Look Both Ways

Karol Collymore

When I moved to Portland three years ago, I was completely enamored.  Gorgeous homes, tree lined streets, low speed traffic and friendly faces.  I did find one thing that threw me for a loop: the neighborhood intersections with no stop signs.  There are so many of them around town but I figured people were so nice, that everyone slowed down to make sure no one else was coming.  Eventually I stopped giving them any thought.  I lived in the Pearl and it was a non-issue for two years. 

Since moving to North Portland, the lack of stop sign problem has come around again, this time more scary.  There are children everywhere, dogs, cats, people, all crossing the street through these intersections.  I can't believe that the city wouldn't spring for a few signs, right?  Wrong.

My good friends live in NE, off Ainsworth and 10th, a stones throw from a four way intersection with no stop signs.  A couple of weeks ago, our friendly evening was interrupted by the loud sound of several crashes.  A classic old-school Impala had collided with a church van.  The collision pushed the van into my friends' next door neighbor's yard - feet away from my CAR! - where she had been gardening minutes earlier.  Someone was hurt, several calls were made to 911, and all the surrounding neighbors came out of the house.  One neighbor in particular came out with camera in hand. She had been taking pictures of the intersection for years and the accidents that had happened there.  She told my friends that she had been sending pictures and complaints to the city for years and nothing has happened. 

So, what are the next steps?  Call the City yet again to get no response?  I recommended to my friends that they call transportation commissioner, Sam Adams.   I have a revolutionary idea that they should share when they call him: put in some freaking stop signs.  Randy Leonard, any chance you are reading this? 

  • Monito (unverified)
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    Tell the City you want to build an Aerial Pedestrian Tram to safely transit this intersection. That should peak their interest.

  • Becky (unverified)
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    You should try contacting your Neighborhood Association and asking them to help you. Several years ago, after a couple of accidents at the same corner in our neighborhood, the N.A. got involved and we were able to get reflective warning arrows installed at the corner. In another area we were able to work with the City to get speed bumps put in. Sometimes there are laws that prevent the installation of stop signs or other types of signs, but the City can tell you what your options are. Having the N.A. working with you, especially if you're also working with the Office of Neighborhood Associations (who can also hook you up with your N.A. reps if you don't know who they are), can really make a difference because you're working with citizens who have some experience in getting things done.

  • Clay Fouts (unverified)
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    The problem isn't a lack of stop signs; it's that vehicles move too fast to take be able to react to what's going on around them! The problem with putting stop signs everywhere is that as often as not, cars slow down at the intersection and then race down the block to the next stop sign. This increases the dangers to children, pets and other beings prone to darting suddenly into the street.

    What tends to work better to improve overall safety are speed control devices like speed bumps. Well, that and encouraging people to habituate driving more slowly, but let's be realistic.

  • Baloo (unverified)
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    The problem isn't a lack of stop signs. It's people driving while Californian. You should be attacking lousy drivers that don't meet Oregon's driving standards, not the lack of traffic control devices Oregon law makes redundant...

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    Yes, there are lousy drivers in the world. All the more reason to have stop signs, no?

  • Baloo (unverified)
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    Yes, there are lousy drivers in the world. All the more reason to have stop signs, no?

    No. All the more reason to test all drivers every two years instead of once when you get your license and again whenever you don't remember to renew your license on time once every 8 years, and stop allowing motorists from out of state to trade their license for an Oregon one without taking our test.

    Increase enforcement of existing traffic law.

    Adding stop signs will not help with this, only complicate lesser travelled intersections that do just fine when all drivers involved are on the same page. (And if not, why the hell are they behind the wheel to start with?)

  • jami (unverified)
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    i read on bikeportland.org that calling (503)823-SAFE gets results. i'd try that.

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    There are, generally, two camps of traffic control.

    The first (more American) approach is: tell everyone what they should do with a sign. That's why the City maintains over 250,000 signs. We have to read as we go along, and sort through the visual stimuli, while maintaining one eye on the road. Generally, we ignore a lot of it, and won't be looking for things we aren't told to look out for (kids, cars, etc.)

    The other (more European) approach is: have the streetscape create context clues, and force the driver to think a bit and be aware of what's happening around her. This requires drivers to drive more slowly, generally, and watch for everything from kids to bikes to other cars. My guess (at least from knowing the bicycle statistics) is that there are a lot fewer crashes there, because people are forced to be more aware and engaged.

    The interesting question is: how do we use some of the European approaches, when people are used to the American system? How quickly can we train drivers to simply drive more cautiously, without putting up signs that say "drive cautiously"?

    That said, if you have a specific safety problem, call 823-SAFE. They'll review the situation and get back to you.

    More on the theory

    or google David Engwicht.

  • UglyCalifornian (unverified)
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    Okay... I am making the effort to shed my Californianess. I made the switch to Tillamook cheese and threw out my umbrella for a Columbia Sportswear raincoat. But I don't think I'll get used to the driving.

    Here's how it works in California:

    1) Large volumes of people need to get to point A. 2) Freeway is built going to point A.

    ...and in Oregon:

    1) Large volumes of people need to get to point B. 2) Freeway is built going to point B. 3) Freeway is dismantled (not pretty enough). 4) New freeway built, encircling point B at a safe distance. 5) Drivers drive through residential surface streets to get to point B. 6) Complaints.

    See, the theories governing transportation infrastructure in Metro make sense... so long as you don't take into account that people might care how fast they can get somewhere.

    (I'm now ready to incur horrible, abusive comments for my professed affinity for the California freeway system.)

  • jami (unverified)
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    surely you can't be that ugly, californian.

    i don't want to do a depressing google search for numbers, but i'm thinking "more freeways" is the wrong answer for road safety.

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    As you ponder the nature of physical speed limits imposed by stop signs and speed bumps (or other calming devices), remember that public safety vehicles use those roads too--and anything that slows you down, slows them down as well. For that reason, police and fire would rather not blanket the city with them...

  • EJ (unverified)
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    You do not need more signs. What is needed is some common sense. But since common sense is an oxymoron in this day and age, I guess were stuck.

    My fiance is Canadian and she is always amazed at how many signs we have just because no one uses common sense. In Canada, they don't have as many as the US does. Thats because Canadians have more common sense than the average American.

    What we really need is someone to cite drivers for just plain stupidity or lack of common sense.

  • Randy Leonard (unverified)
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    Yes I am reading this.

    I am going over to bug Commissioner Adams to look into this as soon as I am done posting.

  • Aaron O'Donnell (unverified)
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    I've always called those intersections "four way no way" stops. As in, there's no way anyone on all four ways will yield. I hate them too.

    My solution has always been to either "California stop" at each one or just fully stop if there's someone else in the intersection. Of course, this tends to confuse the other driver(s) who then also stop, and after a few seconds of nobody moving, someone will eventually boldy let off the brakes and crawl through the intersection at like 2MPH and everyone goes on their merry way.

    It probably costs much more money to plan out a system of stop signs for the whole area vs. dealing with the fender-benders and occasional serious accident. I've always thought they should put up some Yield signs on the low-traffic intersections and see what happens.

  • Clay Fouts (unverified)
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    According to ORS 811.275, right-of-way at uncontrolled intersections is negotiated similarly to all-way stops (i.e. yield to your right).

  • Gecko (unverified)
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    UCalifornian is right: if Portland were San Diego the I-5 freeway North of the Wool-lam-mat Ri-verrr would be 4 lanes in each direction (including a double-decker bridge) and there would be a beltway circling the inner edge of the urban growth boundary (green ring?).

    On the other hand, if Portland were San Diego we'd already be bankrupt, Lake Oswego would be Tijuana, the Tram would be covered in grafitti and the City Commissioners would all be awaiting trial (except Randy, who tape recorded the whole thing and can prove he was entrapped):)

  • Lars K. Larson (unverified)
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    [Comment falsely impersonating Lars Larson deleted. -editor.]

  • THartill (unverified)
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    Moving to Washington sounds good. Then I could still work in Oregon, get almost all my income tax money back at the end of the year and buy all my crap in Oregon so I don't have to pay sales taxes in Washington.

    Then I could bitch and moan about how F'D up Oregon is.

  • Christy (unverified)
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    I live between two four-way intersections with no stop signs. I always slow to a near stop or stop before going through either of them. And, shockingly, I am from California.

    Last week, we couldn't run for office. Now we can't drive. Soon, we will be banned from Blue Oregon entirely.

  • Bert (unverified)
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    Traffic calming circles in SE portland seem to do wonders.

    I also noticed in some european countries that they they use rotaries extensively instead of stop lights. Seems to work quite well.

    If DOT'ers are reading this please take note :

    Please put stop signs within PERIPHERAL VISION or hang them over the road. Make sure they are not obscured by trees and shrubs.

    OH and while were on the topic of signs, PDOT, would you stop SKIMPING on street name signs and print the street name on BOTH sides the street sign. It's SO annoying, and doesn't make sense for pedestrians.

  • Dan (unverified)
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    uglyCaliforian - you neglected to finish your list of how transportation works in California. Let me help you...

    1. Cars sit for hours on aforementioned freeway in some of America's worst congestion
    2. The air quality, befowled by millions of tailpipes belching toxic fumes becomes such that it causes increased levels of respiratory illnesses and hides the San Gabriel Mtns. in a cloak of brown crap
    3. Neighborhoods are eviserated by 10 lanes of noise-generating automobile sewers
    4. Crazed citizens take out their Glocks and shoot it out on the Santa Ana Freeway...film at 11
    5. Riding a bicycle or walking becomes nearly impossible, since all the neighborhoods are designed for cars, not humans

    I feel sorry for you, having to leave all of that for the hell you must find Portland to be. Try to make the best of it, OK?

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    Last week, we couldn't run for office. Now we can't drive. Soon, we will be banned from Blue Oregon entirely.

    No, you won't. :)

  • DownUnder (unverified)
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    From the Center for the Study of the Pacific Northwest (University of Washington) http://www.washington.edu/uwired/outreach/cspn/hstaa432/lesson_1/hstaa432_1.html

    Here's something that people in Oregon with such anti-Californian sentiments may want to read and reflect upon:

    "Sixth, and finally, I would argue that the recent anti-Californian sentiments perpetuate an ugly form of bigotry that has long characterized Pacific Northwest history. Since the arrival of American settlers during the 1840s, there has been a constant effort on the part of the dominant population-primarily people of European descent-to define the Pacific Northwest by excluding certain groups of "others" from it or by marginalizing certain groups of "others" within it. Put in different terms, there have been constant attempts to say that some people "belong" in the Pacific Northwest while others—particularly people of color—do not. White Pacific Northwesterners at times formally prohibited as well as informally discouraged African-American migration to the region. They warred against and dispossessed Indian groups. They lobbied the federal government to exclude Chinese and Japanese immigrants, and they forcibly expelled the Chinese from some towns during the 1880s, and outlawed ownership of land by Japanese immigrants in the 1920s. Most Northwsterners supported incarceration of all people of Japanese descent during World War Two, and many lobbied to keep them away from the region after the war.The Ku Klux Klan attained considerable power in the region during the 1920s, and in Oregon almost enacted legislation, aimed at immigrants, designed to outlaw parochial schools. During the 1980s and 1990s, white supremacist groups were attracted to the Pacific Northwest because it had fewer people of color than other parts of the country, and the goal of an exclusively white population seemed more attainable there. There is, in short, a long and unfinished record of people in the Pacific Northwest trying to define the region in exclusive, racial terms. It is not a proud legacy.

    One might think that the more recent hostility toward Californians is different. After all, the hypothetical Californians who have attracted so much attention in recent years have tended to be white and relatively affluent. At times in our history, however, even "white" Californians have been castigated in racial terms. In 1924, the Seattle Chamber of Commerce published a booklet called In the Land of Filtered Sunshine: Why the Pacific Northwest is Destined to Dominate the World. Trying to make a virtue out of necessity, boosters attempted to explain why investors and immigrants should prefer Seattle over California. "The most energetic human types and the highest and most enduring civilizations have evolved in the cloudiest region of the world, Nordic Europe....The entire United States, with the exception of the Pacific Northwest, is not well adapted for the permanent survival of the Nordic races, but is better suited for the darker types." California would attract the "Mediterranean races," the pamphlet predicted, so its "civilization" would be of the "inferior" type, susceptible to the negative effects of "intense sunshine" and therefore certain to decay at an early date. Seattle, on the other hand, would attract "Nordic" types, which would ensure a more lasting and successful "empire."

    Perceptions of Californians as the "other" during the 1920s embodied the same kind of bigotry as was expressed by whites against people of color throughout the region's history. I would argue that perceptions of Californians during the 1980s and 1990s have continued the trend. Stereotypes of people assumed to be different have consistently offered a way to help define the Pacific Northwest as a region and to provide it with a sense of identity, but they have done so at considerable expense. Like any stereotype, they have grossly misunderstood and dehumanized the people they have been meant to portray. Moreover, like any stereotype, these perceptions have generally been based on imperfect information. They have assigned blame for problems mistakenly, and they have helped to perpetuate unrealistic understandings of the causes of those problems. Finally, they have helped to distort the meaning of the region by distorting the knowledge of its own history."

  • EJ (unverified)
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    Interesting how this topic went from stop signs to bigotry. Does this mean that you are a bigot by putting up a stop sign? All the topic is anput putting up a sign and now we are bashing Californians. Talk about making a mountain out of a molehill!

  • Ken (unverified)
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    In neighborhoods I generally slow down at intersections but on Portland’s narrow streets usually heavily tree covered I don't even do 25MPH. Usually 15 - 20.

    If you are commuting via neighborhood streets that is a problem. Maybe we need some way of restricting this. Perhaps design or enforcement. I live in the Couve and work in Portland. The one thing I like about the Couve is once you get off a main road/arterial most neighborhoods are either dead ends or you have to jog over then back and go around to get through a neighborhood. Few straight shots. Nothing like Ptowns grid.

    That said I LOVE the Portland grid. Give me any address downtown/N/NE/SE and I can tell you what side of the street it's on!!! I use google maps to find things in the couve and SW:-)

  • mconley (unverified)
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    Karol: I'm with you. I think trusting people behind the wheels of two-ton vehicles to stop without clear signs telling them to do so is nuts. I don't see it as an enfringement of my rights. Maybe that's why the majority of the country uses stop signs at intersections.

  • Gail Frederick (unverified)
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    And while you're at it, Sam Adams, how about paving all the roads inside the city limits? I'm astounded how many roads in NE and SE turn into uneven dirt for a block or two. Paving the roads inside a bustling city is a no-brainer.

  • Dan (unverified)
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    Geez DU...My previous comments were not intended to bash Californians. I have no heartburn with people moving here from there...or anywhere. My comments related to their transportation system only.

    Back on topic...signs can't create a safe environment. Evan's comments about contextual cues and drivers actually taking responsibility for driving safely were right on the money. One thing I have yet to see in my European travels is a driver yakking on a cell phone, slurping coffee, putting on makeup, etc. If you're driving, DRIVE DAMNIT!

  • UglyCalifornian (unverified)
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    Los Angeles traffic has got nothing on the type of gridlock on the Terwilliger curves, the I-84 interchange, the Sunset Highway, SW Portland, or the entire city of Salem.

    The air quality has improved markedly over the past ten years, with new emissions programs that go far beyond Oregon's CleanCars program.

    The last time I saw a shoot out on the LA freeway was in Lethal Weapon 4... but you can bet that the LA news crews would have the film sooner than 11. They're good.

    There are a lot of ways Portland is way better that SoCal -- Portland has a working mass transit system... for parts of the city. (LA doesn't have any logical light rail.) Portland is certainly a more walking-friendly city overall... I would even go so far as to say that it may be a better place to live...

    But taking it back to the theme of the post, the point is that LA vehicles don't have to cut through neighborhood surface streets to get where they're going.

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    I love all this insight and advice. I'm from Albuquerque and have rarely expericenced this kind of traffic until I moved here. Although in the 505, no one walks, we all drive and there are plenty of stop signs to go around. There are also 440,000 people but no suburbs all around that folks are trying to get to after work.

    I like all the deterents to speed in PDX, but I can't feel safe when I think that I'm the only one paying attention. The four way no stop just seems like we are asking for trouble.

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    Ugly,

    Really? I am in LA right now (Burbank) and every single person I've spoken to tell me when going from Burbank to Glendale and Hollywood, avoid the expressways (everything going into the city is bumper to bumper) and take the surface streets.

  • UCalifornian (unverified)
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    Paul -- Burbank is not Los Angeles. But the locals are right: take San Fernando to Glendale Boulevard and you'll be there in no time. The speed limit is a sturdy 45- to 50-mph.

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    An intersection without traffic controls is in a word, stupid. The appropriate traffic control for EVERY now uncontrolled intersection is a pair of STOP signs. Not speed bumps, not lovely park-like roundabouts. Freakin' STOP SIGNS! Whether it pleases your aesthetic sense or not, "STOP" is pretty well understood by both neighborhood dweller and out-of-stater alike.

    Babble all you want about "common sense," and driving gently through the residential lanes. Even at 15mph, an unsuspecting pair of drivers will rudely meet one another if there are no traffic controls.

    Like it or not, it's Portland that must adjust to the national norm, not the other way around. Drivers on American roads - especially on the streets of a major city - expect traffic controls at intersections. Portland can be different and forward thinking and progressive in a ton of other ways, but as far as traffic, the City must do what is safest for everyone that drives its streets.

  • Zarathustra (unverified)
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    One can argue that there has always been a substantive basis to the "centuries old anti-California sentiment". Where the Oregon trail split fromt the way to California there was a sign over the Oregon trail branch, labeled "Oregon". On the Californica branch was a piece of quartz painted gold.

    Human nature being what it is, more get rich quick types took the California branch and more families looking for a better future took the Oregon branch. I think Oregonians get their ire up when they think that modern day Californians are coming to Oregon for the old motivations.

  • Eric Stillwell (unverified)
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    Personally, I'm tired of hearing Oregonians bitch about Californians. Prejudice against Californians seems to be the last form of biggotry that many Oregonians don't seem to mind.

    I grew up in Oregon (and graduated from the University of Oregon in 1985), but I also spent 20 years in Los Angeles working in the television and film industry. Last year, my wife and I moved from Los Angeles to Eugene and bought a house in a quiet neighborhood filled with 4-way uncontrolled intersections.

    We seem to be the only people in the entire nieghborhood who even bother to slow down and stop at these interesections in order to yield the legal right-of-way to drivers approaching from other streets. Which happens to be OREGON law. But most Oregonians are apparently ignorant of the law. And the traffic situation in Los Angeles has nothing to do with the ignorance of Oregonians, including most of my nieghbors.

    Oregon law states: "A person commits the offense of failure to yield the right-of-way at an uncontrolled intersection if the person is operating a motor vehicle that is approaching an uncontrolled intersection and the person does not look out for and give right of way to any driver on the right simultaneously approaching a given point, regardless of which driver first reaches and enters the intersection." Additionally, "A person entering an intersection at an unlawful speed shall forfeit any right of way the person would otherwise have..."

    I can't tell you how many times my wife and I have nearly been run off the road when we have the legal right-of-way -- because other drivers in our neighborhood barrel down the streets and don't even slow down at the uncontrolled 4-way intersections.

    I've complained to the Homeowner's Association and recieved no response. I've complained to the Police and received no response. I've complained to my City Councilwoman and recieved no responce. Apparently nobody gives a damn.

    Let's just blame it on the Californians.

  • Zarathustra (unverified)
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    Blame it on cronyism. I agree with Cali that we have laws for a reason. Everytime you try to get the rubber to the road, though, you seem to run into some official who's approach is, "oh, that's not how we actually do it. You see, I know Joe in some-department that told me that we really only care if...".

    There are no exceptions, hot button issues included. I actually found myself a few years back in an absurd email debate with the Reed garden management about the legality of growing opium poppies with grade school children because the person at Parks "knew a cop in vice that told her...".

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    How specific do I have to get?

    Folks (and I don't give a &^[email protected]!* where they're from) don't blythly rumble through intersections because they're blissfully ignorant of Oregon law.

    They do so because without any traffic controls directing them, THEY THINK THEY HAVE THE RIGHT OF WAY AND THE CROSS STREET HAS THE STOP SIGN.

    You folks that think that it's some "attitude" on the part of other drivers are really perturbing me.

    Get real and get some stop signs at those ridiculous uncontrolled I-sections.

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    Kari,

    I'm not sure who "they" are, but for the record:

    It is, indeed, moronic to assume "attitude" on the part of all drivers who blythly pass thru an uncontrolled PDX (or other OR) I-section. Dang it, most - or many - folks just don't KNOW that it lacks controls.

    Regardless, the solution to reducing the accidents occuring at these dangerous intersections is not enrolling all drivers in a "Get-An-Oregon-Attitude" class.

    The solution is controlling the durn intersections.

    Again I bleat: STOP SIGNS!!!!!!!

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