This week, Mayor Sam Adams' office and the Portland Bureau of Transportation took a big step in improving safety for bikes on one street in Portland by deciding to close North Wheeler to traffic where the street intersects with Broadway. I didn't get a chance to report on the closure then because, ironically, I was doored in Northwest and out of commission for a while. But here's the rundown, two days late!
As the city tries to make its streets safer for all road users, one of the most effective thing the transportation bureau can do is fix up the problem areas where the most crashes occur. Sure, turning neighborhood streets into bike-friendly greenways is nice, but that safer-streets strategy is moot if the greenways empty out into dangerous intersections. North Wheeler is just such a notorious problem area. The intersection of North Wheeler and Broadway is right along the route from the busy bike lane on North Vancouver and the Broadway Bridge, so thousands of people bike past the street everyday. Meanwhile, drivers zip across the bike lane regularly to get onto North Wheeler, where there are some major employers.
According to the mayor's office, the intersection there were 20 reported crashes at this intersection from 2000-2010 and seventeen of them were right-hook crashes involving a bike and a car. Ouch. The situation was so bad that the Portland Water Bureau banned its employees from driving on Wheeler.
The city has gone through a series of measures to try to improve safety on the street without closing Wheeler, like stepping up traffic enforcement in the area, installing a left-turn lane on North Wheeler, and painting a big "BIKES STOP" reminder on North Flint. Nothing has had the dramatic turn-around in safety we need, so as of Tuesday this week, no one will be turning onto North Wheeler from Broadway at all.
Let's hope it works!