In letter to PBOT, BTA says Williams Ave work zone has led to injuries

Posted by on November 26th, 2014 at 2:01 pm

Current conditions on Williams Ave.
(Photo by Carl Larson/BTA)

The Bicycle Transportation Alliance is fed up with the dangerous work zone conditions on Williams Avenue. Claiming that bicycle riders have been injured and put in danger due to misplaced construction materials and a poorly implemented traffic control plan, the Portland-based non-profit group penned a letter today to the Bureau of Transportation with a laundry list of demands to improve the situation.

While the BTA supports the city’s North Williams Avenue Safety Project and says they are excited to see the finished product, the letter (written by BTA Engagement Manager Carl Larson) points out several specific and ongoing safety concerns — some of which have led directly to injuries.

“We are concerned about high-risk hazards that our office has reported to your bureau,” reads the letter, “We do not believe that they were adequately addressed in a timely manner, and as a result, people have been injured.”

This is not a new problem for PBOT. From the outset of the project over a month ago, people who ride on the road have expressed confusion and concern about how the project is being phased in. After we reported on those concerns, PBOT Director Leah Treat told us via a comment that she too was “experiencing some difficulties.”

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There have been a litany of issues with Williams’ bike access ever since the work began. At first it was a lack of signage about how to navigate a bike lane that was moved from left to right. Now that people are accustomed to that change, the big issues have to do with navigated through the street’s many work zones — both from PBOT and private construction firms (there are several major projects along the street).

Larson, in his letter to PBOT, said that both he and the BTA board chair saw a bicycle rider go down on a new median installed on Williams at Mason. Larson says that a man who crashed on Tuesday suffered a broken collarbone. After Larson reported the issue, PBOT placed one orange cone in front of the new median. “This morning,” Larson wrote in the letter, “The cone had been flattened and the new curb has scrapes across the top of it and chunks taken out of it, presumably the result of getting hit by motor vehicles.”

Larson says PBOT’s response thus far has been to blame contractors and equipment delays while urging the public to be patience.

The larger context with the BTA’s concerns about Williams is that this is far from an isolated issue. On October 20th, after seeing an unacceptable work zone on NW Broadway, we published a story saying that the city needs stronger construction zone standards (or should actually enforce ones already in place). In the weeks since our story we’ve heard of other ongoing hazards on the Burnside Bridge, SW Multnomah Blvd, and elsewhere.

Reader Seth Alford sent us photos of two construction zones in southwest Portland that were completely blocking the bike lane: one on Multnomah and one on Capitol Hwy:

And reader Kyle Rohr sent us photos of signs blocking the bike lanes on the Burnside Bridge:

Beyond Williams and these other recent examples of what seems like a lax approach to work zone bicycle access by PBOT, the BTA has been working on a research project for over a year to examine the city’s approach to construction zones. Back in August, we reported that the BTA was working on a project (headed up by Larson) to find, “ways the city can better design construction zones to work for active transportation.”

The BTA’s letter makes it clear that PBOT is still coming up very short when it comes to keeping road users safe during construction projects.

Here’s the non-profits list of things they want to see PBOT do now:

  • Review the traffic control plan with the contractor and agree upon standards for its implementation.
  • Review traffic control plans made by developers on Williams and insure that they are appropriate and are being followed.
  • Make routine checks of the street after dark (its peak time of usage by people on bikes) to identify and immediately address potential hazards.
  • Install physical separation between Weidler and Broadway as soon as possible.
  • Prioritize sweeping of leaves in the new Williams bike lane.
  • Immediately close the dangerously narrow bike lane on the block approaching Cook and turn the left travel lane into a bike lane.
  • Install signage advertising NE Rodney as a bike-friendly alternate route.

Back on November 6th, in light of a dangerous work zone on NW Broadway, I asked PBOT to clarify their approach to traffic management during construction projects. “Our permits process is intended to ensure public safety while also minimizing inconvenience,” PBOT spokesman Dylan Rivera said, “We try to accommodate all users of the right of way as best we can. That includes people driving, bicycling, walking, operating trucks and doing maintenance and construction work in the right of way.”

So far, PBOT hasn’t responded to Larson’s letter about Williams.
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UPDATE, 2:15 pm: Yesterday I emailed Williams Avenue project manager Rich Newlands to get a clarification on the timeline for completing the signage and striping. Here’s his response:

The [construction] contract end is December 15. Because the delivery of signal poles for Cook and Broadway have been significantly delayed, we will be granting additional time to complete that work, but only that part of the overall contract.The amount of additional time has not yet been negotiated. At today’s weekly construction meeting the contractor indicated that he was still on track to substantially complete the non-signal work by the original end date.

Regarding signing and striping, they are very close to having everything in place per the plans. For striping there is some touch up work and the crosswalks at the new curb extensions, which are waiting for the civil work and paving to be completed. Hope to have the forced left-turn signs at mounted on the islands between Beech and Mason the week after next — after the work at Failing is scheduled to be completed. That includes the one missing median, which has not been done yet because the contractor wants to pour the curb extensions at the same time. At Stanton [Dawson Park], we are reviewing options for additional pavement markings, signage, and/or physical barriers to address the compliance problem there with traffic not turning left.

After much delay, the paving around the curb extensions that have been built is finally happening today, so construction choke points, such as the one at Cook will be removed.

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37 Comments
  • Avatar
    Adam H. November 26, 2014 at 2:24 pm

    This entire project is a disaster – from sup-par design (should have been protected bike lanes) to the lack of construction safety.

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    Dave November 26, 2014 at 2:29 pm

    Anytime a bike lane is closed due to construction, a BMUFL sign should be posted: “Bicycle May Use Full Lane”.

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      matt picio November 26, 2014 at 3:14 pm

      That’s not even enough. When a general traffic lane is closed, there is signage – multiple signs, cones, potentially other items stipulated by the Manual of Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD). Neither PBOT, ODOT, nor many of the contractors hired by them and by Clackamas, Multnomah and Washington Counties adhere to the requirements for lane closures as much as they should – even on basic closures. (this is not new – all jurisdictions face that issue, and few properly monitor and enforce their contractors because there aren’t enough manpower hours nor funds to do so) Bicycle lane closures need to be similarly signed. Standards need to be created, adopted, and enforced.

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    wade November 26, 2014 at 2:31 pm

    Just north of shaver on williams there’s a shocking strip of gravelly quick sand that swallows front wheels whole.

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      stace November 26, 2014 at 2:42 pm

      I noticed that too earlier this week- it caught me off guard biking home in the dark. I didn’t fall, but I thought “geez, that was close- someone is going to bite it here”.

      I also think that the concrete diverters installed to keep cars in the left lane from continuing straight are awkwardly placed for bike traffic and not visible enough. Perhaps something with ramped edges would have been safer.

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        Eek November 28, 2014 at 4:47 pm

        Sunday pm I saw a guy on a motorbike literally hit the concrete straight on and flipped up and over. There were absolutely no markings of cones at all, just four inches of surprise concrete that was impossible to see in the conditions unless you knew it was there…scary!!

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      Mike November 29, 2014 at 8:22 pm

      ….and also the exciting patch of washed out gravel on Going, just east of Williams, where they cut out a strip of asphalt 3 weeks or so ago and have not yet re-paved. Awesome to make that right turn at speed.

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    matt picio November 26, 2014 at 3:16 pm

    That first pic south of New Seasons nearly got me a couple weeks ago the first time I rode through there – not well-signed, nor protected. So far the best thing about this project is that everyone is so confused the average traffic speed is lower than ever. That’s a (temporary) win, but what’s going to happen when everything is opened back up?

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    rider November 26, 2014 at 3:16 pm

    The ridiculous state of sidewalk access on Division this summer made me lose hope that anyone at the city is paying attention. The state of Williams is far from surprising.

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    Sigma November 26, 2014 at 3:39 pm

    I just rode Williams. Your photo at Cook is already outdated.

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      Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) November 26, 2014 at 3:55 pm

      We’re aware of that Sigma. We posted an update at 2:15 today from Newlands saying it would be fixed. Great to hear it happened!

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      Stephen Gomez November 26, 2014 at 6:56 pm

      That photo was indeed outdated shortly after this story posted–but the condition captured there was like that for almost three weeks. Along with Carl I had been in touch with PBOT for weeks over this and other dangerous conditions on Williams. Disruption for all users during construction is expected–continuous danger is unacceptable.

      Leaving it up to the contractor to correct dangerous conditions obviously hasn’t worked for this project. Every day when I ride Williams I ask myself “how would they handle this in Copenhagen?” The answer is clearly “not like this.”

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  • TonyT
    TonyT November 26, 2014 at 3:41 pm

    The construction signs placed in the bike lane are classic. They’re everywhere and hardly surprising; not that we should accept them.

    They’re one of the lowest hanging fruit, I’d argue, and there should be clear rules governing where those signs can be placed. Hint – Not in the middle of a freakin’ travel lane.

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      John Lascurettes November 26, 2014 at 6:31 pm

      I’ve been guilty of picking up a construction sign in the middle of the bike lane and moving it to the sidewalk’s edge. Don’t know how much trouble I could get in for that, but I’d rather do something than feel helpless and angry sometimes.

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        Craig Harlow December 1, 2014 at 12:32 pm

        I do that every time I encounter this.

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      David Burns November 28, 2014 at 8:50 pm

      I once complained about that to NWNatural via twitter. They claimed it was appropriate according to ODOT guidelines. After that, I gave up. (If NWNatural lied or if ODOT gets sane, I may revisit.)

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    jeffb November 26, 2014 at 3:53 pm

    Gee, if only there was some way to get a little more space? Like removing parking from one side of the road? Weak will.

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      Kyle November 26, 2014 at 6:01 pm

      I feel like they should at least be able to temporarily do this during construction. And when business owners find that the world didn’t end and people still shop at their stores, perhaps it can become permanent…

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    John Stephens November 26, 2014 at 4:49 pm

    I’m saving my opinion until the project is finished, but so far as a cyclist and a driver on Williams, have felt the changes make the travel feel like an obstacle course. There are so many changes to the car/bike lanes that every block is unique–and so time I spend trying to guess where I’m supposed to be is time I’m not watching out for other vehicles, and certainly not really enjoying the ride as I used to…

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    John Lascurettes November 26, 2014 at 6:32 pm

    Regarding Williams’ striping being finished, can the BTA please, please campaign for crosshatching in the buffer zones? The abundance of parallel lines making up the new lanes is not helping with anyone’s confusion.

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      Adam Herstein November 26, 2014 at 8:09 pm

      Agreed. Currently, it looks like three weirdly-sized lanes. Cross-hatching is universally understood to mean “keep out”.

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  • John Liu
    John Liu November 26, 2014 at 9:40 pm

    I’m treating the buffer zone as a passing lane. Works well.

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      spare_wheel November 27, 2014 at 8:51 am

      Yeah…no crosshatching in my passing lane please. 😉

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  • Lenny Anderson
    Lenny Anderson November 27, 2014 at 9:40 am

    I rode Williams the other day, and the worst part was motor vehicle operators racing ahead in the shared lane to get back in the through lane, etc. I wonder why PBOT did not simply close Williams to through motor vehicle traffic with a sign directing such traffic onto I-5. Didn’t they do that on Division?

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    Patti Thompson November 27, 2014 at 10:41 am

    It would help if everyone would be a bit more patient, cyclists included. It’s hard enough maneuvering through there without bikes passing, often unannounced, on both sides. So, to clear things up, should you pass on the left or right when the bike lane is on the left?

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      spare_wheel November 30, 2014 at 11:48 am

      It’s unnecessary and potentially dangerous to expect people passing someone outside of a bike lane to announce passes.

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      Dabby December 3, 2014 at 3:15 pm

      Honestly, while I think alerting while passing could be good, the reality IMO is this.
      One rides up on another. Somehow alerts other rider that they are going to pass. Rider about to be passed hears alert, and reasonably (as we should) checks to see how this pass is going by looking. Head turns, shoulder drops, arms are affected by shoulder drop, bike swerves in direction of look, sometimes dramatically. With less experience comes a much more dramatic effect from this as well.

      Safest thing to do?
      Wait for a safe time to pass, give it some space, and pass quietly.
      Use the car travel lane to do so, as the law allows for such.

      Also, imagine if drivers honked at a car as a courtesy every time we went to pass one?
      The same would happen,
      Head turns, shoulder drops, arms react,. yadda yadda yadda.

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    peejay November 27, 2014 at 11:05 am

    That email from Rich Newlands addresses the reasons for delay, and some details about the completion schedule. He completely fails to address work zone compliance, which needs to be fixed RIGHT NOW, not at some distant time in the future. There is no excuse.

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    Peejay November 27, 2014 at 11:35 am

    After having reread the Newlands email, I am even angrier. It’s not even a question of cost, but one of attitude. When it costs the same money (cones, flaggers, etc.) to allocate space equitably or not, there is no excuse to do it the wrong way.

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    Carrie November 27, 2014 at 5:23 pm

    Not as much traffic as Williams, but anyone been on Bybee lately? They built a curb extension on the east side of the bridge, with no change in the lane striping. It’s scary.

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    Peter W November 27, 2014 at 11:40 pm

    Anyone who walks in the city will also know that the infrastructure put in place as protected detours for pedestrians is pathetic (that is, there are no detours erected). For example, see the photo by Seth Alford included in this article.

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    John Lascurettes November 28, 2014 at 5:55 pm

    Salt in the wounds: it’s been wonderful tooling around Thanksgiving week on Santa Barbara’s separated bike network. Even when there’s a buffered bike lane on a busy street, they still bother to put the cross hashes on the buffer zone. C’mob and step up PBOT.

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    Ted Buehler November 28, 2014 at 8:48 pm

    First, thanks for authoring this letter, Carl and other BTA folks.

    Next, I wrote an emphatic defense of PBOT a month ago, and, while the end product still looks pretty good to me, I’m pretty unimpressed with their efforts to keep the corridor safe during construction.

    And, 3
    1) I wrote on three occasions asking for a speed limit reduction to 20 mph during construction, and personally requested it to Rich Newlands once. No responses.

    2) I’ve personally repositioned the “Bike Detour” signs at Willams and Beech and Rodney and Beech about 20 times after they get knocked down or moved onto the sidewalk. I’ve never seen anyone else reposition them. Doesn’t speak well for the contractor’s understanding of bicycle needs.

    3) I saw the aftermath of a car-car collision at Williams and Fargo about 2 weeks ago. An SUV was flipped on its back, airbags deployed. Even if the driver avoided a trip to the hospital, they likely sustained some significant back injuries from being flipped like that. A 20 mph speed limit would likely have reduced the intensity of this collision. & I’m glad that the flipped SUV didn’t hit any bicyclists or pedestrians.

    All these things say that there’s nobody that is monitoring of day to day routing operations during construction.

    What they need is for someone to ride a bike up the street at 4:00 every day, and replace or reposition barricades so the street is safe to ride on for bikes.

    If ya’all want to see the construction period become safer for the remaining month or so of construction, instead of just commenting here, you should share your concerns with someone who can actually elevate these problems to the level that they’ll get resolved. I’d suggest Steve Novick, city commissioner, at novick@portlandoregon.gov
    (from https://www.portlandoregon.gov/novick/59990 )

    Ted Buehler

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    feralcow December 1, 2014 at 1:04 pm

    Although minor in comparison, the ongoing work over the SE Bybee Bridge for light rail has also been pretty crappy with the bike lanes closed on and off for the last 3 or 4 months.

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  • Lenny Anderson
    Lenny Anderson December 1, 2014 at 3:14 pm

    As Williams transitions to a real commercial street (“place”), speed limit should be reduced to 20 MPH, at least from south of Emanuel to north of Skidmore.

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    Alejandro Savransky December 2, 2014 at 7:51 pm

    The Stanton/Williams intersection is my biggest concern. I have seen cars not turn left at Stanton and then continue to head north on Williams on the bike lane! I feel very unsafe as soon as I hit that point. Most everything else seems safe enough.

    I support the project overall, but they really need to address this fast before someone gets hurt.

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    So... December 2, 2014 at 9:44 pm

    Before the project, I never had to deal with almost being hit by cars on Williams. Afterwards, it seems to be a weekly occurrence where I have to deal with a car either blocking the bike lane, pulling out in front of me, or getting left hooked.

    Today was the worst day. Someone came close to hitting me twice while I was in the bike lane. The first time they drifted over into the bike lane was while I was right next to them and they thought Williams turned into two lanes right after Stanton. Luckily they went back to the right lane. a few blocks later after passing Beech, the same person swerved over into the bike lane to grab a parking spot on the left side of Williams. This time I had to swerve out of the way into the right lane to avoid this guy.

    In the past I had to deal with:
    – almost getting left hooked by people trying to get to New Seasons
    – people trying to turn left onto Williams and not bothering to consider they are blocking the bike lane (people turning left off of Weidler and Stanton)
    – Buses (the 4) turning left onto Fremont and taking up the whole bike lane because they need to make a wide left turn into backed up traffic, thus making me either wait until the bus gets out of the way or move over into an already congested lane that barely has room for me to safely pass.

    I guess I have to wait till December 15th to see if this all gets cleared up.

    I know it takes time for a large group of people to adjust to major changes. But when is it ok to say this is not working?

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