First Look: Diverter at NE Fremont and Alameda

Looking east on NE Fremont at Alameda. (Photos/video: Jonathan Maus/BikePortland)

A few weeks ago, the long, sordid tale of the traffic diverter on NE Fremont and Alameda came to an end (or at least a new chapter began) when the Portland Bureau of Transportation was finally able to get it in the ground.

With installation of plastic curbs and (all too) flexible posts, along with new signage, the new diverter and crossing treatment now (mostly) prevents drivers from using Alameda as much as they used to. This is important because Alameda (and NE 37th to the north) is a vital, north-south neighborhood greenway where bicycle users are supposed to feel safe and welcome. The diverter (in theory at least) prevents drivers from crossing Fremont on Alameda and prevents them from turning left from either street. One of the main goals of the project was to reduce car user volumes on Alameda, but other positive impacts of the new treatment are likely to be slower driving speeds and more courteous car use in general.

I spent about 30 minutes at the location this morning observing traffic. What I noticed was a very busy intersection with a lot of walkers, runners and bikers — not to mention a relatively high volume of car users on Fremont. In the time I was there, only one person rammed over the plastic curbs and wands — the driver of a large truck going south on Alameda selfishly tore through the intersection and I was startled by the loud “boom” of the wand hitting the truck’s grill.

(Check out the full photo gallery and watch the video below.)

Besides that one jerk, compliance by drivers when walker or bikers were present was really good. These installations create a perception that the road is narrower and that drivers need to reduce their speed and use caution at the intersection.

I also saw the Alameda Elementary School bike bus come through. This project has had a major benefit for the 100 or so students and volunteers who follow Sam Balto on this weekly trip to school. Balto advocated strongly for the diverter at neighborhood meetings and is now singing its praises (see recent tweet below):

PBOT deserves praise here not only for the project and its design, but for trudging deftly through a thorny bit of pushback from some people in the neighborhood who didn’t want the diverter installed. Back in March, the board of the Beaumont-Wilshire Neighborhood Association actually voted 7-4 in opposition to it with concerns about diversion of traffic to other streets, a reduction in convenience while driving, and various other reasons.

That vote forced PBOT to spend several months trying to hammer out a different solution that would address those concerns yet still have the desired safety goals. But in the end PBOT decided the full diverter was the right choice all along.

From what I saw this morning, PBOT made the right decision. Hopefully those neighbors come around eventually.

Have you driven or ridden this yet? What do you think so far? Don’t miss my little video below (and please subscribe to our YouTube channel so we can reach 1,000 subs!).

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Boyrd
Boyrd
24 days ago

It is a strange fate that we should suffer so much fear and doubt over so small a thing. Such a little thing.

squareman
squareman
24 days ago
Reply to  Boyrd

I’m sure that’s what the truck driver said as he plowed right over it. If folks like him keep going through here, those wands will be snapped off in no time at all.

Chris I
Chris I
23 days ago
Reply to  squareman

Replace any snapped wands with concrete-anchored steel bollards. This should be standard city policy.

squareman
squareman
21 days ago
Reply to  Chris I

Why not start there? Or a curbed island or jersey barrier?

Jay T.
24 days ago

What is the legal status of a person on a bike crossing on the green and white stripes, or indicating an intention to do so? Does traffic on Fremont have a legal requirement to yield right of way to them (us)?

The relevant online reference I find is from PBoT. It says the Fremont traffic would have RoW. Perhaps the law or local custom has evolved since it was published.

Boyrd
Boyrd
24 days ago
Reply to  Jay T.

The green crossing stripes mean nothing from a legal standpoint. Custom is mixed, and variable by location. Some stop to let people cross on them, some don’t. But the same goes for pedestrian cross walks. Compliance is far from universal, and some people in cars loudly and angrily express disdain when stopping for people on foot.

squareman
squareman
24 days ago
Reply to  Jay T.

There is zero legal meaning to the cross-bikes as they are not defined in the ORS, so there’s absolutely no codification of responsibility around them. And that I’m aware of, none of it has been tested in court yet – but give it time. Traffic on Fremont is only required to yield to people asserting their right of way in the crosswalks as pedestrians (which you can do on a bike, technically). If you’re on a bike, not in a crosswalk or on a sidewalk, you’re a vehicle. You’re traffic at the stop sign.

mark
mark
24 days ago

Looks like there’s already one plastic post missing. I give it about a week before they’re half gone.

John
John
24 days ago

I wish we could just make these diverters at least cause damage to tires of the people who drive over them. Like a speed bump with repercussions. Because it’s not like other situations where you’re punishing some poor person just trying to get to work or something. It is extremely clear that you are not allowed to drive there and you can’t miss it. People driving over them are doing it on purpose and maliciously. And for that matter, the most dangerous drivers (those in big trucks) can do it the easiest. Even just a concrete curb would go some way towards discouraging people like the one you noticed, but I get that one of the benefits of these is they’re cheap and fast to install.

Chris I
Chris I
23 days ago
Reply to  John

Sounds like an easy retrofit, given the plastic base. Possibly even something a concerned citizen could take care of.

mark
mark
23 days ago
Reply to  John

I’ve fantasized about a retractable curb. Something spring loaded, that will only compress with one ton of weight. When the curb is compressed, sharp steel spikes are exposed that make quick work of car and truck tires. It would also send a call to the police, so that they could arrive at the scene and issue an expensive ticket to the driver.

*sigh*

John
John
23 days ago
Reply to  mark

Yeah, it would probably be seen as too hostile. I’m just thinking, any curb or barrier exists to prevent cars from crossing them and the way they do that is they mess up your vehicle if you do. That’s it. That’s how a curb works, that’s what a Jersey barrier is, that’s why planter diverters work. It’s a thing that messes up your car if you cross it. So I don’t think it should be too much to ask to just have something like that here, or come up with something inexpensive like the plastic curb they added which also has a bit more deterrent effect. I just think if you frame it like “this thing has spikes in it”, that’ll raise (more) hackles.

I also want to say, the existing solution they added at this intersection is good, I like it, and you don’t have to stop 100% of drivers to be successful. I think people get hung up on the idea that some drivers will go over the curb, damage the plastic wants, whatever. The point is just to decrease traffic, not remove it completely (although I’d like that too). People will still turn right on that road either way.

mark
mark
23 days ago
Reply to  John

I know, it was just a fantasy.

The curb you’re talking about would need to be at least 8 inches high in order to deter a large truck, and a hard edged curb, even a lower one, would be a potential danger to cyclists at night.

I realize that this diverter is better than nothing, I’m just tired and frustrated with entitled motor vehicle operators who feel like they can run roughshod over our infrastructure with no consequences. It’s actually because of reckless and selfish motorist behavior that these types of diverters are necessary in the first place.

bjorn
bjorn
24 days ago

This seems like a good case for camera based ticketing. Just record the intersection, have a technician watch the video and send tickets to the license plate holders of any vehicle that hits the diverter along with additional fees if the diverter is damaged. Likely would require a state law change but if they want to stop people from violating the diverter either harden it or enforce it.

Toadslick
24 days ago

I sincerely hope that the all-flex-post phase of experimental Portland bike infrastructure soon ends. Even at familiar intersections and at slower than average bicycle speeds, I struggle to understand where I’m being directed.

Besides being confusing, I also think rows of flex-posts are ugly as hell, which is such a shame when cheap diverters such as a row of planters could be a beautiful addition to a street.

Finally, as someone who bikes this route 3x a week, this particular intersection is one of my least favorite parts of my trip. This diverter has not changed that. The volume and speed of traffic on Fremont is too high for a crosswalk to suffice. This should be a signaled intersection.

I get it, we should be happy that anything was done at all. But I’m so weary of that standard. It’s exhausting to feel pressured to celebrate this kind of ugly, minimally-useful infrastructure.

Stephan
Stephan
24 days ago

Thanks for reporting! I drove on Fremont yesterday and was positively surprised by how much these diverters change the feel of the street It does feel narrower, and the diverters also emphasize the intersection. I’m not a big fan of the plastic wand but it is a step in the right direction.

Trebor
Trebor
24 days ago

I cycle this route frequently, and I find this to be a meaningful improvement for me. Now if PBOT could just make the block of Hancock in front of Beverly Cleary School one way westbound . . . .

Jim
Jim
23 days ago

Is this the final version of the intersection build out? I had assumed and hoped that this was temporary trial infrastructure, and more solid barriers would potentially be built.
I cycle though here fairly regularly. In the first week, I watched a truck and later an suv simply be driven through the green-striped cross bikes. No need to hit the plastic car-ticklers. Maybe the situation will settle down as drivers accept the new situation. Or maybe the neighborhood opposition and general bad feeling on the roads will lead to some people (still) just driving wherever they want.
I don’t find the current situation to be much of an improvement. The intersection is very unpredictable, and still full of people operating deadly machinery, who each quite possibly feel that I need to get out of their damn way.

Hotrodder
Hotrodder
23 days ago
Reply to  Jim

I use this intersection, sometimes 10 times a day. I see MANY NS drivers driving on the green crosswalks to get across. I haven’t seen anyone blast through the bollards yet, but since one of those bollards is laying in a parking strip on the south side of Fremont it’s obviously one solution for many drivers who can’t be bothered.

(And it seems like 37th between Bryce and Skidmore has become a little more fraught since the diverter was installed; maybe that’s just a projection on my part. I’m a very confident lane-taker, but I’m noticing an uptick in the tension on the part of some drivers passing me.

EEE
EEE
23 days ago

The biggest improvement isn’t the diverters — it’s the combination with the new dynamic speed radar signs in both directions leading up to the intersection that tell you your speed and flash if you are going over 25. I think one of BWNA’s main concerns (“various other reasons”) was that the bollards wouldn’t do enough to address the real problem: cars ripping down Fremont and associated pedestrian safety at the intersection. So I’m glad PBOT at least listened to that gripe and took the added steps to further address it. But it still seems to me that this whole stretch should be reduced to a 20 mph zone (from 25) given all the crossing foot and bike traffic. Instead, the 20 zone starts around Beaumont middle school and goes all the way to 52nd. So why not have it start a bit earlier by the busy Alameda intersection?

TakeTheLane
TakeTheLane
23 days ago

It seems dangerous to encourage bicycles to take left turns off Fremont at this intersection with no bike box turn lane. I would ignore the no left turn sign on a bike if the intersection were clear.
Personally, I have only descended Fremont (westbound) when I can keep up with traffic and have had no need to turn left onto Alameda. If I had, I would probably turn right and do a U-turn if there were a long line of opposing traffic, and wait to cross Fremont from a more protected position. All it takes is one person in a line of cars not paying attention to rear end a cyclist waiting to turn left. “It is better to be wronged than dead (in the) right.”

maxD
maxD
23 days ago

This is good start but pretty weak solution. Now they need to add crossing support at Alameda/NE 33rd.