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Here’s why Portland Parks will install stop signs on the Springwater

Posted by on March 14th, 2019 at 2:01 pm

Westbound SE Harney Street. ODOT says stop signs are needed on the path because they’re worried vehicle users on streets like this will wait on railroad tracks for path users to cross.

When we learned the Portland Parks & Recreation bureau planned to install 10 new stop signs on a newly paved, half-mile section of the Springwater Corridor, several readers contacted us to express their frustration.

Illustration by ODOT Rail Division to explain their plans for the Springwater.

Stop signs for carfree path users (especially at very low-volume cross-streets) make for inefficient riding and decrease the utility of the trail. Not only that, but psychology and best practices tell us it’s actually less safe to install stop signs that will be ignored by users because people become desensitized to them. It would be much wiser to install caution or yield signs for path users and only require a full stop from the occasional cross-street user.

But that’s not how the Oregon Department of Transportation sees it. They required Portland Parks to install the stop signs as part of their Sellwood Gap project currently under construction.

In a project update from the Parks Bureau on March 7th, Parks’ Community Engagement Coordinator Ken Rumbaugh confirmed that the intersections of SE Umatilla, Harney, Marion, 9th, Linn, 11th, and 13th will become four-way stops (cross-streets currently have yields). Then he added, “In these instances, the cyclist(s) and/or pedestrian(s) will have the right of way.”

After a few days of emailing various staffers of ODOT’s Rail Division (who’s in charge of this area due to the extant railroad line adjacent to the path), I finally got an explanation of their rationale for requiring the stop signs.

ODOT Public Affairs Manager Shelley Snow they deferred to the Federal Highway Administration’s Rails With Trails – Lessons Learned report (PDF). I had emailed her examples of the Alta Planning Rural Design Guide and the AASHTO Bikeway Design Guide — both of which warn against using stop signs for path users. “The guides you mention are great when it comes to those more common types of intersections,” Snow replied. “But apparently trails/paths running right alongside rails are not that common.”

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This queue of vehicles can spill back across the tracks, putting drivers that obey the law and stop for trail users, in danger.
— ODOT

Snow said there are not design standards ODOT could refer to for this project, only the “lessons learned” from the FHWA. Based on ODOT’s analysis of that FHWA guidance, Snow says their primary concern is that people using cars (and other vehicles) on the cross-streets might end up waiting on the railroad tracks. Here’s how Snow put it:

“The key factor here is that without the stop signs where they are now, the traffic coming from the other direction could get stuck on the tracks waiting for the free flow of path users to go by. Thus, the stop signs were placed to stop the path users, decreasing the chance that road users are stopped on the tracks.”

And here it is put another way by ODOT Rail Crossing Safety Manager Rick Shankle,

“There are three different modes of transportation, on three different alignments, intersecting in one place. The train has the right-of way over the other users, and the motor vehicles must yield to pedestrian use on the trail. The STOP sign on the trail intersection with each of these streets, and the STOP signs on the streets essentially make each of these intersections a 4-way stop, and reduce the potential for motor vehicles to stop on the tracks while waiting for a pathway user to cross the street.”

Snow also provided me with a document titled Springwater Study that states,

“According to Oregon law, once a pedestrian sets foot in the crosswalk or multi use path, vehicles approaching from both directions must stop and remain stopped until the pedestrian exits the driver’s lane, plus half of an adjacent lane. In locations near railroad tracks this queue of vehicles can spill back across the tracks, putting drivers that obey the law and stop for trail users, in danger of collisions with trains using the railroad tracks. Not only is this a safety concern, but Oregon has long had a law in the vehicle code prohibiting a vehicle from stopping, standing, or parking on a grade crossing or otherwise interfering with rail operations.”

Snow said the City of Portland, Parks bureau, ODOT Active Transportation staff and railroad representatives all agreed on the design.

— Jonathan Maus: (503) 706-8804, @jonathan_maus on Twitter and jonathan@bikeportland.org

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JJJ
Guest
JJJ

That’s really stupid.

If this enormous “free flow of path users” consists entirely of pedestrians, they do not have to adhere to the stop sign, and have the right of way over vehicles.

Someone explain how this solves the issue of drivers illegally stopping on the tracks?

The justification is garbage

q
Guest
q

Oops.

q
Guest
q

Seriously, JJJ, that’s brilliant.

Ironically, the article states that Snow (ODOT Rail) provided Jonathan with a document that describes how drivers legally must stop for pedestrians. So ODOT is aware that some trail users will be on foot, and states that it is installing trail stop signs to reduce the chances of drivers stopping on the tracks while yielding to pedestrians and other trail users, but then doesn’t seem to notice (or noticed but doesn’t want others to notice) what you noticed immediately–stop signs don’t apply to pedestrians (!).

Eric H
Guest
Eric H

This gets dumber by the minute. I predict that the new stop signs will be observed about as much as the right turn only sign for cars on SE 6th and Tacoma is and the enforcement will be about the same.

encephalopath
Guest
encephalopath

Their reasoning for stop signs sounds like a fevered delusion.

We have to close the door because the penguin is still wearing pants.

David
Guest
David

Thank you for following up on this. Not sure why a “yield/stop when cars/trucks present” wouldn’t suffice in this type of situation given the low volume. While this would not be the best possible solution it would be something that is more likely to be followed than 10 stop signs for crossing streets that rarely see cross traffic.

The lack of creativity for these intersections is pretty staggering, even for ODOT. They basically stated that drivers won’t be able to safely adhere to traffic laws so they’re going to impose a significant penalty on trail users instead.

One potential complication and unknown without going to each intersection is the quality of sight lines. In the picture for this article there wouldn’t be an issue with a more trail-friendly installation but where visibility is impaired I could see conflicts creating some problems albeit infrequently.

donttreadonme
Guest
donttreadonme

Because when a crosswalk is present you aren’t supposed to yield or stop to motor vehicles.

David
Guest
David

When driving a car, the driver is supposed to yield or stop for pedestrians. That doesn’t exactly tie in to the original comment.

This is about establishing legal right of way and having it align with what people are actually going to do as much as possible. The proposed treatment will increase risk for all users because it’s the equivalent of crying wolf. Having something triggered by actual traffic would be more likely to be effective for all users given the low frequency of use for these intersections by non-trail users.

El Biciclero
Guest
El Biciclero

…unless they are so close as to constitute an immediate hazard. One does not have to stop/yield if no cross traffic is approaching, or if it is far enough away to have time to stop.

SilkySlim
Guest
SilkySlim

But ummm, nobody uses those train tracks??? Am I crazy here? The holiday express only goes as far south as the amusement park. And those hobbyists that ride those very fun looking contraptions do the same.

igor
Guest
igor

You mean The Oregon Pacific Railroad? (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oregon_Pacific_Railroad_(1997)) They’re still running freight all the way down to Sellwood.

Dave Hogan
Guest
Dave Hogan

The tracks are regularly used still. My office window faces the tracks, and some days there are few or no trains. Other days they run back and forth regularly.

tim
Guest
tim

have they done anything to help.. the green boxes are a death trap. this is idiotic too

Andrew Kreps
Guest
Andrew Kreps

The reason the green boxes do help is that they’re usually accompanied by a “no turn on red” for motor vehicle operators. I can measure how that lowers the conflict between road users.

bikeninja
Guest
bikeninja

It appears that the only organization that is more backward thinking than regular ODOT is ODOT RAIL. This is quite an accomplishment as the bar is set very high for this.

encephalopath
Guest
encephalopath

Crosswalk rules are going to apply where the trail crosses the motor vehicle roadway. Pedestrians don’t have unqualified right of way in the crosswalk. They can’t just go sprinting into the crosswalk and expect that everyone has to or will stop for them.

Pedestrians have to demonstrate an intent to enter the crosswalk before motor vehicles have a duty to stop. That is the negotiation that takes place between pedestrians and motorists at all unsignalized crosswalks.

Portland Parks doesn’t seem to be accounting for this at all:

811.028 (4)

For the purposes of this section, a pedestrian is crossing the roadway in a crosswalk when any part or extension of the pedestrian, including but not limited to any part of the pedestrian’s body, wheelchair, cane, crutch or bicycle, moves onto the roadway in a crosswalk with the intent to proceed.

encephalopath
Guest
encephalopath

See also…

814.040 Failure to yield to vehicle; penalty.
(1) A pedestrian commits the offense of pedestrian
failure to yield to a vehicle if the pedestrian does any
of the following:
(a) Suddenly leaves a curb or other place of safety
and moves into the path of a vehicle that is so
close as to constitute an immediate hazard.

encephalopath
Guest
encephalopath

The problem that we have here is that there are a set of rules in the Revised Statues that govern how the trail crossing a roadway is supposed to work.

Instead of using those rules, Portland Parks is inventing its own rules that aren’t actually written anywhere and aren’t enforceable by any statute and using signage for this arrangement that isn’t decipherable and doesn’t make any sense.

All of this appears to fall outside the scope of their authority. Portland Parks doesn’t get to make its own traffic laws.

Ron Swaren
Guest
Ron Swaren

Right. I was making a left turn onto my own street a week ago, at night. Had to wait for the opposite traffic to go by. Started on the left turn, and some black garbed cyclist (no lights of course) zooms out on the sidewalk and through the crosswalk. I was able to stop in time. The law is you can’t operate a bike on a sidewalk at a faster pace than walking; so if he had gotten hit I wouldn’t have been totally at fault. (ORS 814.410)

What we really need is a defensive vehicle operation campaign updated for the present. The Defensive Driving Campaign of the 1970’s was one of the most successful public safety initiatives we have ever had.

Mark
Guest
Mark

LOL at the idea of cyclists “becoming desensitized” to stop signs, as if I don’t routinely see them sailing past them already. (And yes, I’m a cyclist.)

q
Guest
q

I agree. But Parks (in this design, and in other locations where it’s already installed stop signs for trail users) is throwing a whole new wrinkle/complication into the “Cyclists are ignoring stop signs” situation, because it is installing stop signs with the idea that cyclists won’t be stopping, and don’t really need to stop most of the time. When stop signs are installed with the idea that stopping is a judgement call, a cyclist who gets cited for not stopping really has a legitimate claim now that “stop signs don’t mean STOP”.

one
Guest

No one. Including you. Comes to a complete stop at every stop sign in a car or on a bike.
So what is your point?

q
Guest
q

In case that’s a question to me…When PBOT puts up a stop sign on a street, I believe they do it with the expectation that all drivers and cyclists SHOULD stop, and at least the majority WILL stop, or come very close to stopping. Parks puts up signs on trails with the expectation that few people will bother to stop, or maybe even slow down. You won’t hear PBOT saying in regard to a stop sign on a street, “If cyclists choose to not to stop, that is their personal decision”. But that’s a direct quote from Parks to me about stop signs Parks installed on a trail.

Having an agency putting up stop signs with no expectation that most people will obey them is a new thing in my opinion, and not positive. As others have said, it feels like a cynical, “Now we’re off the hook for liability” action versus a genuine safety action.

Johnny Bye Carter
Subscriber
Johnny Bye Carter

I come to a complete stop at every stop sign when I’m driving a car or motorcycle.

Gary B
Guest
Gary B

Wait, what? This makes no sense. Assuming that a hypothetical train exists, which is purely a hypothetical–aren’t the stop signs for the cross street before the tracks? Why wouldn’t the car driver just wait safely there until they can cross the MUP? It’s not like they need to pull forward to see cross traffic.

Al
Guest
Al

You are correct. Cross street stop signs are BEFORE the tracks so the entire argument of stranding vehicles in the train’s right of way has ZERO merit!

This sounds like a hastily put together after the fact justification for something that was decided with little if any consideration.

But another thing is that stops signs for pedestrians and bicycles along the Springwater already exist further east where there are no adjacent train tracks and I get yelled at at least once a year, “Nice stop, azzhole.” for riding past them by drivers who even if they blew by their stop sign would not have been in the intersection in time for us to collide! If a driver gets to their stop sign before I approach, I am happy to slow down or stop for them to proceed. I have no problem with that. I’m not going to stop for no reason other than to show my observance of a sign that shouldn’t be there to begin with. I have also seen drivers completely blow by their stop signs crossing the Springwater. In one instance, it was the same individual who just weeks prior yelled at me in the manner I just described.

J_R
Guest
J_R

I predict a stop-sign-enforcement action to combat the severe safety problem at these locations patterned after the highly successful Ladd’s Addition stop-sign-enforcement actions. /s/

catherine feta-cheese
Guest
catherine feta-cheese

Hit the brakes at this red hexagonal sign to read an update about this segment of Sellwood Gap (Springwater) project’s pavement of tree destruction:

Portland Parks & Rec. has rejected this tree-saving (and money $$ saving) narrower pavement proposal:
For just the 2 blocks from SE 9th/Linn to 11th:
10 ft. of paved path starting at the railway fence, 2 ft. of grass/gravel shoulder, option of a few gravel pullouts on the south side in places where the trees aren’t.

PP&R wants:
2 ft. of paved shoulder next to the railway fence + 12 ft. of paved path + 2 more ft. of paved shoulder on the south side of the paved path, a total of 16 ft. paved with a shallow slope cut on the south side taking out all of the trees along the south side of the tracks.

The PP&R project director is saying the whole 16 ft. of pavement is needed for “if someone falls off their bike.”

Once in I while I’ve wiped out on my bike and I don’t particularly prefer to land on pavement. I don’t like PP&R using “the comfort of bike riders” as their excuse for their over-paved segment of path ripping out a whole strip of biodiverse urban woodland & fruit trees.

Kiel Johnson (Go By Bike)
Member

Is that graphic a joke? Are there middle schoolers running ODOT using computers with Window 98?

Tom Hardy
Guest
Tom Hardy

I have given Linux laptops to grade schoolers that use better graphics and thought processes better than ODOT or ODOT RR or the Parks bureau.

I wear many hats
Guest
I wear many hats

I anticipate all these signs to be blacked out by vigilante common “sensers” who deride the absolute jackassery of ODOT/PBOT political clowns. My god, this Portland world is quickly devolving into contrived offended insanity. Look both ways please, and take out the headphones or the new age bluetooth stubs.

Tom Hardy
Guest
Tom Hardy

They only need a pipe wrench to turn the stop signs so the motorists have them.

Toby Keith
Guest
Toby Keith

Having been inspired by other posters on this forum I will comply with these stop signs only when it is to my benefit.

Fred
Guest
Fred

C’mon, Toby – you know that most MV operators roll thru stop signs, and so do bike riders – esp cuz bike riders need to keep their momentum to remain upright and keep moving, AND the cyclist isn’t pushing 4000+ pounds of steel that will kill children walking to school. Turning the argument into a binary choice between “law-abiding motorists” and “law-breaking cyclists” is not helpful.

q
Guest
q

If you think about it, the same situation that ODOT is trying to prevent here–vehicles stopping at a stop sign before crossing tracks, then proceeding, then having to stop on the tracks because their way is being blocked–exists at dozens or hundreds of locations where rail tracks cross streets in Portland.

Take any street where traffic is heavy. Before a driver starts across tracks, he or she must be sure there’s a car length of space available on the far side of the tracks–the same as when a driver comes to an intersection at rush hour, where even though you’ve got a green light, you can’t proceed through the intersection until there’s a car length of space free on the far side.

Or take any location where tracks are in a street, and people are walking across the street parallel to the tracks. You can’t start driving across the tracks if you see that there’ll be pedestrians in your way that could force you to stop on the tracks.

There must be dozens of these situations in the Central Eastside alone. They work because people understand, “Don’t start across tracks until you determine you can get all the way across them”. At this trail, all drivers have to do is look both ways before they cross, to see if there are any trail users approaching, and wait until it’s clear.

In fact, the trail situation is much safer compared to say, driving across tracks on a busy street, because in that situation, if you stop on tracks, you may be hemmed in by the vehicle in front of you while another pulls up behind you, trapping you. At the trail, the worst case is you honk and proceed. No trail user is going to block you from getting off the tracks if a train is coming. Even if they did, you could just back up, given the unlikelihood of another driver being right behind you on these lightly traveled streets.

Alex Reedin, now in Albuquerque, NM
Guest
Alex Reedin, now in Albuquerque, NM

Let’s take ODOT’s diktat as a given (though it feels to me like car/train safety has been weighed as a benefit on the one hand, but car/bike and car/walker safety and the health & safety benefit to society of promoting biking and walking haven’t been adequately weighed as a benefit on the other hand.)

Can PP&R make this project a net-zero impact on stop signs for people biking on this essential transportation route? There are a bunch of stop signs on the Springwater further east that could and should be flipped to cause people driving to stop rather than people biking.

The stop signs at SE 55th, SE Stanley, SE Wichita, SE Lambert,SE Walters, & SE Keller Rd are all pretty much slam-dunks for being turned. (Low-traffic, lower-speed roads.)

SE Luther and to a lesser extent SE 111th really need some help because they’re extremely uncomfortable to cross currently and feel unsafe. Turned stop signs *with a couple of speed bumps placed pretty close together each way on the road* would do the trick.

SE 128th, SE 136th, SE Jenne, and SE Towle are more marginal (higher-traffic, higher-speed roads) but I think a relatively aggressive set of speed bumps with stop signs would work.

Ken S
Guest
Ken S

I swear, the vast majority of these kinds of conflicts could resolved with signs that just say “TAKE TURNS!”

This overuse of stopsigns and the rational behind it doesn’t serve anyone.

Johnny Bye Carter
Subscriber
Johnny Bye Carter

Now we know that TriMet isn’t the only rail authority too cheap to install automated gates in order to make like easier for vulnerable road users.

Alex Reedin, now in Albuquerque, NM
Guest
Alex Reedin, now in Albuquerque, NM

Also – not all of the streets at which PP&R is proposing bike stop signs really need to cross the rail tracks at all (some can be dead-ended, with access to all properties still sustained via other streets). Wouldn’t that be the safest for car/train safety – no conflict at all?

It looks to me like SE Marion and SE 13th Pl/Andover could be dead-ended at the railroad tracks relatively easily without any properties losing access or causing huge traffic diversion. And, SE 11th could as well, although the access to the country club would become more circuitous.

q
Guest
q

Thinking more about this, the situation ODOT is using to justify the trail signs–cars starting across the tracks, then having to stop because they suddenly see trail users in front of them who were invisible as they approached–only happens in the case of cars coming from the track side. Cars coming from the trail side won’t get to the tracks until they drive over the trail, so it’s impossible for them to be stopped on the tracks by trail users.

So half the vehicle crossings at each street are irrelevant to ODOT’s concern. The likelihood of a car starting across the tracks, then having to stop because they were unable to see trail users approaching before they drove forward onto the tracks, all happening at the same time a train is approaching, is tiny.

Plus, if a train is that close, the car shouldn’t be driving across the tracks anyway.

This is the infamous Willamette Park black fence all over again–a “solution” to an all-but-imaginary rail safety issue that guarantees real safety problems happening.

GlowBoy
Guest
GlowBoy

This is incredible. I have never seen a vehicle stop on the tracks to wait for pedestrians or other trail users to pass by.

Yet another flagrant violation of the MUTCD’s clear standard on using the least intrusive treatment. Both in Oregon and Minnesota I see lots of unnecessary stop signs on MUPs – often for rarely-used driveways – where a yield sign would be sufficient.

Glenn the 2nd
Guest
Glenn the 2nd

The problem exists only when a train is approaching, which is, let’s say, 0.5% of the time and that’s probably overstating it. This solution, designed for that 0.5%, is wildly inappropriate the other 99.5% of the time.

Solution, and this assumes all agencies involved are smart & capable and have budgets:

Stop signs on all streets crossing the tracks and trail. That takes care of 99.5% of the time.

For the other 0.5%: When a rail sensor at ‘A’ feet from the crossing detects a train, signals for trail users are activated saying STOP and wait for auto traffic to clear. The trail no longer has the right of way. People stop entering the road. Any cars on the tracks waiting for trail users can proceed out of the crossing.

Either at the same time or ‘B’ seconds later, standard crossing signals (bells/lights) are activated on the crossing streets, like a real grownup RR crossing. ‘C’ seconds after that, the gates come down. Cars stop entering the crossing and we can assume the tracks are clear.

Once the gates are down, the trail signal is deactivated. Trail and train have the right of way.

At some point the train goes through, the gates come up, and auto traffic reverts to using the stop signs.

Get crackin’.

q
Guest
q

Here’s a similar situation that I almost hesitate to show in case ODOT and Parks decide to screw it up: https://www.google.com/maps/@45.4786884,-122.6717377,3a,75y,80.05h,89.94t/data=!3m6!1e1!3m4!1seKrKbCmnPGrl2qrgsZ-Gow!2e0!7i13312!8i6656

View is looking east from SW Carolina just east of SW Macadam. Directly past the tracks and parallel to them is the Willamette Greenway trail, which is also SW Beaver St. A driver stopping at the stop sign has limited visibility left and right of approaching rail traffic, and also of trail traffic–perhaps worse than the crossings in the article. Therefore, the driver may need to pull forward onto the tracks before having good visibility. There are no stop signs for trail users. There’s not much traffic here, but on the other hand I’ve never heard of any concerns about this crossing, and never seen a car “stuck” on the tracks waiting for trail traffic to pass, in my several hundred trips on this trail. The Willamette Shore Trolley makes several runs per day in the summer on these tracks, and the trail gets at least hundreds of users daily in nice weather.

In fact, it’s worse than the article’s crossing in a way, because given that the trail is also a street, there is car traffic as well as trail traffic that could “strand” a driver on the tracks until it clears out of the way of the driver coming from SW Carolina. The vehicle traffic regularly includes trucks with boat trailers.

Charley
Guest
Charley

The logic of this explanation leaves me befuddled. Wouldn’t it suffice to merely place stop signs on the street sides of each intersection? Put the stop sign before the railroad tracks: auto drivers would still have to yield to pedestrians on the path, still have to yield to cyclists who’d reached the intersection before the driver, and would hopefully still yield to the train. Two way stop instead of unnecessary four way stop! Problem solved!

El Biciclero
Guest
El Biciclero

Heh. I think this is the same logic used to create a two-way stop here at Rose Biggi and Millikan Way. The more heavily-traveled Millikan has STOP signs, while the lightly-used Rose Biggi does not. I believe this is because we don’t want cars getting backed up and feeling somehow compelled to stop on the MAX tracks.

But then we have this intersection at T.V. Highway and 185th… Those freight tracks are used all the time.

GlowBoy
Guest
GlowBoy

I remember when they flipped the stop signs at Millikan/Biggi. IIRC it was sometime between 10 and 15 years ago. For several years there was constant confusion as traffic on Biggi stopped unnecessarily, and occasionally when someone on Millikan would run the new stop signs.

And to this day, I still occasionally still see cars on Millikan stop when they don’t need to, assuming they have a stop sign when they don’t.

q
Guest
q

Those are good examples.

Plus, the TV Highway situation seems more dangerous than the Springwater. A driver may proceed onto the tracks, assuming incorrectly (happens constantly) that traffic ahead is going to keep moving. Instead, it stops. Meanwhile the gate that is now behind them lowers, and/or cars pile up behind them, trapping them from moving either forward or backward to escape the tracks.

In comparison, a driver who proceeds onto the Springwater tracks because he or she didn’t look both directions before proceeding, and has to stop for a trail user, can leave the tracks as soon as the trail user is out of the way. And no trail user is going to force a car to wait while a train is heading at them. Worst case, the car can back up off the tracks.

And of course if a train is coming, the driver isn’t very likely to drive onto the tracks in the first place on Springwater.

Steve
Guest
Steve

Southbound MVs on NE 138th stop on the tracks regularly at Sandy, especially those waiting in the right turn lane. https://www.google.com/maps/@45.5546151,-122.5227783,127a,35y,103.14h,45t/data=!3m1!1e3
My point is that you can’t count on drivers to not stop on tracks. But I agree with the comments that creating a four-way stop for MVs, pedestrians and cyclists is not the best solution for the Springwater crossings.