PBOT hopes new signs, markings fix tricky Williams Ave intersection

PBOT hopes new signs, markings fix tricky Williams Ave intersection

Williams Ave & Stanton - observations-4

The person in the truck was legally required to turn left at this intersection; but a weak design — coupled with a bad decision by the vehicle’s operator — led to an abrupt merge in tight quarters with other road users.
(Photos by J. Maus/BikePortland)

Now that construction of the North Williams Safety Project has nearly wrapped up, it’s time to address how specific parts the new design are working — and how they’re not.

There are several issues I plan to look into in the coming weeks. The first is a driving behavior and design concern we’ve observed between N. Knott and Stanton. These are the two blocks where Williams is split due to a median diverter island installed many years ago to decrease the amount of Legacy Emanuel Hospital visitors from driving through the neighborhood.

Even before the big redesign of Williams that took the right-side bike lane and put it on the left side, this location was always a tricky pinch-point. The new design has done nothing to make it better. While the pinching effect of the median is not as bad (and bicycle riders no longer have to deal with a bus stop), the northern part of this section — at Stanton on the south side of Dawson Park — has gotten much worse.

The good news is that we’ve just heard from the Bureau of Transportation that they’re aware of the issue and some fixes are on the way.

The issue here is that the left standard lane is supposed to be for left turns only (like other sections in the new design where there are two standard lanes). PBOT’s intention was that people would only use the left lane if they wanted to turn left onto Graham or on Stanton. Unfortunately, the design is not strong enough and it fails to communicate proper use.

Williams Ave & Stanton - observations-6

This is all you see approaching the split. It’s not clear the left option is left-turn only.

What happens in reality is that many people use the left lane to swoop by other people when there’s a back-up, or they simply use it because it’s there. Then, as they get to Stanton, instead of turning left (west), they try to merge back into the right lane. This behavior is not only illegal, it’s also dangerous.

At Stanton, the bike lane goes from being curbside to being to the right of a curbside parking lane. This transition puts the bike lane directly in the path of people who suddenly realize they want to continue straight. The illegal merging at Stanton from the left lane to the right lane puts drivers directly in conflict with bicycle riders in the bike lane.

Also adding to the stress at this intersection are many people who illegally nose their vehicles out from Stanton in an effort to find their place in Williams traffic. That behavior forces other road users to leave the bicycle lane — putting them in even more direct conflict with people using the left standard lane (as seen in the image below).

Williams Ave & Stanton - observations-5

Williams Ave & Stanton - observations-1

Williams Ave & Stanton - observations-3

View of Williams looking south from Stanton.
Williams Ave & Stanton - observations-2

Another view of Williams looking south from Stanton.

After seeing this problem several times myself and hearing about others with similar concerns, I reached out to Williams project manager Rich Newlands.

Newlands said he was “definitely” aware of the issue. “We realized some time ago that what is in place does not communicate the approaching forced left at Stanton strongly enough, and hence through traffic ends up abruptly cutting back to the right.”

That was nice to hear. But even better, is that PBOT is already on the case. Newlands said there’s a contract change order pending that will do a few things aimed at more strongly communicating the left-turn-only mandate at Stanton.

Here’s what PBOT is doing to fix the problem:

  • Two more left turn arrow pavement markings will be added in advance of the existing one (which is right at Stanton).
  • Two more signs that will say “THRU TRAFFIC MERGE RIGHT”.
  • They’ll extend the existing 8-inch lane striping for the left turn pocket.

These changes should be installed any day now. If they don’t work and the illegal driving behaviors continue, Newlands said PBOT, “has discussed going to a more physical barrier to eliminate the ability to cut back to the right at Stanton.”

Interestingly, what’s out on the street now does not mimic the plans in the project’s final report (published in August 2012). On page 16 of that report the left turn lane doesn’t start until north of Knott, which seems like it would make people less likely to think it’s a through lane. The design in the report also includes “left turn ONLY” pavement markings way before the median island and “shark’s teeth” yield markings which are not present in the final implementation.


From Page 16 of PBOT’s Final Report: North Williams Traffic Safety Operations Project (August 2012).

I’ve asked PBOT for an explanation and will update this post when I hear back.

If you ride this stretch of Williams, please keep us posted on whether or not these changes help. Your feedback can help PBOT do what’s necessary to make sure bicycling conditions are as low-stress as possible.

— We are also collecting feedback on the Williams changes in general for future reporting. Please send in your comments via email, @BikePortland on Twitter, or however else you prefer to communicate.

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