Red light for everyone is now default at one Portland intersection

Late night road users will be seeing red when they approach SE 28th on Powell. (Photo: City of Portland)

The City of Portland is testing a new traffic signal technology that makes red lights the default. (Don’t worry, it’s only during late night and early morning hours.)

Last month, the Portland Bureau of Transportation flipped the switch on their first intersection with “rest on red” signal timing. Traffic signals on SE Powell Boulevard at 28th Avenue now display red lights in all directions during late night and early morning hours (10 p.m. to 6 a.m. on weekdays or 7 a.m. on weekends) when no drivers are approaching. Previously, this intersection displayed green lights during late-night hours.

Powell Blvd is a state-owned highway with a long history of crashes and speeding. City data shows it’s Portland’s second deadliest street (behind only Marine Drive). The crossing at 28th is adjacent to Cleveland High School and is a designated crossing for walkers and bicycle riders. In addition to this new signal technology, it has a center median island, a bicycle-only signal, and other elements owing to its important role in the 20s Bikeway route.

Since nearby 26th is infamous for its dangers, many people prefer to cross at 28th. (Photo: Jonathan Maus/BikePortland)

PBOT says the new technology aims to, “slow down drivers on one of Portland’s deadliest streets.”

Here’s how PBOT explains the new signal operations:

When a person driving a vehicle approaches a “rest in red” intersection, the traffic signal may stay red until it detects that the driver reached the intersection. Assuming no cross-traffic is approaching, the traffic signal will turn green to benefit people that are driving within the speed limit.

This change communicates to people driving on Portland’s second deadliest street to slow down as they’re approaching the traffic signal, which will turn green before they come to a complete stop (as long as they’re driving at or below the speed limit).

The “rest on red” pilot was a recommendation from PBOT’s 2023 Vision Zero Action Plan update. If all goes according to plan, PBOT will expand the pilot along SE Powell and other locations. Learn more on the city’s 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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Nick
Nick
1 month ago

Funny, they’ve essentially created a 4 way stop, but wayyyy more expensive

Chris I
Chris I
1 month ago
Reply to  Nick

Not really. A 4 way stop would be an absolute nightmare here from roughly 7am to 10pm. The backups would be insane and would destroy the adjacent neighborhoods with massive amounts of cut-through traffic.

Pockets
Pockets
1 month ago
Reply to  Chris I

So, there’s this neat thing we can do that doesn’t require the removal of the lights or spending on a sensor and programming automation for an experiment. The stoplights could have been set to a 4-way red blink, technology that has existed for decades and then monitored.

Perhaps they did a study and determined that the 4 way stop light setting would just be ignored? They don’t say.

Perhaps the sensors that are now detecting driver speed and travel direction are already installed at high traffic intersections as part of expediting emergency services? Again unknown and not stated.

Perhaps the cost of the sensors and programming allows them to monitor the intersection while running the test for less than or the same cost as monitoring a 4-way stop light at the intersections being tested? I know the better than to validate a measurement with the same tool being measured, but perhaps the system has redundancies to accommodate measurement validation, again this isn’t made clear.

When they are spending money we give them, asking why they are doing things in the way they have chosen is very reasonable and we should avoid taking things at face value and we should avoid assuming that we know what process people will choose to use when attempting to achieve specific results.

Chris I
Chris I
1 month ago
Reply to  Pockets

In my experience, the flashing reds on major streets like this are often ignored. And I suspect drivers would be more likely to ignore them once they learned it was a nightly occurrence, especially knowing that the cross-traffic is minimal to zero on the bike boulevard (hard median for cars).
Keeping this as a flashing red all night would be a huge risk to cyclists and pedestrians crossing here.

Wooster
Wooster
1 month ago
Reply to  Chris I

Exactly. A flashing red (basically an all-way stop) will be quickly ignored when there’s so little cross-traffic, with people just rolling on through. Whereas a solid red light is a strong incentive to actually stop, since drivers don’t know whether traffic in the other direction will be stopping or not.

Wooster
Wooster
1 month ago
Reply to  Nick

It’s not remotely like a 4-way stop, give me a break. Once it gets activated by whichever direction is detected, it will go back to normal signal operations until traffic disappears, then it will revert to all-red.

Also, this signal already exists, so it’s not expensive at all! This is literally people pushing buttons in a computer.

idlebytes
idlebytes
1 month ago

now display red lights in all directions during late night and early morning hours (10 p.m. to 6 a.m. on weekdays or 7 a.m. on weekends)

As someone who briefly rides on 82nd every morning around 6am they really should extend this time to 6:30 or 7 am on weekdays. People fly down the street because of the total lack of traffic.

From their website apparently they already had another rest in red. I hadn’t heard of this when the bridge was originally opened.

NE Seventh Avenue and Lloyd Boulevard: “Rest in red” traffic signals are already in place at the northern end of the Congressman Earl Blumenauer Bicycle and Pedestrian Bridge to allow for efficient traffic flow.

Surly Ogre
Joe Bicycles
1 month ago
Reply to  idlebytes

yes, this is already in operation at NE 7th & Lloyd Blvd.
AND more are on the way !!!

NE 7th Avenue and Lloyd Boulevard: “Rest in red” traffic signals are already in place at the northern end of the Congressman Earl Blumenauer Bicycle and Pedestrian Bridge to allow for efficient traffic flow.

SE Powell Boulevard: PBOT plans to install, test, and evaluate “rest in red” traffic signals along SE Powell Boulevard—one of Portland’s highest crash streets with a history of speed-related crashes. In coordination with the Oregon Department of Transportation, which is responsible for SE Powell Boulevard (US-26), PBOT will upgrade signals from 21st to 33rd avenues near Powell Park, Cleveland High School, and the Cleveland High School track and sports field. These upgrades are slated for summer 2024.

82nd Avenue: PBOT will upgrade existing signals and install new ones along 82nd Avenue in 2025 to implement “rest in red” traffic safety technology without needing to identify additional funding.

https://www.portland.gov/transportation/vision-zero/rest-red

SilkySlim
SilkySlim
1 month ago

I like this idea! I’ve lived just a bit below Powell for ten years, and summer nights w/ windows open meant listening to drag racing all night. A red light right smack in the middle of that drag strip might just do the trick.

Jay Cee
Jay Cee
1 month ago

But who will enforce it? Cars run solid reds at the intersection by my house at almost every light cycle.

Shot out traffic cameras photographing cars with no license plates aint gonna do it.

Cops could care less to ticket anyone. I really get the feeling they honestly hate everyone in this city and wouldn’t shed a tear over any of us getting killed by a red light running driver.

I still have to pay a shit ton of taxes every year to pay their salaries, though, I can’t say what I’m getting for that. It’s definitely not a responsive police force that represents and respects the community they are hired to serve. They are MIA all day.

Jeremy May
Jeremy May
1 month ago
Reply to  Jay Cee

Cops could care less to ticket anyone.” LOL. Really? Car and police hating folks seem to have situation ethics and double standards it seems like. And no, you do not pay a ton of taxes. Stop it. Look at east coast taxes. Bicyclists do get free roads etc without paying for it yet still complain.

You folks are the same people who complain about police and then complain nobody is enforcing traffic. A gift from Hardesty, she caused more traffic and POC deaths than anybody I can think of.

Stop whining about police. YOU and people like you are why we do not have enough traffic police. Sadly most radical bicyclists that frequent this site are far more interested in sticking it to the drivers than actually making things better. In that, y’all sound a lot like trump voters.

Watts
Watts
1 month ago
Reply to  Jeremy May

Stop it. Look at east coast taxes.

We’re 6th in the nation. I don’t know exactly how to quantify a “shit ton”, but there is no question that we pay more than most people, and get less in return.

https://money.cnn.com/pf/features/lists/taxburden/

Jay Cee
Jay Cee
1 month ago
Reply to  Jeremy May

I complain about the police not doing their job. I support police that serve the community. I want them out there more arresting people who kill and hurt other people.

I pay over $5k a year in property taxes to the city, plus state and federal that take nearly 1/3 of my paycheck on top of that. The fuck I don’t pay for our roads.

I never voted for Hardesty.

You car drivers are the number one killers in this city. Motorists are an out of control plague.

Watts
Watts
1 month ago
Reply to  Jay Cee

The fuck I don’t pay for our roads.

Precious little of your property tax pays for the roads in Oregon, and not much of your income tax does either.

You probably do pay for our roads, indirectly, by consuming goods and services that use them, or by registering a car or buying gas.

You can find the top ten killers in Oregon here. Accidents (all kinds) are third.

https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/pressroom/states/oregon/or.htm

Cosmo
Cosmo
1 month ago

Interesting. The PBOT post suggests they use “microwave detection” to detect motor vehicles “several hundred feet away”. If this truly detects (law-abiding) vehicles early enough to give them a green before they need to start braking, I think it’s great. If not, the last thing we need is early morning delivery trucks spewing even more diesel particulates as they come back up to speed.

Dawn
Dawn
1 month ago
Reply to  Cosmo

So we’re being microwaved driving down Powell now?

Watts
Watts
1 month ago
Reply to  Dawn

Be careful out there… many garage door openers emit microwaves as well.

Wooster
Wooster
1 month ago
Reply to  Dawn

Microwaves are all around us at all times as background radiation, and have zero effect on the human body. Do you worry about radio waves, or broadcast television waves? No, you don’t.

Wooster
Wooster
1 month ago
Reply to  Cosmo

This is totally normal signal detection, and is rapidly replacing the circular “loop detectors” you often see on the pavement. Microwave detection is more accurate, less prone to getting damaged, and doesn’t require drivers to be positioned in just the right place.

Jose V
Jose V
1 month ago

Seems like Portland government goes into a lot of contortions to avoid actual enforcement our traffic laws. Our police traffic division is still being staffed as a skeleton crew but yet we are hopeful a few 4 way stops will stop the record bloodshed on our streets? Huh?

Jeremy May
Jeremy May
1 month ago
Reply to  Jose V

Well said. But the people who hate cars, also hate police so they do everything they can to block more (traffic) police.

qqq
qqq
1 month ago
Reply to  Jose V

Who believes these will “stop the record bloodshed on our streets”? Probably nobody.

They’ll slow traffic some without using traffic cops to do it, freeing them up to do other enforcement. Why is that bad?

Steven Williams
Steven Williams
1 month ago

I ride bikes and run. Traffic fatalities have increased with the Vision Zero approaches. Portland has an enforcement problem not a speed problem. Pedestrians routinely ignore cross walks to cross busy streets anywhere they please. Motorists run red lights and before you pin this on individual drivers I am observing TriMet and school buses run lights. Motorcyclists will split lanes at relatively high rates of speed. This is all before I get to thinking about the climate.impacta of PBOT’s slow downs and self imposed traffic backups. Look at the whole and not just a part.

qqq
qqq
1 month ago

You’re blaming traffic safety problems on everyone but car and truck drivers? They’re the only people and vehicles that you didn’t mention (other than to say, “before you pin this on individual drivers”). And you add that we don’t have a “speed problem”.

Yet statistics say car and truck drivers are at fault in a high percentage of Portland traffic deaths, and speeding is involved in a high percentage of those. If you’re driving or riding in a car, or using a street outside a car, and get killed, it’s most likely a car or truck driver who killed you.

So your observations don’t seem to match reality.

And when you say, “pedestrians routinely ignore cross walks” do you mean all crosswalks, or just marked ones? Crossing at unmarked crosswalks (just about any intersection) is legal, with the pedestrian having the right of way.

Chris I
Chris I
1 month ago
Reply to  qqq

He’s one of the drivers that doesn’t stop for you at an unmarked crosswalk.

Trike Guy
Trike Guy
1 month ago
Reply to  Chris I

I actually had a driver back up to tell me they didn’t need to stop for me at a *marked* crosswalk the other day.

I was dumbstruck. Not by the fact that she believed this, but that she was so intent on convincing me she wasn’t an a**hole.

If you’re going to be one, at least own it. Rev the engine as you go by while I do a sarcastic slow clap.

Even worse she said something about me not stopping (I approach that spot at low speed ready to stop and had put a foot down to execute said SSC (Sarcastic Slow Clap)).

I suppose the old adage “never ascribe to malice that which is more readily explained by stupidity” was never more true.

qqq
qqq
1 month ago
Reply to  Chris I

Yes, or one of the ones who honks or yells that you have no right to cross, or one that swerves past the car that did stop and runs you over.

JS
JS
1 month ago

Why not change the intersection to a roundabout?

Wooster
Wooster
1 month ago
Reply to  JS

That would cost millions of dollars and require blowing out the intersection corners to make it a giant circle rather than a square. Double-lane roundabouts are also pretty dangerous, and awful for people walking and biking. It’s a terrible idea.

Watts
Watts
1 month ago

I rode up there a little after 10PM tonight to see how this thing works, and my report is that the current implementation is totally broken.

I saw the lights turn green for speeding cars, turn red for slow movers, and some drivers just ignored the red light altogether. Mostly it just seemed random.

The idea sounds good on paper, and it is possible it could work in practice (but maybe not — at times it seemed that the dual lane configuration confounded the sensors).

What’s clear is that what’s there now is pretty awful.

Try again ODOT.

Wooster
Wooster
1 month ago
Reply to  Watts

This is a PBOT project, even though Powell is an ODOT highway.

Wooster
Wooster
1 month ago

This also means that if there is no traffic approaching the intersection on Powell, and a pedestrian or bicyclist activates the signal on 28th Ave to cross Powell, it should be able to give them the walk/bike signal immediately, with no delay!