(Photos and video by Jonathan Maus/BikePortland)
Roundabouts (a.k.a. traffic circles) as traffic-calming tools in residential neighborhoods are relatively common in Portland. You might have seen them in the Ladd’s Addition neighborhood or on Northeast Tillamook or Northwest Raleigh streets, just to name a few. Our transportation bureau has even built bicycle-specific roundabouts on NE 21st and SE Milwaukie.
The latest additions are three new roundabouts on NE 108th Avenue that showed up late last year as the 100s Neighborhood Greenway project. That greenway is part of PBOT’s $11 million East Portland Access to Employment and Education project which broke ground in December 2020 and is a suite of five separate projects that aim to make it easier and safer to bike and walk through neighborhoods east of I-205 between I-84 and Powell Blvd.
Over the weekend I took a closer look at the new roundabout at NE 108th and Oregon and the new “double mini roundabout” at 108th and Everett (that we last reported on back in March 2021). What I learned is that results so far have been mixed.
Between Burnside and the protected Halsey-Weidler bike lane couplet, the 100s Neighborhood Greenway uses 108th. At Oregon and Everett there’s a three-pronged diagonal and an off-set intersection respectively. To better manage automobile traffic through these intersections, PBOT has removed stop signs and added concrete roundabouts.
At Oregon St (above) the curve in 108th creates an intersection that is about 70 feet at its widest point. That’s very wide for a residential area where streets that lead into the intersection are just 25 feet wide. As you can see, the roundabout takes up the vast majority of the space and leaves just a narrow lane for drivers. The concrete has a very low profile and the curbs are barely curbs at all, which means it’s easy to drive up onto the roundabout. Most people seemed to have no trouble driving around this one and it appears to be working well. (Despite this, one homeowner yelled at me from her porch that the roundabout was “an intrusion that no one wanted” and that she has trouble seeing it at night.)
The double mini roundabout at Everett is an entirely different story.
As you can see in the video, most people don’t obey the roundabout rules — and it’s hard to blame some of them. The off-set nature of the street and the size of the concrete circles leaves very little room to navigate a car around. If you’re in a big truck or a bus, it’s impossible to obey the rules. Making matters worse at Everett are the unpaved shoulders, which many people end up driving on just to make the turns.
Another big issue I came across on Everett is how the roundabouts impact the safety of people not in cars. Because the remaining paved street space is so minimal, drivers and walkers are now more likely to share the same lane. This leads to stressful and potentially dangerous interactions. Combine this with the completely unpredictable behavior of drivers as plow right over the medians and the lack of sidewalks, and you have problems.
A quick-and-easy possible fix would be to pave a bit more of the right-of-way to give folks on foot and behind the wheel as much room as possible to squeeze by.
On the bright side, both these installations appear to slow down drivers. Once PBOT finishes other elements of this project, like a new signal and crossing enhancement on nearby Glisan, biking will really improve in this area.
Speaking of PBOT, I asked them if these roundabout projects were complete. Interim Director of Communications and Public Involvement Hannah Schafer said there’s still some work ahead, “including some centerline hardening that will make it more difficult for people to go around the wrong way”. But that work won’t happen until later this spring because the contractor is on hiatus for the winter.
We’ll keep watching these intersections to see how or if they change in the coming months.
Have you used either of these? What do you think?