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.