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Step by step, streets in Hillsdale have become safer

Posted by on February 23rd, 2021 at 3:47 pm

Looking west on Beaverton-Hillsdale Hwy early the Sunday morning after Christmas–no cars! The new bicycle and pedestrian lanes, with raised curb protection, are part of the B-H Hwy safety demonstration project. Speed safety cameras in distance. (Photo: Lisa Caballero/Bike Portland)

Traffic safety-related changes near the Hillsdale town center have reached a critical mass; this corridor feels calmer than it used to, and the numbers support the perception.

With its crash reduction numbers and positive safety trends, Hillsdale and PBOT make a case for the effectiveness of persistent incrementalism.

The Portland Bureau of Transportation (PBOT) has been gradually making changes in the area over the past several years, but it is easy for gradual change to go unnoticed, particularly when it’s incremental improvement—no fanfare, no ribbon-cutting, just a steady build-up of small fixes. So I thought I would sing the song of incrementalism, as it has played out near Hillsdale.

First came the speed cameras, located on the 3600 block of Beaverton-Hillsdale Highway. These were Portland’s very first fixed speed safety cameras and they were installed in August 2016 as part of an eight-camera pilot program. The results were immediate and profound. The percentage of Hillsdale-bound drivers exceeding the 40 mph speed limit decreased from 77% to 30%. But even more dramatic was the drop in drivers traveling over 50 mph; it fell by 93%, from 7.7% to 0.5%.

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At a recent Southwest Neighborhoods Inc Transportation Committee meeting, Clay Veka, PBOT’s manager of High Crash Corridor safety programs, noted caveats about interpreting the effect of the speed safety cameras. First, PBOT hasn’t quantified at what distance from a camera speed reductions begin to fade, in other words, how far away from the camera does a driver start to speed up, and when do they regain their original fast speed, if ever?

Pedestrian refuge island near SW 35th Ave. (Photo: Lisa Caballero/Bike Portland)

Pedestrian refuge island near SW 35th Ave. (Photo: Lisa Caballero/Bike Portland)

She also pointed out that PBOT twice narrowed Beaverton-Hillsdale travel lanes in the years before and after the camera installation. These narrower travel lanes might also contribute to traffic calming and could be confounding the safety effect of the camera, “I’m not sure how to parse out the effects,” Veka said.

Those points are well-taken and would particularly apply to crash data. But over the years PBOT has also regularly taken speed readings from a pneumatic tube they locate about 450-feet east of the eastbound camera. It is notable that one-and-a-half football fields past the camera slower driving speeds persist. In fact, I calculated the impressive speed reductions cited above from that same distant tube.

The second of the lane width reductions Veka referred to came in 2019, when PBOT launched its Beaverton-Hillsdale Highway Safety Demonstration Project between 39th Ave and Dosch/30th Ave. The Demonstration Project included further widening the 2013 buffered bike lane to include a pedestrian track and raised curb protection with candles (top photo). As part of the same project, PBOT installed a pedestrian refuge island with a flashing beacon near SW 35th Ave, and new ADA ramps.

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The project wrapped up just a few months ago with the curb extension at SW Dosch Rd, and the removal of Dosch’s right-turn lane onto Beaverton-Hillsdale Highway. The speed limit has also been lowered to 35 mph from 40.

Looking south from SW Dosch Rd at Beaverton-Hillsdale Hwy. The curb extension blocks what was a right-turn lane.

Looking south from SW Dosch Rd at Beaverton-Hillsdale Hwy. The curb extension blocks what was a right-turn lane. (Photo: Lisa Caballero/Bike Portland)

Excuse the pun, but some of this is pretty pedestrian stuff, boring even. These needs have been identified by many PBOT plans through the years, like the PedPDX and Southwest in Motion processes, and the High Crash Corridor Safety Plan, among others.

And yet, after this interminable planning, PBOT does seem to have arrived at safety. Last month, they reported a 30% reduction in crashes resulting in serious injury or death since the installation of the speed cameras. 30% is a big deal.

There have also been other changes in the area, with more to come, like the Red Electric bridge and possibly a Rose Lane. But my favorite improvement is the left-turn calming noses at the intersection of SW Sunset Blvd and Capitol Highway. The noses are part of the 2019 Left-turn Calming Pilot Project under Vision Zero.

The left-turn calming nose forces drivers to begin their turn in the intersection box. (Photo: Lisa Caballero/Bike Portland)

The left-turn calming nose forces drivers to begin their turn in the intersection box.  Looking north at the intersection of Beaverton-Hillsdale Hwy and SW Sunset Blvd. (Photo: Lisa Caballero/Bike Portland)

The idea behind the noses is that they protect people in crosswalks by nudging left-turning drivers into making a safer crosswalk approach. No longer able to easily cut the corner, drivers are forced to both slow down and meet the crosswalk straight-on, which makes it easier for the driver to see a person walking. The program successfully met its evaluation criteria and PBOT announced in January that they haven’t had any pedestrian deaths at the pilot intersections.

While I was studying the noses, Joe Minato joined me. Minato is a science teacher at Ida B. Wells High School (formerly Wilson High) and he usually commutes to work by bus or bicycle. He told me he “was thrilled” when he saw the noses and called them “an elegant and inexpensive solution,” adding that “as a citizen and a taxpayer” he appreciated their effective and low-cost design. Later I learned that the left-turn calming project was paid for by our recreational cannabis tax; I’m 100% certain that no Minato tax monies contributed to that program.

The Hillsdale area seems to have benefited from the synergy between a number of PBOT initiatives with various funding streams. It is not possible years later to tease apart their effects and assign safety credits, nor can PBOT afford a well-controlled study of every incremental improvement it makes. But with its crash reduction numbers and positive safety trends, Hillsdale and PBOT make a case for the effectiveness of persistent incrementalism.

— Lisa Caballero, lisacaballero853@gmail.com
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eawriste
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eawriste

To be clear the separated cycletrack spans from Dosch (30th) to 39th? Why did they put it on the North side of the road if it is to tie into the Red Elec Trail?

 
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Beaverton-Hillsdale is the prototypical road for a two-way cycletrack: a relatively small number of cross streets, a long-ish corridor where many people are going straight through from one end to the other, and relatively flat. Glad to see this. I’m strongly of the belief that a large number of relatively low-cost projects like this, rather than a smaller number of higher-cost solutions such as permanent Better Naito, will have a more measurable impact on our bike-friendliness as a city.

That being said, although these changes are great to see, there’s still a long way to go in southwest. In particular, safe north-south connections north of Beaverton-Hillsdale are completely nonexistent from Terwilliger all the way to 78th. That’s a LONG way without any safe routes! I don’t feel comfortable under the current conditions biking on Dosch or Shattuck. Geography certainly constrains the existence of such routes, but I wonder if there’s any way that bike/pedestrian infrastructure could be added to either. If it’s possible, I think they should be high priorities within PBOT. Even if these aren’t feasible, a small number of short low-cost neighborhood greenways could really help improve connectivity, such as 45th between Hamilton and Beaverton-Hillsdale.

Scholls Ferry between Beaverton-Hillsdale and Highway 26 is low-hanging fruit. The road currently has one southbound and two northbound lanes. The road certainly works for drivers southbound without any major delays (apart from the Six Corners intersection which is its own can of worms), and it’s not a major trucking route. Converting a northbound lane into a two-way cycletrack would really help solve connectivity issues in the area too. As far as I can tell, the road is split between MultCo and WashCo jurisdiction so it would require some cooperation between the two, but I’ve been very encouraged by WashCo in particular lately and I hope they pursue something there.

David Hampsten
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David Hampsten

I find it ironic that PBOT criticized ODOT for years about its pedestrian lanes on outer Powell (now being replaced with real sidewalks), and now PBOT is doing exactly the same thing on BH.

John D.
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John D.

Thanks for the great coverage Lisa.

I know that this is farther out, but it’s SW adjacent. There’s a project underway in Beaverton to connect the gaps in the Fanno Creek trail between Scholls Ferry Rd and 92nd along Allen. More info https://storymaps.arcgis.com/stories/f5324d2210834171a7f3b9447e78c3c5

GlowBoy
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GlowBoy

Good changes. Too bad all the progress on BHH has been in the city of Portland. As soon as you get to the WashCo border and the devilish Five Corners area you’re in trouble.

Also, eastbound, just a block or two before Portland’s buffered bike lanes appear, is the narrowest bike lane I’ve heard of anywhere on the Planet: right in front of KeyBank. Insultingly, when they redeveloped the site, rebuilt the sidewalk and repaved in front of Key 7-8 years ago, they kept the bike lane at its ridiculous something-like-21″ inch width.

I hope we can eventually engage WashCo, Beaverton and ODOT (this is a state highway) to improve the Beaverton section of BHH. It’s by far the fastest and flattest way between Portland and Beaverton. Would be nice if it were safe to bike it the whole way.