Making good on a promise made back in April, the Portland Bureau of Transportation has installed new plastic wands, signage, and striping at the intersection of North Michigan Avenue and Skidmore.
The project aims to reduce the amount of people who drive on Michigan, a neighborhood greenway that’s supposed to be a low-stress, family-friendly street where bikers and walkers have priority. As we reported three months ago, PBOT has concerns about the high volume of people driving on Michigan. And at Skidmore specifically, the rate of crashes also raised a red flag.
The new diverters prevent car users from crossing Skidmore on Michigan. As we’ve seen all over the network, PBOT wants people to drive on larger arterials and neighborhood collector streets (in this case Albina or Interstate/I-5) and stay off of neighborhood greenways unless it’s their final destination.
This project is relatively simple: 10 plastic wands, “No Turn Except Bicycles” signs, and some clever pavement striping force people to turn right off of Michigan. At least that’s the intention.
— Steve ⛱ (@Intersection911) July 9, 2019
Unfortunately, the design isn’t robust enough to deter some selfish, scofflaw drivers (as seen in the tweet above). During my 10 minutes at the intersection yesterday I saw three drivers ignore the diverters and illegally continue straight through the intersection. I saw far many others obey the signs and do the right thing. Hopefully compliance improves as time goes on. If not, PBOT will need to come back and tweak the design.
“I think PBOT should be presenting that as a choice: ‘Do you want to see traffic impacted? Or do you want to see parking removed and put in bike lanes?'”
— Reza Farhoodi, Bicycle Advisory Committee member
At the City of Portland’s Bicycle Advisory Committee meeting last night, PBOT Neighborhood Greenway Coordinator Scott Cohen asked committee members what they’d like to see on greenways. “Diversion by default” — that is, installing diverters as standard practice, without asking permission and/or without waiting for complaints or conditions to worsen — was the top response.
Diverters have broad support among safe streets advocates. But for PBOT, the mere mention of the term often sends shivers up project managers’ spines. The agency fears backlash from people who think diverters make driving inconvenient and will only lead to more drivers on adjacent streets.
In 2011, PBOT wanted to install a diverter a few blocks north of Skidmore at Michigan and Rosa Parks. But because a few local residents objected, the project — and its benefits to public health and safety — was delayed for over a year.
Thankfully, PBOT has made great strides to overcome their diversion aversion in recent years.
At the BAC meeting last night, Cohen seemed supportive of calls for “diversion by default,” but he was clearly not ready to adopt such a policy. To do that, he said PBOT would need stronger political footing. Some sort of greenway action plan with diversion by default included as an action item would need to be adopted by City Council in order to give PBOT more authority.
Committee member Reza Farhoodi suggested to Cohen that PBOT might find more support for diverters if they told people who oppose it that the other option is a dedicated bike lane. “I think PBOT should be presenting that as a choice: ‘Do you want to see traffic impacted? Or do you want to see parking removed and put in bike lanes?'”
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