The Portland Parks & Recreation Bureau has started paving a new section of the Springwater Corridor path in Sellwood. This long-awaited project will close one of the last remaining gaps in this important regional path. It’s just a 0.4 mile section of the Springwater between SE Umatilla and 13th; but as any regional trail advocate will tell you, the sum impact is greater than its parts.
While it’s good to finally see progress on this segment of the “Sellwood Gap,” I was disappointed to find out that the City of Portland will install 10 stop signs along the new path. According to the official project plans, there will be stop signs (and associated stop bar striping) at the crossing of each roadway that intersects with the path: Umatilla, Harney, Marion, 9th, Linn, 11th, and 13th.
“Attempts to require path users to yield or stop at each cross-street promote noncompliance and confusion, and are not effective.”
— Alta Planning Rural Design Guide
According to a Parks spokesperson, the stop signs are mandated by the Oregon Department of Transportation’s Rail Division. They have some jurisdiction over the project because this section of the Springwater is adjacent to an extant railroad. The Oregon Pacific Railroad line is rarely used these days and travels at a very slow speed.
It’s also worth noting there are no stop signs — only yield signs — where the cross-streets intersect with the path. (ODOT has now confirmed that stop signs will be added where roads cross the path.)
All these streets are very low-volume and there will be many more people using the path than using the roads.
Andrew Holtz lives near the new path and attended a recent meeting where Portland Parks staff shared a presentation about the project. He thinks erecting stop signs on the path is a terrible idea. “The dominant traffic will be trail users and they should have the right-of-way. I don’t think the stop signs will serve any purpose.” he said in an interview today. “The only people that cross those streets are a few homeowners. People using the trail will get used to never seeing cross-traffic and get into the habit of ignoring the stop signs — and that’s not a good habit!”
Alta Planning, a national firm that designs paths and trails, echoes Holtz’s argument in their Rural Design Guide. In the section on Minor Street Crossings they write, “Attempts to require path users to yield or stop at each cross-street or driveway promote noncompliance and confusion, and are not effective.” As you can see in the graphic above, they recommend a stop sign on the cross-street, along with a crosswalk and clear sight lines to ensure safety.
We’ve experienced this same issue in two very nearby locations in the past. In 2013 we reported on how the Portland Police Bureau was concerned with a lack of stop sign compliance from Springwater Path users at SE Spokane Street, just three blocks south of where this project will begin.
And just a few blocks southeast of this project, on the SE 17th Avenue path between Sellwood and Milwaukie, the City of Milwaukie was forced into the same situation. When that section of the path opened two years ago we lamented all the unnecessary stop signs. ODOT Rail engineers forced the City of Milwaukie to install them on the path — even where it crossed private residential driveways.
Milwaukie Mayor Mark Gamba didn’t think the signs were necessary and he eventually convinced ODOT to remove them. It remains to be seen whether anyone at the City of Portland will show as much courage as Gamba and question ODOT’s engineering.
After all, is this really about safety?
Does anyone think it makes sense to require bicycle riders to make a complete stop this often on a multi-use path where cross-traffic travels very slowly and is rarely present?
Would ODOT ever mandate stop signs like this on major driving corridor?
There must be a more sensible solution.
UPDATE, 3/7: Parks just sent out a project update that included a bit about the stop signs:
Automobile traffic will be required to come to a complete stop before crossing any point of the trail. At this point, for cyclist and pedestrian safety, there will also be STOP signs on the trail at all crossings. In these instances, the cyclist(s) and/or pedestrian(s) will have the right of way.
Interesting they wrote, “At this point.” Also of note that despite it being a 4-way stop intersection, Parks says path users will have right-of-way.
I’m still waiting for ODOT to answer some more specific questions. Will update when I hear more.
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