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Nifty new bike signal added to Broadway/Williams intersection

Posted by on August 7th, 2020 at 12:00 pm

On the left, a bike signal in Amsterdam. On the right, a bike signal in Portland.
(Photos: Jonathan Maus/BikePortland)

The infamous Broadway and Williams intersection has a new signal. I say infamous because this location has a long and sordid history of right-hooks and interventions by the City of Portland to try and stop them. The latest change is aimed at helping bicycle users comply with the traffic signals.

The Portland Bureau of Transportation has installed a new “near side” (meaning it’s close to where you wait) signal with a sensor that triggers a countdown timer. The signal is part of a statewide research project to figure out what type of bike signals will work best. In a Tweet last week, PBOT said this new signal is the first first “Dutch-style countdown signal in the United States” (but it appears to be similar in function and provenance to the bike signal at N Interstate and Oregon).

Portlander Gerben Gerritsen is happy to see the new signal. He remembers them fondly from his hometown of Utrecht, a city in the Netherlands and one of the most bike-friendly places in the world. “It’s a life changer. I’m glad they’re coming to Portland,” he shared with us. “You know how long you’ll have to wait. That way you know if you have time to take off your gloves, check your backpack, phone etc. No mid-process scramble when you’re taking off your jacket.”

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The new signal, which came to Portland directly from the Netherlands, is triggered by a sensor in the bike lane about 30 feet before the intersection. When you roll over it, the bright lights on the countdown circle go on immediately. This feedback is key. According to researchers behind the project, these “bicycle feedback confirmation devices” are meant to, “better communicate presence detection and delay to people on bicycles.” The thinking is when bicycle users know a signal is aware of their presence, they’re more likely to wait and comply with it. Another feedback device being used in Portland is a bright blue light that turns on when you approach an intersection.

This research is important because bicycle signals do not currently have full federal approval. Since 2013 the Federal Highway Administration has only granted bicycle signals “interim approval” status which limits their implementation. PBOT engineers hope data they collect can inform research that persuades the FHWA to grant full approval.

The detection system with this signal is more advanced than others because it doesn’t require you to place your bike in a specific spot while waiting. Educating bicycle riders on how to trigger green lights has been a challenge for PBOT. A 2013 study revealed that about half of riders have no idea how to do it.

Portland currently has about 30 bike-only signals citywide. The first one was installed in 2004 at Interstate and NE Oregon near Peace Park.

— Jonathan Maus: (503) 706-8804, @jonathan_maus on Twitter and jonathan@bikeportland.org
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NOTE: We love your comments and work hard to ensure they are welcoming of all perspectives. Disagreements are encouraged, but only if done with tact and respect. BikePortland is an inclusive company with no tolerance for discrimination or harassment including expressions of racism, sexism, homophobia, or xenophobia. If you see a mean or inappropriate comment, please contact us and we'll take a look at it right away. Also, if you comment frequently, please consider holding your thoughts so that others can step forward. Thank you — Jonathan

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Johnny Bye Carter
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Johnny Bye Carter

You know how long you’ll have to wait.

How long will you have to wait? Is each of those LEDs a 1 second count? It seems more that we don’t know how long we have to wait but at least there’s something counting down until you get to go.

This will also cause some riders to go against the signal because they know they have to wait longer than they want to.

They really need to have a countdown number, like the useless crosswalk countdown timers.

Momo
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Momo

We’ve had one of these for years at the diagonal crossing in the Rose Quarter, though it’s sometimes hard to see across the intersection. That one is an actual signal from the Netherlands which originally said “WACHT” (meaning wait) but with some handy black tape to cover up the C and part of the H, it now says WAIT. Because of the variability in cycle length there, the countdown dots sometimes count down in big chunks, so it’s not the ideal location for it. Hopefully this new American take on the Dutch signal at Broadway & Williams will be more consistent of a countdown. It does seem like the cycle length is more predictable there.

I personally love this style of signal. It really helps psychologically to have some sense of how long you might have to wait at a traffic signal.

Thomas
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Thomas

Hey Jonathan, very cool pics! But how about some video of it in action? Trigger it and then let it step through its process so we can see see the full show! Thanks.

todd/boulanger
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todd/boulanger

Thanks Portland (PBoT) for pushing ahead on these incremental innovations. I remember fondly our 2006 city study tour to the Netherlands (with Mayor Adams and BTA) to investigates these very common safety tools for bikes.

But I am so ‘pissed’ that the FHA / FHWA is taking decades to move forward on these well used and documented (outside of US) tools and treatments. Sadly if it is an international best practice developed elsewhere then its is as if it cannot be easily transferred to the US. It seems FHA/ FHWA will move heaven and earth for new autonomous vehicle tools / practices and anything for motorized vehicles but ped and bike treatments have to ‘go slow’.

Mike
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Mike

The cyclists at this intersection aren’t the problem! The No Turn on Red sign should be much larger and illuminated. I’ve had to yell at a number of cars from not turning on red. The turn lane closest to the bike lane is the worse! Not sure if larger or brighter signs will do the trick but it would help.

PATRICK
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PATRICK

I’d like to see more photos of what the other two lights on the signal look like.

Eawriste
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Eawriste

Remove a lane of traffic for a protected bike lane on Broadway/Weidler so we can use this.

FDUP
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FDUP

Yawn; I know the Dutchophiles will salivate over this, but we need so much more than this, and the new path on Greeley doesn’t really cut it either from what I’ve read.

Jason
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Jason

The infamous Broadway and Williams intersection has a new signal. I say infamous because this location has a long and sordid history of right-hooks …

And

The signal is part of a statewide research project to figure out what type of bike signals will work best.

Got me feeling like they don’t understand the real problem.

Better bike signals don’t solve right hooks. Completely unrelated.

Also,

Educating bicycle riders on how to trigger green lights has been a challenge for PBOT.

It doesn’t help that when I follow “the directions” and bisect the sensor circle with my steel bike, the sensors don’t react differently at different intersections. :\

Of course, at the end of the day, it’s nice to have bicycle infrastructure built out. Even if it is “flavor of the month” and remains unique across the whole city. Young cities have to experiment.

Richard Herbin
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Richard Herbin

At this intersection, light traffic generally makes it easy for me to use the right hand through traffic lane (second lane from the left), bypassing the DEADLY right hook trap in the narrow, incorrectly located bike lane. Squeezing through that is just asking for trouble. The nifty new signal is lipstick on a pig, for those who seek a false sense of safety by adhering to the sidewalk riding mentality.