just because you feel you were nearly hit doesn’t mean that you were nearly hit. In a city with lots of different types of traffic going all over the place I’m sure we all get this sensation frequently. And the number of ACTUAL hits compared to the feeling of being nearly hit is very low, which means you probably weren’t that close to being hit in the first place. Yes, it’s an uncomfortable feeling, but it’s not as dangerous as you think it is.

2) I use a crosswalk on Multnomah in the Lloyd district all the time. The number of times I’ve felt in danger of being hit by a bike is WAY less than the times I’ve felt in danger of being hit by a car. And in that corridor, even in a close call a bike can avoid you more easily.

3) The consequences of being hit by a car are WAY worse than the those of being hit by a bike, and I believe the likelihood is higher too. As a cyclist, I face dangerous scenarios multiple times on every commute. I’ve rerouted my commute a number of times to limit the bad areas, but there are sections where I EXPECT drivers to roll through the stop signs on the side streets, because it happens all the time, and it’s only with lots of practice that I’ve learned where those places are. Yesterday I was the first to a 4-way stop in the Pearl and a police car rolled through the stop sign on my left and right in front of me. Nice.

4) When was the last time there was a hit-and-run by bike in Portland? Out of control cyclist careens off the road onto the sidewalk and maims somebody, then rides away? Tell me you’re worried about that happening to you.

Aaronf
Guest
Aaronf

I didn’t compare the two. Apparently you are, which I agree is unfair. I tried to help answer your “When was the last time?” question.

BURR
Guest
BURR

This whole thread seems like BikePortland fanning the flames of anti-bike hysteria.

I thought that was the Oregonian’s and Lars Larsen’s job.

😉

Dan
Guest
Dan

The email that started it all sets up a comparison between B.T.’s perspective (which is valid) and all of the carnage posts (which are a much more serious problem). It’s like, “hey look, guys, I know people are getting mowed down left and right by cars and little is being done about it, but could you please watch where you pilot your bikes because it makes me uncomfortable”.

pdxpaul
Guest
pdxpaul

I run to work up and down that corridor and have more run ins with bikes than cars. Yes, if I assert my right of way, I expect you to stop.

When I ride, I expect the same and follow the rules, for the most part.

In general, Williams is a fustercluck.

El Biciclero
Guest
El Biciclero

“Waiting at my daughters school I often see cyclists finding the open hole when the crosswalk is full of kids crossing, they stop when they see a bike coming at them. It isn’t right though that they have to stop in the middle of the street for a Lance wanna be that has a $2,000 bike and racing graphics on his clothes. If you confront them about it they tell you to f” off.”

At one of the crossings I have to make on my way home from work, I often see drivers cruising right across the crosswalk on a red light, looking for the open hole in side traffic to make a right on red. I dodge out of the way when I see them coming at me. It isn’t right though that I have to nearly run into a lamp post because of some Jeff Gordon wanna be that has a $60,000 car and I-don’t-know-what on their clothes because their windows are tinted black. If I confront them about it, they rev their engines at me.

Ted Buehler
Guest

“and most especially through very visible pedestrian crossing areas all over Williams.”

Getting bikes to stop for peds is a city-wide issue.

Its most pronounced on routes like N Williams, which have high volumes of bikes, cars, and crossing pedestrians.

To get this problem solved, we need to solve it on a city-wide level, but it can also be done by solving it in a few prominent locations to get the message through.

I’d suggest, for the original poster and anyone else,
* When crossing Williams in front of bikes, yell “Yield to Pedestrians” and wave your arms a bit. I just tried it an hour ago in front of 4 bikes at Williams and Beech. It worked. Not the most dignified, but it’s a start.
* Call 823-SAFE or email safe@portlandoregon.gov and ask them to do more crosswalk enforcements on Williams.
* Email or snail mail Commissioner Novick and Director Treat and ask them to deal with the problem. Tell them your personal anecdotes. http://www.portlandoregon.gov/novick/
* Show up at the Portland Bicycle Advisory Committee meeting and tell them your concerns during Public Comment.
* Show up at City Council meetings and tell them your concerns during the Public Comment period. Have a specific “ask” you want that is reasonable, feasible, and affordable. Like “hand out fliers to bicyclists explaining the diagrams on pages 13 and 14 of the Oregon Bicyclist Manual http://www.oregon.gov/ODOT/HWY/BIKEPED/docs/bike_manual.pdf
* Join the BTA, talk to Susan, Gerik and Carl (the advocacy folks) and ask them to work with you on the issue. http://btaoregon.org/join/
* When you’re riding a bike on Williams and see a pedestrian making the legal and lawful intent to exercise the right of way, hand signal stopping, yell “pedestrian” to the bike behind you, and stop at the white line with your bike sideways to encourage other bikes behind you to also stop.

Some of these things are boring. Some will make you feel like a fruitcake. Some might make you feel like you’re being a pest. Some will take some work and coordination. But, these sorts of things are what it takes to get something done in civil society in the 2010s. This is a pretty easy problem to fix, all things considered, its just a matter of making folks aware of existing laws and encouraging them to comply with them.

Its a solvable problem, and an easy one at that.

But, if nobody takes action, the problem won’t get solved.

Cheers,
Ted Buehler