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ODOT says new signals with left turn arrows coming to SE Powell next week

Posted by on May 29th, 2015 at 5:58 pm

Protest on SE Powell-17.jpg

They heard you.
(Photo: J Maus/BikePortland_

As hundreds of people take to the streets in an expression of frustration about unsafe biking conditions in Portland, the Oregon Department of Transportation has just announced plans to install new left turn arrows at SE Powell and 26th Avenue — an intersection where two people have sustained serious injuries in collisions this month.

This announcement comes as a surprise and is very likely a response to the collision that happened at the intersection today and the resulting public pressure that has come from it. ODOT rep Shelli Romero told me back on May 11th at the protest event at Powell and 26th that they want to “redo this signal” but no one expected such a quick timeline.

“We all agree that there are fatals and serious injuries on this corridor that need to be addressed,” Romero said.

In a statement released today, ODOT now says they plan to upgrade the traffic signals with left turn arrows “in the next week.” Here’s more from ODOT:

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“The new signals will provide green left turn arrows for northbound and southbound traffic on Southeast 26th Avenue at Powell Boulevard. This improvement will prohibit left turns when bicycles and pedestrians are crossing the intersection and provide a dedicated left turning phase for vehicles turning left onto Southeast Powell.

The intersection was the site of two crashes in May involving bicycles and motor vehicles, both involving serious injuries. The upgraded signals will improve safety by reducing motor vehicle, pedestrian and bicycle crashes.”

These new signals are a short-term step while ODOT and the City of Portland work toward a longer-term, $3.8 million project that will bring a series of safety upgrades to Powell between 20th and 24th in 2017.

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53 Comments
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    J_R May 29, 2015 at 6:35 pm

    Based on the information available today, a left turn phase for traffic on 26th would have had no impact on today’s collision. It might well have prevented the prior one.

    This will result in a change in collision patterns, but will not necessarily reduce them.

    On Tuesday afternoon, I saw a westbound motorist on Powell blow through the red light. Turn arrows would not impact this. Red light cameras would.

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      Eric May 29, 2015 at 10:53 pm

      Citations from red light cameras should probably cover the installed cost in a few months.

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      Jake May 29, 2015 at 10:56 pm

      Judging from motorist behavior during rush hour on SE Grand at Madison, I’m not entirely sure that red light cameras will prevent people from running the light.

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      Aaron May 30, 2015 at 8:18 am

      Hasn’t there been mixed evidence on red light cameras, such as drivers gunning it to avoid getting their photo taken by the camera on a yellow, paradoxically reducing safety?

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        Paul May 30, 2015 at 10:05 pm

        Also lead to rear-enders and whiplash injuries from sudden, unexpected stops on yellow.

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        • Knuckles
          Knuckles May 31, 2015 at 10:04 am

          But… legally speaking, you should stop on a yellow…

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            Steve in Akron February 29, 2016 at 1:24 am

            Yes absolutely correct a “yellow” signal is not “caution” or “slow” the legal meaning (Per MUTCD) is “Clearance of vehicle within intersection” meaning anyone already PAST the stop line.. if you arent past it, you are either gonna stop, or go thru the “Red Clearance” the time when all sides are red. (which constitutes running the red light)

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        paikiala June 1, 2015 at 9:49 am

        In Portland, there is 1 second of all red (minimum), regardless of the length of yellow (3 seconds minimum). Going faster through a yellow should not result in a crash.
        A couple intersections monitor the vehicle approach speed and extend the all red where a driver is calculated to be going too fast to safely stop (82nd Ave).
        And, yes, yellow means stop, unless unsafe to do so.

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          davemess June 1, 2015 at 10:19 am

          There are definitely some Portland intersections where there is not a phase of all red.

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            paikiala June 1, 2015 at 11:47 am

            Not under PBOT control.

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        Evan Manvel June 1, 2015 at 5:27 pm

        Red light cameras tend to cut T-bone crashes by about 25% – a very harmful sort of crash. And they significantly cut red light running.

        Rear-ending crashes can increase by up to 15%; but the average injury from that sort of crash is significantly less (basic physics of two forces headed in the same direction).

        Not all crashes are created equal. More info:
        http://www.hsrc.unc.edu/safety_info/traffic_operations/red_light_cameras.cfm

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      Mike June 1, 2015 at 9:22 am

      I think the left turn phase would have prevented the second collision, or at least changed it.

      My understanding is the red Jeep was headed east on Powell and ran the red light, hitting the biker proceeding north on 26th, is that correct? If so, having a turn phase on 26th would mean the bicycle rider would have still been waiting at the intersection while the left turn phase would have occurred, so wouldn’t have been in the intersection when the Jeep ran the red light. But if there was a car turning left in the new turn phase signal, I suppose there would have been a car vs. car collision.

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        J_R June 1, 2015 at 11:25 am

        A left-turn phase only occurs when there is a vehicle in the turn lane. If there isn’t a “call” from the detector in the turn lane, the left-turn phase is simply skipped. If there was no turning vehicle, Anderson (the cyclist) would have been hit anyway. The driver of the Jeep simply blew through the red light. He’d have hit anyone who was in the intersection.

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    wsbob May 29, 2015 at 7:10 pm

    Green left turn arrows are good, for reasons such as those cited in the ODOT excerpt from the statement in this bikeportland story:

    “…“The new signals will provide green left turn arrows for northbound and southbound traffic on Southeast 26th Avenue at Powell Boulevard. This improvement will prohibit left turns when bicycles and pedestrians are crossing the intersection and provide a dedicated left turning phase for vehicles turning left onto Southeast Powell. …” ODOT

    On the other hand, the yellow flashing left turn signals diminish the safety measure provided to road users by the green left turn arrows.

    Of course, with modern digital technology, it may be entirely possible to equip intersections with such signals that would allow the yellow flashing arrows to be activated only during off peak low traffic hours of the day.

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      Tait June 1, 2015 at 1:13 am

      The flashing-yellow signals around me stay red until there is a break in oncoming traffic. Only after there’s been a break does the red relent to a flashing-yellow. Whether those signals detect bicycles as oncoming traffic, I don’t know. And of course, once they’ve gone to flashing yellow, they don’t go back to red except through the normal end of that light’s timing.

      The “will prohibit left turns when bicycles and pedestrians are crossing the intersection and provide a dedicated left turning phase” wording sounds to me that this will not be a flashing-yellow intersection, but maybe I’m reading too much into it.

      I like the idea of traffic-load-based flashing-yellow turns though. (Or if the lights aren’t smart enough to sense traffic load, then time-of-day is an okay substitute.)

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      paikiala June 1, 2015 at 9:52 am

      Flashing yellow arrows are an attempt to keep efficiency of user choice left turns and add safety. In the past the green ball without a protected phase meant the same thing, except people turning left don’t equate a green ball with yield to opposing traffic, or ‘be careful’. The flashing yellow arrow was developed to communicate this.

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  • Tonyt
    Tonyt May 29, 2015 at 7:21 pm

    We need something done at 21st and Powell as well.

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      Spiffy June 1, 2015 at 12:03 pm

      that intersection would flow so much better with dedicated left turn lights…

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    Ezm May 29, 2015 at 7:32 pm

    3!!!!! IT WAS 3 CRASHES IN MAY!!!! Okay, it might have been late April, but I feel like I’m singing a mantra at this point: highscool kid also left hooked here at 26th and powell very recently.

    3 cyclists getting hit here, not 2.

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    Jeg May 29, 2015 at 7:57 pm

    A turn signal isn’t even a pittance. All of Powell needs to be addressed!

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      Tait June 1, 2015 at 1:17 am

      Agreed. But I’ll take a helpful pittance today rather than nothing, while a bigger plan is formulated. Let not the perfect be the enemy of the good, etc.

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    RJ May 29, 2015 at 8:13 pm

    This is a huge deal. I am shocked and thrilled at the response from ODOT. I guarantee this was a difficult sell to the entrenched engineering staff at Region 1, and Shelli (and whoever else expedited this) is a hero. (At least today.)

    Clearly, permissive left turns at signals from minor street/major bike routes where they intersect with major arterials (Powell, Chavez, others) are a huge problem. Hopefully the city will talk about policy changes at these high-stress locations next week. They should all be protected left (or prohibited left) — everywhere.

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      Spiffy June 1, 2015 at 12:05 pm

      I love permissive left turn lights, but I’m going to have to give them up due to some people not being able to drive safely through them…

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    gutterbunnybikes May 29, 2015 at 9:00 pm

    Admittingly I don’t think infrastructure as being the magic bullet. However, More turn lanes down (both for leaving and entering) Powell would help considerably for all of us that use Powell – on bike or other.

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    Grace May 29, 2015 at 11:05 pm

    I was involved in a hit and run left hook in this intersection on February 9, 2013. I’m glad that it didn’t take a death to make change happen. It’s unfortunate that the “left on green only” wasn’t an immediate change after other near misses and “close calls” as the state called my last ride southbound on SE 26th.

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    PDXrider May 29, 2015 at 11:23 pm

    Odot did something? I’m amazed. Can almost hear the conversation now –

    “People are mad. What can we do to make this go away?

    We have to do something to appease the vocal populous but actually fixing the problem is too hard.

    I know, left turn signal! Problem solved.

    That should buy us at least a year until people get agitated again.

    Good, left turn signal it is”

    Glad for the light but what a bunch of jokers ODOT is.

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    Adam H. May 29, 2015 at 11:36 pm

    While I applaud ODOT for acting so quickly, I fear that their only solutions are car-centric. A bold step would be to implement a protected intersection. I’m hoping that something like this is in the long-term plan.

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      gutterbunnybikes May 30, 2015 at 3:52 pm

      Be careful in what you ask for.

      Recent studies in Germany and Denmark show physically separated bicycle lanes increase intersection collisions by roughly 5%.

      You can argue that since most people “think” it’s safer the increase in ridership level that protected bicycle lanes provide is worth the added risk at the individual level. In essence the hope is that the “safety in numbers principle” outweighs the increase in individual risk with the improvements you are asking for. It makes sense from a governmental standpoint or as an overall benefit to society, but it is at the expense of the riders at an individual level. And honestly, myself – I can live with that too.

      But don’t be surprised that even with the system you are pushing for you still find yourself getting upset that the collisions haven’t slowed down (after all 5% isn’t really that much when you’re talking about only a few incidents (despite the extremely unusual recent string of them) a year at the worst intersections in town. And infrastructure doesn’t matter as long as people are willing to color outside of the lines.

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        Craig May 30, 2015 at 4:24 pm

        Oh it matters. It’s the single most important measure we can take. Also the most expensive. But if you have the opportunity to ride in a city like Copenhagen with well designed bicycling infrastructure (not just paint on the asphalt) you will understand the importance of the infrastructure in influencing both cyclist and motor behavior but also the culture of the community.

        We need to demand that all high traffic intersections between motorists and bicyclists in Portland be upgraded to the Dutch/Danish protected intersection standard. I don’t care how much it costs! The life of my friends and family that ride will always be worth more!

        The fact that Portland is not even in this “race” is embarrassing.
        http://usa.streetsblog.org/category/issues-campaigns/bicycle-infrastructure/

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          JMak May 31, 2015 at 2:57 pm

          Why are we pushing cyclists through the busiest intersections in the city in the first place? I’m curious about this.

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            Bill Walters May 31, 2015 at 3:59 pm

            Such intersections are busy because they lead to stuff that people need to reach. The stuff that people need to reach — work, school, etc. — is not changed by people’s day-to-day decisions about whether to drive, ride, or get around some other way. To reach that same stuff, they will go _pretty much_ the same way — otherwise, they wouldn’t reach the stuff.

            You could move the stuff closer to less busy intersections, but the people who need to reach the stuff would quickly make those intersections busy.

            Hope that helped.

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            paikiala June 1, 2015 at 9:55 am

            ‘pushing’? It’s a public right of way. Cyclists have as much right to use any of the surface streets as anyone else.

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            Adam H. June 1, 2015 at 2:30 pm

            How else am I supposed to get south of Powell?

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            J_R June 1, 2015 at 7:54 pm

            Why are we pushing cyclists through the busiest intersections in the city in the first place? – JMak

            I think it is very clear that we are not. I live south of Powell and cross it for many purposes including work so I’ll use that corridor as an example. There are no specific accommodations for cyclists at Milwaukie, 39th, or 82nd (three of the busiest intersections in the corridor). In fact, cyclists tend to be guided to: 21st, 26th, 33rd, 42nd, 52nd, 65th, and 92nd. There may be a few to the east that I’ve missed.

            The fact is, cyclists have to cross major barriers such as Powell. There are three grade separated crossings (Springwater, the bridge at 9th, and the I-205 path), but those are really out of the way for most cyclists.

            Prior to the recent crashes, I’d have thought that 26th was one of the safer crossings due to the bike lane on 26th and the presence of Cleveland HS, but it’s obviously not the case.

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          jd June 1, 2015 at 7:59 am

          The green bike boxes are an indication that our government will listen to people advocating for “infrastructure.” I just hope the next trendy infrastructure (look out buffered bike lanes — here come elevated bike lanes!) are actually helpful next time.

          Sorry to the people who sincerely thought that “because they do it in Europe” was a good reason for bike boxes. It just frustrates me that we keep trying to solve the deadly problem of drivers not looking before they turn by making cyclists feel like they’re protected from cars.

          Also, hooray for this signal, which does seem like it will solve a careless-turning problem.

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            paikiala June 1, 2015 at 9:58 am

            The solution to a broken transportation system is usually much larger than the infrastructure. Better roads are one part of it. Better road users are also a big part along with the other facets (better laws, enforcement, adjudication, vehicles, medical response)

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    Adam May 30, 2015 at 6:33 am

    I think this should have been done here a long time ago. There is a high school with 1500 children ten feet away.

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      Tom Hardy May 30, 2015 at 3:33 pm

      Speaking of school zones in close proximity to the intersection, Most places have POSTED SCHOOL ZONES anywhere within 100 feet of the school property with the speed within the zone of 15 to 20 MPH. This would apply to Powell and 26th. Unfortunately it only applies to school days.

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      gutterbunnybikes May 30, 2015 at 3:35 pm

      Still to this day I wonder why there is no school zone speed limits on Powell with the HS right there.

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        Tait June 1, 2015 at 1:23 am

        Probably something to do with it being highway 26? On rural highways I’ve seen, school speed limits apply to other surrounding streets, but not to the highways (e.g. 20, 97).

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        paikiala June 1, 2015 at 9:59 am

        The city does not typically post school zones at high schools.

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        rick June 1, 2015 at 11:06 am

        Jesuit has a 20 mph limit with flashing lights on SW Beaverton-Hillsdale Highway in east Beaveron. That part of the highway is with ODOT. There is a nearby floating bike lane by the 97th block.

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    Scott H May 30, 2015 at 7:00 am

    I think I complain about ODOT enough that when I say this is good news, you know this really is crazy good news. This seems like the first time ODOT has ever been so responsive, this is lightning speed for ODOT ( albeit for good reason ).

    There’s no pleasing the folks who are cynical about this. This is pretty much exactly what we’ve been asking for the past two weeks.

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    Roger Averbeck May 30, 2015 at 8:02 am

    I support the protected left turn signals as an interim solution, but recommend against the flashing yellow phase, which I doubt will be implemented at this location. Too many drivers treat a flashing yellow as green: if there a gap in oncoming vehicles, go for it, without looking for oncoming bicycles or pedestrians crossing parallel to the drivers left. Adding a protected left phase really is a significant change for ODOT, they deserve some credit, as it adds “delay” for throughput traffic on Powell, not something they usually support on major arterials.

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      Paul May 30, 2015 at 10:12 pm

      Agree, a flashing yellow phase would defeat the whole purpose, might as well install “Left Turn Yield to Oncoming Traffic” signs.

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      paikiala June 1, 2015 at 10:00 am

      Roger, flashing yellow is a ‘green with caution’.

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        J_R June 1, 2015 at 11:27 am

        And we all know what “caution” means, right?

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    SW May 30, 2015 at 8:53 am

    >>$3.8 million project that will bring a series of safety upgrades to Powell between 20th and 24th in 2017.

    so what about 2015 & 2016 ?? Stay off Powell for 2 years ???

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      paikiala June 1, 2015 at 10:02 am

      funding to project cycle is usually about 2 years. The safety money comes from the highway trust fund. Out year (19/20, 20/21) requests are currently being made.

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    tee May 30, 2015 at 3:31 pm

    Happy to see hear about the left turn arrow additions. It is sad that it has taken so many collisions to bring this change about. It baffles me how few “protected” left turn arrows there are in Portland, and especially Southeast Portland at major intersections.

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    9watts May 30, 2015 at 10:27 pm

    I came upon several ODOT trucks swapping out traffic lights at this intersection this morning (Saturday, May 30th).

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    rick May 31, 2015 at 9:17 pm

    yes

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    Barbara Kilts June 1, 2015 at 1:12 pm

    Can we get left turn signals at Holgate and Cesar Chavez? How about 82nd and Burnside and NE 60th and Halsey? Playing chicken at left turns is ludicrous whether driving or riding…

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