Posted by Lisa Caballero (Southwest Correspondent) on September 27th, 2021 at 11:30 am
The Portland Bureau of Transportation (PBOT) is making bold changes to the intersection of SW Bertha Blvd and Beaverton-Hillsdale Highway in an attempt to finally bring clarity to this tricky location. The area has seen many crashes over the years, and also a couple of modest attempts to improve its safety. But it remained a clunky, high-stress location for people on bicycles, and also for some drivers.
With a liberal dollop of white paint, and a re-configuration of the green—and with the forthcoming addition of bicycle “detection and advanced activated warning lights”—PBOT seeks to significantly improve the safety and comfort of bicycle riders going eastbound on Beaverton-Hillsdale Highway.
The unsignalized intersection is difficult for both riders and drivers because of topography. A driver heading uphill on Bertha approaches the left turn onto Beaverton-Hillsdale Hwy like a pilot making an instrument landing—you can’t see your target until you commit to reaching it. The photo at right shows an SUV waiting on Bertha below the Beaverton-Hillsdale Hwy grade. At that distance and incline a driver in a sedan would not be able to see the dedicated lane into which they are turning. That poor sight line causes some drivers inexperienced with the intersection to wait unnecessarily for both directions of Beaverton-Hillsdale Hwy to clear before executing their turn. This leads to a lot of horn-honking from the line of cars in back of them. Even for those familiar with the set-up, it’s not an easy maneuver.
Amid this stress, it unfortunately does not occur to some drivers to look for a cyclist to their left. This is what happened in a 2012 bicycle/car crash reported by BikePortland. (Take a peek at this ten-year-old article for a blast to the past, it mentions the Red Electric Trail as a low-stress alternative route and that “last we heard, funding and construction of the project are to start this year.”)
For eastbound bike riders, this intersection is a gauntlet toward the end of a long climb. As you can see in the “before” photo above, riders and right-turning drivers shared an extended conflict zone.
The new design installed just last Friday shortens the conflict zone by adding a large white chevroned buffer which serves to “rationalize” the right turn onto Bertha.
By the next day, the roadblocks and cones were gone, and the intersection was open for use. Apparently the new configuration will take some getting used to for a few drivers. The driver in the photo above decided their sweet spot was on top of the buffer, with the right turn lane to their left. Subsequent drivers played follow-the-leader with this driver’s errant right-turn path. Fortunately, most drivers had no problem interpreting the markings.
I don’t know if plastic wands or curbs will be installed at a later date, and the “Bike crossing: SW Beaverton-Hillsdale & Bertha Blvd project” does not have a published plan on the Southwest in Motion Crossing Enhancements website. If buffer-driving continues to be a problem, PBOT should consider beefing-up the buffer with a curb.
This new design looks a lot safer, and a sensor and warning lights should make it even better. Do you commute along Beaverton-Hillsdale Hwy? Have you ridden this? What’s your first take?
— Lisa Caballero, firstname.lastname@example.org
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Lisa Caballero has lived in SW Portland for 20 years. She is on the Transportation Committee of her neighborhood association, the Southwest Hills Residential League (SWHRL) and can be reached at email@example.com.