10 weeks after fatal collision, ODOT installs new pedestrian signals along Powell Blvd

View northbound on SE 26th at Powell Blvd. Note how the crosswalk signal is green while the other lanes have a red. (Photo: Taylor Griggs/BikePortland)

The Oregon Department of Transportation has installed leading pedestrian intervals on five crossings of Southeast Powell Blvd (Hwy 26). Known as LPIs, the signal technology flashes a green “Walk” signal for people using the crosswalk several seconds before other road users are allowed to proceed. They are a proven method to significantly reduce right-hook and other turning-related collisions.

For Sarah Pliner, this attempt to improve safety on the SE 26th Avenue crossing comes about 10 weeks too late. It was Pliner’s death on October 4th that focused ODOT’s attention on these crossings, which now join numerous other safety updates and design changes citywide — pavement markings, signage, and median islands — that were installed only after someone was killed by a driver.

In a statement Friday ODOT said LPIs are now operational on crossings at 21st, 26th, 33rd, and between 42nd and 43rd. They called it, “an important new milestone to implement safety improvements… near Cleveland High School.”

Taylor Griggs visited the site earlier today to take a closer look. She reported that the LPI only activates when a button is pushed (some of them have an always-on default) and that it does not trigger for bicycle users unless the rider rolls up to the sidewalk to push the button (and no, you are not allowed to go early if you are in the adjacent lane).

For crosswalk users, the “Walk” signal stays green for six seconds prior to the 20-second countdown timer. That’s within the range of best practice according to the National Association of City Transportation Officials (NACTO) Design Guide, although they also say, “Intervals of up to 10 seconds may be appropriate where pedestrian volumes are high or the crossing distance is long.” NACTO also recommends curb extensions at high volume, high conflict corners like this one.

We don’t yet know for sure if this head start into the crosswalk would have saved the life of Sarah Pliner, but any increase of priority for non-drivers crossing Powell is a step in the right direction.

The Portland Bureau of Transportation has several LPIs currently in use. The first one in the city was installed on NE Broadway at Victoria in 2012.

The new LPIs at these four crossings on Powell Blvd are part of a raft of changes from ODOT and PBOT as a direct result of Pliner’s death. They’ve already established a school zone around Cleveland High and have erected new “Turning Vehicles Stop for Pedestrians and Bicycles” signs on 26th northbound and southbound. Still to come in 2023 are speed limit “feedback signs” (that flash drivers’ speeds), photo radar enforcement (“may take a year or more because of equipment availability” says ODOT), and a study to see if a lane reconfiguration on Powell is possible.

Track ODOT’s progress on these and other changes on this section of Powell on their website.

Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor)

Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor)

Founder of BikePortland (in 2005). Father of three. North Portlander. Basketball lover. Car owner and driver. If you have questions or feedback about this site or my work, feel free to contact me at @jonathan_maus on Twitter, via email at maus.jonathan@gmail.com, or phone/text at 503-706-8804. Also, if you read and appreciate this site, please become a supporter.

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mark
mark
1 year ago

Were the results of the investigation into the death of Sarah Pliner ever announced? I don’t recall ever seeing a definitive description of how the collision occurred, only speculation. Were any citations issued to the driver of the truck?

It would be useful to know exactly what happened, in order to judge whether these changes might be sufficient to prevent future incidents.

Shonn Preston
Shonn Preston
1 year ago

Not to muddy the waters but…if I remember my oregon road rules correctly – what makes right turn conflicts so messy “legally” is that the ordinance for “right of way” at intersections for cyclists has a weird exclusionary phrasing along the lines of – (and I’m paraphrasing here) – “cyclists must wait for all RIGHT turning vehicles before proceeding through the intersection.” Left turn scenarios give the cyclist the right of way.

And it always bugged me. Especially when the big green boxes started making the “rule” just mentioned even more iffy if not irrelevant. Most cyclists don’t know that rule exists. So I assume most drivers don’t as well? So it’s really a wash whether a driver or cyclist know or abide by the rule when it counts most.

And I didn’t mention all this in the immediate aftermath because it reeks of victim blaming. But that’s honestly not what this is. I don’t like the rule the way it’s written. It needs to be changed.

mark
mark
1 year ago
Reply to  Shonn Preston

I thought that if there is a bike lane present, right turning traffic must yield to through bike traffic. What you’re describing sounds like what might be the case if there is no bike lane, and a person on a bike is riding in the same lane, and to the right of turning traffic.

soren
soren
1 year ago
Reply to  mark

This only applies to bike lanes. Due to PBOT’s cowardice and ODOT’s malice, the stripes on 26th delineated a ridiculously skinny shoulder, not a bike lane.

mark
mark
1 year ago
Reply to  soren

So, it looks like a bike lane, but it isn’t? That’s incredibly dangerous. It would seem like there would be some liability for whichever jurisdiction striped those lines.

David Hampsten
1 year ago

Record time!

Not the usual 12 years for NEPA and the environmental impact statement followed by three years of value engineering and design, and one week of installation.

Shanika Gomez
Shanika Gomez
1 year ago

How about some actual police traffic enforcement? That could happen tomorrow if we had an adequately staffed police department.

CasualCarlPDX
1 year ago
Reply to  Shanika Gomez

How about traffic safety division rather than ‘Police’. We don’t need guns to issue a traffic citation. So many of the jobs ‘Police’ do could be done by people without guns.