Persistent activism gets ODOT and police focused on Sylvan overpass problems

Persistent activism gets ODOT and police focused on Sylvan overpass problems

Google street view of Sylvan overpass.

It looks like we might finally see some improvements and enforcement at the notorious Sylvan overpass of Highway 26.

Back in June, we shared how citizen activist Andrew Holtz was so fed up with the dangerous intersection at NW Skyline and the westbound Hwy 26 on-ramp that he uploaded videos to YouTube that showed close calls and even one actual collision.

A few months later on August 1st, another concerned citizen, Doug Reid, emailed the City of Portland’s traffic safety and livability contact (Eileen Dent at about the same intersection. “I had another close call at the Sylvan overpass again on this morning’s commute,” he wrote, “This is about my fourth near miss in the last year.”

The problem at this location is that people turning right (from Skyline) onto the freeway on-ramp (to go west on Highway 26) roll up and onto a crosswalk that serves bicycle and foot traffic. Given the angles of the corner, people in cars tend to roll through even on red lights. “They seem to seldom see bicyclists,” Doug wrote to PBOT. Making matters worse is that the bike traffic is coming from a dedicated path/sidewalk, which makes it even harder to get the attention of people in cars.

PBOT responded two weeks later and told Doug his concerns should be directed toward ODOT. Doug then emailed ODOT’s community helpline — — and was told his inquiry would be answered within 12 weeks.

Earlier this month, Doug heard back from ODOT Community Affairs Coordinator Jilayne Jordan.

According to Jordan, ODOT reviewed the intersection and determined, “It seems the right turn lane approaching the intersection can contribute to an unsafe situation for pedestrians and bicyclists, even when they have the right-of-way.”

Here’s more from Jordan’s response:

“A driver waiting for a green light has ample opportunity to identify approaching pedestrian or bicycle traffic. However, it’s apparent that drivers approaching the turn on a green signal phase may be more focused on their destination than on a pedestrian in the crosswalk or a bike coming up behind them on the right.”

ODOT says they’ve identified several options to improve the situation:

1. The first option would be to install new traffic signal controllers and a right turn signal head that would be visible to right turning traffic at the ramps. Doing this would allow the ability to control the right turning movements more effectively and hopefully obtain a better yielding compliance from the motorists.

2. The second option would be to redesign the curb radius for the right turns onto the on-ramps, so they would have tighter radii. This would include potentially moving the existing stop bars and moving the ramp locations. This option could improve pedestrian and bicyclist visibility and reduce right turning vehicle speeds as motorists approach the crosswalk. This option is very expensive and will require an analysis into the type and size of trucks using the interchange today.

Jordan added that they will work with the City of Portland to implement safety improvements “as soon as funding allows.”

Doug has also heard back from the Portland Police Bureau and that they plan to start doing targeted enforcement patrols during evening rush hour.

While ODOT hasn’t committed to anything in terms of actual improvements, the fact that they have acknowledged the dangers and laid out some possible solutions is a great sign. And major props are due to Doug for his persistence in getting both ODOT and the PPB’s attention. We’ll keep you posted on future developments.

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