A business owner shares concerns about N. Wheeler Avenue closure plans

A business owner shares concerns about N. Wheeler Avenue closure plans

Despite a growing sense of urgency from the Portland Bureau of Transportation (PBOT), and calls from stakeholders, the public, this site and the Bicycle Transportation Alliance to close it immediately, North Wheeler Avenue is still open. Delaying action is a growing opposition from nearby businesses, who worry about impacts of the closure and who feel PBOT is choosing the wrong fix to the problem.

Last week, following yet another injury collision due to a right hook, it seemed like PBOT should act on their own findings that the intersection was inherently dangerous and should be closed “immediately”. PBOT was all but ready to drop down some temporary traffic barricades last week; but then it emerged that some business owners that use Wheeler to access their buildings were not happy with how the move would impact them.

After public pressure mounted on Friday, Mayor Sam Adams (who oversees PBOT as Transportation Commissioner) said via Twitter that he’d do a site visit today and then discuss the issue with his staff. According to one of his staff members, Adams did the visit over the weekend and he discussed the issue with his staff today. Meanwhile, I’ve learned there’s a meeting with nearby business owners tomorrow (Tuesday, 8/21).

Looking south, with Flint on the left and Wheeler on the right.

I spent a while observing traffic at the intersection this morning, and I met one of the business owners in opposition of the closure; Bob Huckaby, owner of First, Inc, an office furniture installation company based at 524 N. Tillamook.

“Instead of making people obey the laws, they’re penalizing everyone else, and that’s not right. The bikes are getting hit because they don’t stop… If they stopped at the stop sign you wouldn’t have a problem. Guaranteed.”
— Bob Huckaby, owner of First Inc.

Huckaby says he represents a growing number of business owners in the Lower Albina district who are “getting heated” about PBOT’s closure proposal. During our conversation this morning, Huckaby said repeatedly that he feels the real problem isn’t the right-hooks. Rather, Huckaby feels that the problem would be solved without needing to close Wheeler if people on bikes would stop running the stop sign at Flint Avenue.

The Wheeler/Broadway intersection is one side of a narrow peninsula formed by Flint/Broadway/Wheeler. Flint is the main bike route for downtown-bound morning bike commuters with hundreds (thousands?) of bike riders rolling through it every day. The vast majority of them fly right through the stop sign at Flint and Broadway, which is a 90-degree right turn toward the Broadway Bridge. The problem arises because just a few feet west of Flint is Wheeler; and many cars that go to turn right (north) on Wheeler don’t see people on bikes until it’s too late. In some cases, the people on bikes aren’t seen in time because they fly through Flint without stopping.

It’s not news that a lot of people fail to stop at the Flint/Broadway intersection. I’ve covered that issue numerous times over the years and we’ve been through police enforcement actions and PBOT adding signage and markings. But the behavior persists. Watching this morning, I would say it’s just over 50% of people on bikes that don’t even come close to stopping. Only about 20% or so fully stop. That’s terrible.

Huckaby is upset that PBOT is intent on closing Wheeler because he feels the bad actors in the situation are bike riders. “Instead of making people obey the laws, they’re penalizing everyone else, and that’s not right,” he said. “The bikes are getting hit because they don’t stop… If they stopped at the stop sign you wouldn’t have a problem. Guaranteed.” Instead of closing Wheeler, Huckaby wants stronger enforcement of existing stop sign laws. “Make everyone follow the laws. If we all obey the laws, we’re not going to have this problem.”

Huckaby says that so far, PBOT is still insistent on the closure. To raise awareness of their issues, he said they’re going to the media with their case and he assured me that KATU is planning a story exposing all the illegal riding. Huckaby said he feels closing Wheeler would be yet another “anti-business” move by the City of Portland. The way he sees it, he pays nearly $30,000 in taxes each year to run his business, and now he’s seeing a street closed because of a safety issue brought on by too many people riding through the Flint stop sign. To him, it doesn’t seem fair.

(Huckaby also pointed out how many drivers don’t come to a complete stop either (on Flint or on the I-5 slip ramp just east of it). He’s also concerned about trees and bushes on the median in front of Paramount Apartments.)

In addition to more enforcement, Huckaby thinks PBOT should just close Flint and route bike traffic to either N Vancouver (which has a traffic signal).

Huckaby feels like the closure of Wheeler would create another safety problem. “We’ll have one exit out on Thompson, so all the sudden, it’s a big safety problem… One exit is all you’d have for the 2,000 or so people that work down there… If you have a fire or something, an emergency, how do you get people out of there?”

Huckaby said he’s hosting a meeting with Mayor Adams, PBOT staff, and other business owners tomorrow morning. In the end, he acknowledges the traffic safety problem needs to be addressed; but so far, he’s not willing to sit idly by and let PBOT close the street.

“We all agree there’s a problem. We don’t want a death. But the problem is, get the ones that are breaking the law. Put some police out there.”

Stay tuned.

Below is some raw footage I shot this morning:

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