I want to clear a few things up about the recent kerfluffle around Ladd Circle.
Turns out the Portland Police Bureau is anything but eager to do more enforcement. That’s what Traffic Division Sgt. Ty Engstrom shared with me in a phone conversation today.
First, let’s recap: On Tuesday, the PPB issued a statement and shared a video about the lack of stop sign compliance by people who ride and drive through Ladd Circle. The statement included a video of people blowing dangerously through the stop signs (as you can see above, one person rides through just as another person steps into the crosswalk). The behaviors were taking place at intersections where we’ve covered the exact same problem several times since 2007. The statement also said, in response to multiple complaints from nearby residents, that the PPB plans to do enforcement missions. A mention of last year’s fatality statistics and the city’s Vision Zero efforts further tied Ladd Circle to the PPB’s ongoing safety concerns.
Unfortunately, the statement didn’t fully capture the agency’s thoughts and intentions on this sensitive issue.
Not surprisingly, many people responded with anger and frustration. And with good reason. Ladd Circle is a relatively safe place. It’s not on any of the city’s Vision Zero or High Crash Network lists. And the design of this circle is terrible. The stop signs should be yield signs. In 2007 we shared a letter from City of Portland traffic engineer Scott Batson stating as much, where he explained the agency’s only reason for not doing it was the lack of recorded crashes and funding. “At this time, resources to devote to improvements where no clear safety benefit will result do not compete well with other capital improvement projects,” stated Batson.
That brings me to my conversation with PPB Traffic Division Sgt. Ty Engstrom earlier today. Sgt. Engstrom is on the Vision Zero Task Force, is a self-described “avid cyclist” who’s on a racing team, and he works with traffic safety advocates all the time.
Sgt. Engstrom didn’t write the PPB statement that our story was based on, but it did come from his notes and concerns. He told me on the phone he appreciated the BikePortland post and he was happy the issue was being talked about.
On the phone today, he shared more background and explained his perspective more clearly. Keep in mind that Sgt. Engstrom used to commute by bike himself through Ladd Circle everyday. Here’s what he said:
“Anytime someone fills out a TRACK-it or 823-SAFE request [the City’s system for filing public traffic safety concerns], I go through all of those. I triage them based on what our goals are — whether it’s Vision Zero, High Crash Network streets, fatal crashes — because we’re short-staffed and I can’t send my officers everywhere. I’m trying to do as much as I can, with the resources I have, and I’m trying to think outside the box. To be creative.
I don’t want to go down there [Ladd Circle] with a bunch of cops and make a bunch of stops. I’ve done that before. I’ve been through all that… And it’s really more of a headache than anything. We just end up with a bunch of complaints!
Recently I’ve gone down there on my own about three or four times. I just set my motorcycle out there with the emergency lights on and wait. A lot of people will run the stop sign and I just shout out to them, ‘Hey that’s a stop sign!’.
I know that Ladd Circle and that whole neighborhood is not where we’re having the big crashes or fatalities. However, it is a neighborhood with a lot of people that want to walk their kids to school, and to enjoy walking in their neighborhood.
The original complaint this time came from someone who lives near the corner where there’s a marked crosswalk and a bus stop and people walking kids to Abernethy School [a few blocks away]. Bicyclists and cars come up to that intersection, they look left to see if anyone’s coming, then they make the turn. That’s the kind of thing that can be dangerous.
We’ve had two recent fatalities that were at very slow speeds [he was referring to one on Burnside and 55th in December and the one at SW Salmon and Park]. Both involved pedestrians who died as a result of the secondary impact of the fall and hitting their head on the ground. If someone gets hit here, even at slow speeds, maybe they’re older and a bit more fragile, and suddenly we have a fatal crash.
What’s more telling to me is that this is an area where a lot of bicycles commute through. I used to commute through there on my bicycle. There are a lot of bikes, and the behavior they’re exercising here is indicative of the type of behavior throughout the rest of the city — in areas that may involve High Crash Corridor streets or more dangerous conditions.
My goal with putting out a statement was to get the word out to as many people as possible. I’ve been talking to The Street Trust to PBOT, to all of them, to hopefully correct some behavior. I don’t want to do another mission out there. I really don’t. But we need to make sure people change their behaviors. We had too many fatals last year.
I’m on a bike racing team. I’m out riding a lot. I know it’s aggravating to stop at all the stop signs… But I go to too many of these fatal crashes that involve all modes of transportation. If we can in anyway project messages to people to be more careful. That’s all I want to do. I’ve had to get creative with low staffing levels and I’m totally all about doing whatever we can — before enforcement.
I hope this helps clarify the intentions of the PPB around this issue. I also hope we can make some progress on this issue.
Regardless of whether there are “Stop” or “Yield” signs — we all have the responsibility to use utmost caution and good judgment as we go through these intersections. Please always ride and drive with respect for others. And pass it on!
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